Case: NAACP Philadelphia v. Ridge

2:00-cv-02855 | U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Filed Date: June 7, 2000

Closed Date: Feb. 5, 2001

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

On June 7, 2000 plaintiffs, three formerly incarcerated residents of Pennsylvania denied the right to vote filed a lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and City of Philadelphia arguing that the Pennsylvania Voter Registration Act (PVRA) was unconstitutional in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The complaint sought injunctive and declaratory relief, and the plaintiffs were represented by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored …

On June 7, 2000 plaintiffs, three formerly incarcerated residents of Pennsylvania denied the right to vote filed a lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and City of Philadelphia arguing that the Pennsylvania Voter Registration Act (PVRA) was unconstitutional in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The complaint sought injunctive and declaratory relief, and the plaintiffs were represented by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Philadelphia and other public interest organizations. The case was assigned to Judge Louis Bechtle.

The complaint asserted that, without a rational basis, the PVRA prohibits some ex-felons from voting during the five year period following their release from prison, while permitting other ex-felons to vote during the same period. The law, plaintiffs argued, was irrational and arbitrary because it distinguished between ex-felons who registered to vote before incarceration and those who did not, as well as between ex-felons who changed residences after incarceration and those who did not. Consequently, plaintiffs alleged that the law violated the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the 14th Amendment. Plaintiffs sought to permanently enjoin the defendants from enforcing the provisions of the PVRA that bar all convicted felons from being entitled to be registered to vote if they were released from prison within the last five years and eliminate the forms used to register a person requiring an applicant to confirm that they have “not been confined in a penal institution for a conviction of a felony within the last five years.”

The defendants countered that the PVRA does not unconstitutionally distinguish between groups of ex-felons because no ex-felons are entitled to be registered or to vote during the five year period following their release from prison. Ultimately the parties stipulated to consolidate Plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction with the merits determination for a permanent injunction.

Procedural history

On August 14, 2020, Judge Bechtle denied the motion for a permanent injunction. 2000 WL 1146619. The Court held that at least one of the individual plaintiffs had standing to bring the lawsuit, and also that the NAACP had organizational standing. The standing of other plaintiffs was unclear, but assumed for the purposes of the opinion. Judge Bechtel found that it was appropriate for the court to invoke the Pullman abstention doctrine to avoid reaching a decision on the constitutional question.

The Pullman doctrine applies when a federal constitutional issue "might be mooted or presented in a different posture by a state court" which could construe the statute in a manner that "might avoid in whole or in part the necessity for federal constitutional adjudication, or at least materially change the nature of the problem." To abstain from deciding a case under Pullman, a court must find "(1) uncertain issues of state law underlying the federal constitutional claim; (2) state law issues subject to state court interpretation that could obviate the need to adjudicate or substantially narrow the scope of the federal constitutional claim; and (3) the possibility that an erroneous construction of state law by the federal court would disrupt important state policies." Judge Bechtle found that Pullman doctrine applied in this case because both the defendants' and plaintiffs' construction of the statute were plausible, rendering the statute ambiguous, and because Pennsylvania state courts had not yet evaluated the constitutionality of the statute in light of that ambiguity. The court agreed with the defendant's argument that if they were to do so, they might find that the statute had a narrower, constitutional meaning, and that voting regulations implicate important state policies that an erroneous construction of the PVRA would disrupt state policy goals.

The court retained jurisdiction over the case in case the federal constitutional issue were to arise again. The plaintiffs appealed on August 23, 2000. The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued an order on on January 29, 2001 vacating Judge Bechtle's August 14, 2000 order and instructing the district court to dismiss the case. The district court issued an order dismissing the case on February 5, 2001.

Summary Authors

Graham Rotenberg (7/6/2020)

People


Judge(s)

Bechtle, Louis Charles (Pennsylvania)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Love, Angus R. (Pennsylvania)

Metzger, Gillian E. (New York)

Northup, Nancy (New York)

Trent, Earl W. Jr. (Pennsylvania)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Filipi, Francis R. (Pennsylvania)

Lebofsky, Howard (Pennsylvania)

Judge(s)

Bechtle, Louis Charles (Pennsylvania)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Love, Angus R. (Pennsylvania)

Metzger, Gillian E. (New York)

Northup, Nancy (New York)

Trent, Earl W. Jr. (Pennsylvania)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Filipi, Francis R. (Pennsylvania)

Lebofsky, Howard (Pennsylvania)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

Docket [PACER]

NAACP Philadelphia Branch v. Ridge

Feb. 5, 2001 Docket
25

Memorandum and Order

NAACP Philadelphia Branch v. Ridge

2000 WL 1146619

Aug. 14, 2000 Order/Opinion

Docket

Last updated May 12, 2022, 8 p.m.

ECF Number Description Date Link
1

Complaint. filing fee $ 150.00 receipt # 733631 (kw) (Entered: 06/07/2000)

June 7, 2000

Summons(es) issued. Given to counsel on 6/7/00. (5 Originals) (kw) (Entered: 06/07/2000)

June 7, 2000

Standard Case Management Track. (kw) (Entered: 06/07/2000)

June 7, 2000
2

MOTION BY PLAINTIFF NAACP PHILADELPHIA, PLAINTIFF EX−OFFENDERS, INC., PLAINTIFF PENNSYLVANIA PRISON, PLAINTIFF COMMUNITY ASSISTANCE, PLAINTIFF MALIK AZIZ, PLAINTIFF ALEX MOODY SR., PLAINTIFF JAMES ROEBUCK FOR A PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION & CONSOLIDATION OF HEARING WITH TRIAL ON THE MERITS , MEMORANDUM, CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE. (kw) (Entered: 06/07/2000)

June 7, 2000
3

MOTION BY PLAINTIFF NAACP PHILADELPHIA, PLAINTIFF EX−OFFENDERS, INC., PLAINTIFF PENNSYLVANIA PRISON, PLAINTIFF COMMUNITY ASSISTANCE, PLAINTIFF MALIK AZIZ, PLAINTIFF ALEX MOODY SR., PLAINTIFF JAMES ROEBUCK TO ADMIT COUNSEL, NANCY NORTHRUP, ESQ. & GILLIAN E. METZGER, ESQ., PRO HAC VICE TO ACT AS LEAD COUNSEL IN THE INSTANT MATTER . (kw) (Entered: 06/07/2000)

June 7, 2000
4

ORDER THAT A PRETRIAL CONFERENCE IS SCHEDULED FOR THE ABOVE CAPTIONED CASE ON 6/20/00 AT 10:00 A.M. IN COURTROOM 17−B , ETC. ( SIGNED BY JUDGE LOUIS C. BECHTLE ) 6/7/00 ENTERED AND COPIES MAILED. (kw) (Entered: 06/07/2000)

June 7, 2000
5

Affidavit of: Rose A. Lucas re: served summons and complaint upon DEFENDANT TOM RIDGE. Served by: Fed Ex Overnight on 6/7/00. (fh) (Entered: 06/16/2000)

June 16, 2000
6

Affidavit of: Rose A. Lucas re: served summons and complaint upon DEFENDANT KIM PIZZINGRILLI. Served by: Fed Ex Overnight on 6/7/00. (fh) (Entered: 06/16/2000)

June 16, 2000
7

Affidavit of: Rose A. Lucas re: served summons and complaint upon DEFENDANT JOSEPH DUDA. Served by: Fed Ex Overnight on 6/7/00. (fh) (Entered: 06/16/2000)

June 16, 2000
8

Affidavit of: Rose A. Lucas re: served summons and complaint upon DEFENDANT ALEXANDER Z. TALMADGE JR. Served by: Fed Ex Overnight on 6/7/00. (fh) (Entered: 06/16/2000)

June 16, 2000
9

Affidavit of: Rose A. Lucas re: served summons and complaint upon DEFENDANT MARGARET TARTAGLIONE. Served by: Fed Ex Overnight on 6/7/00. (fh) (Entered: 06/16/2000)

June 16, 2000
10

MOTION by DEFENDANT TOM RIDGE, DEFENDANT KIM PIZZINGRILLI TO EXTEND TIME , CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE. (ph) (Entered: 06/27/2000)

June 26, 2000
11

Appearance of EARL W. TRENT JR., ESQ. for PLAINTIFF NAACP PHILADELPHIA. (kw) (Entered: 06/27/2000)

June 27, 2000
12

Appearance of FRANCIS R. FILIPI, ESQ. for DEFENDANT TOM RIDGE, DEFENDANT KIM PIZZINGRILLI. (kw) (Entered: 06/27/2000)

June 27, 2000
13

Appearance of HOWARD LEBOFSKY, ESQ. for DEFENDANT MARGARET TARTAGLIONE, DEFENDANT ALEXANDER Z. TALMADGE JR., DEFENDANT JOSEPH DUDA. (kw) (Entered: 06/27/2000)

June 27, 2000
14

Appearance of GILLIAN METZGER, ESQ. for PLAINTIFF NAACP PHILADELPHIA, PLAINTIFF EX−OFFENDERS, INC., PLAINTIFF PENNSYLVANIA PRISON, PLAINTIFF COMMUNITY ASSISTANCE, PLAINTIFF MALIK AZIZ, PLAINTIFF ALEX MOODY SR., PLAINTIFF JAMES ROEBUCK. (kw) (Entered: 06/27/2000)

June 27, 2000
15

Appearance of NANCY NORTHUP, ESQ. for PLAINTIFF NAACP PHILADELPHIA, PLAINTIFF EX−OFFENDERS, INC., PLAINTIFF PENNSYLVANIA PRISON, PLAINTIFF COMMUNITY ASSISTANCE, PLAINTIFF MALIK AZIZ, PLAINTIFF ALEX MOODY SR., PLAINTIFF JAMES ROEBUCK. (kw) (Entered: 06/27/2000)

June 27, 2000
16

ORDER THAT PLFFS' MOTION FOR PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION HEARING IS CONSOLIDATED WITH TRIAL ON THE MERITS. ( SIGNED BY JUDGE LOUIS C. BECHTLE ) 6/28/00 ENTERED AND COPIES MAILED AND FAXED. (kw) (Entered: 06/28/2000)

June 27, 2000
17

ORDER THAT MOTION TO CONSOLIDATE THE TRIAL & THE PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION HEARING IS GRANTED. THE PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION HEARING WILL BE HELD ON 8/8/00 AT 9:30 A.M. COUNSEL SHALL FILE A HEARING MEMORANDUM ON OR ABOUT 7/25/00 . ( SIGNED BY JUDGE LOUIS C. BECHTLE ) 6/28/00 ENTERED AND COPIES MAILED AND FAXED. (kw) (Entered: 06/28/2000)

June 28, 2000
18

ORDER GRANTING PLFFS' MOTION TO ADMIT COUNSEL, NANCY NORTHRUP, ESQ. & GILLIAN E. METZGER, ESQ., PRO HAC VICE TO ACT AS LEAD COUNSEL IN THE INSTANT MATTER. ( SIGNED BY JUDGE LOUIS C. BECHTLE ) 6/28/00 ENTERED AND COPIES MAILED AND FAXED. (kw) (Entered: 06/28/2000)

June 28, 2000
19

Minute entry: Hearing on 6/27/00. Motion to consolidate the trial & the preliminary injunction hearing is granted. Preliminary injunction hearing will be held on 8/8/00 at 9:30 a.m. Counsel shall file a hearing memorandum on or about 7/25/00. (kw) (Entered: 06/29/2000)

June 28, 2000
20

Plaintiffs' Pretrial Memorandum, Certificate of Service. (kw) (Entered: 07/25/2000)

July 25, 2000
21

Memorandum of law by DEFENDANT TOM RIDGE, DEFENDANT KIM PIZZINGRILLI in opposition to plffs' MOTION FOR A PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION, Certificate of Service. (kw) (Entered: 07/25/2000)

July 25, 2000
22

Answer to Complaint by DEFENDANT TOM RIDGE, DEFENDANT KIM PIZZINGRILLI, Certificate of Service. (kw) (Entered: 08/09/2000)

Aug. 8, 2000
23

Minute entry: Hearing on 8/8/00. Argued sur: Plff's motion for permanent injunction. (kw) (Entered: 08/09/2000)

Aug. 8, 2000
24

Plaintiff's Pretrial Memorandum, Certificate of Service. (gn) (Entered: 08/11/2000)

Aug. 11, 2000
25

ORDER DENYING PLFF'S MOTION FOR PERMANENT INJUNCTION. THE COURT ABSTAINS FROM DECIDING THE MERITS OF PLFFS' CLAIMS AND ALL FURTHER PROCEEDINGS IN THE CASE ARE STAYED UNTIL FURTHER ORDER OF THE COURT. ( SIGNED BY JUDGE LOUIS C. BECHTLE ) 8/14/00 ENTERED AND COPIES MAILED. (gn) (Entered: 08/14/2000)

Aug. 14, 2000
26

Notice of appeal by PLAINTIFF NAACP PHILADELPHIA, PLAINTIFF EX−OFFENDERS, INC., PLAINTIFF PENNSYLVANIA PRISON, PLAINTIFF COMMUNITY ASSISTANCE, PLAINTIFF MALIK AZIZ, PLAINTIFF JAMES ROEBUCK. Fee Status: $105.00. Copies to: JUDGE LOUIS C. BECHTLE, Clerk USCA, Appeals Clerk, and NANCY NORTHUP, EARL W. TRENT JR., ANGUS R. LOVE, FRANCIS R. FILIPI, HOWARD LEBOFSKY, Certificate of Service. (kw) (Entered: 08/24/2000)

Aug. 23, 2000
27

Copy of Clerk's notice to USCA re: [26−1] appeal. (kw) (Entered: 08/24/2000)

Aug. 23, 2000

Notice of Docketing ROA from USCA Re: [26−1] appeal; USCA NUMBER: 00−2498 dated 8/30/00. (kw) (Entered: 08/31/2000)

Aug. 31, 2000
28

Copy of TPO form ref: [26−1] appeal. (kw) (Entered: 08/31/2000)

Aug. 31, 2000

RECORD COMPLETE FOR PURPOSES OF APPEAL. (jpd) (Entered: 09/01/2000)

Sept. 1, 2000
29

Transcript of hearing held on 8/8/00. (kw) (Entered: 09/15/2000)

Sept. 15, 2000
30

Certified copy of order from USCA, dated 1/29/01, re: [26−1] appeal that the District Court's order dated 8/14/00 be vacated & this matter be remanded to the District Court with instructions to dismiss. (kw) (Entered: 01/31/2001)

Jan. 30, 2001

Case closed (kv) (Entered: 02/12/2001)

Feb. 5, 2001

State / Territory: Pennsylvania

Case Type(s):

Election/Voting Rights

Key Dates

Filing Date: June 7, 2000

Closing Date: Feb. 5, 2001

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Formerly incarcerated individuals denied the ability to register to vote by a Pennsylvania statute

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

Brennan Center for Justice

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, State

Philadelphia City Commissioners (Philadelphia, Philadelphia), City

Case Details

Causes of Action:

42 U.S.C. § 1983

Constitutional Clause(s):

Due Process

Equal Protection

Availably Documents:

Trial Court Docket

Complaint (any)

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Defendant

Nature of Relief:

None

Source of Relief:

None

Content of Injunction:

Preliminary relief request withdrawn/mooted

Issues

Voting:

Voter registration rules