11th Circuit affirms dismissal of lawsuit challenging DNC’s decision not to seat Fla. delegates

By now pretty much everyone knows that the Democratic National Committee stripped Florida of its delegates to this year’s national convention in Denver based on the Florida Democratic Party’s flagrantly mutton-headed decision to hold its primary earlier than DNC rules allowed. What isn’t generally known is that a Florida Democratic voter sued over it.

Back in August 2007, Victor DiMaio filed suit in federal court seeking a declaration that the DNC’s action violated his voting rights under both the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Article II of the U.S. Constitution. The trial judge dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction, finding that Mr. DiMaio lacked “standing” to make the challenges asserted in his complaint. The judge ruled in the alternative that the complaint lacked merit because the DNC is not a “state actor” and political parties have a constitutionally protected right to manage their own internal affairs.

Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed on standing grounds. DiMaio v. Democratic Nat’l Comm. (pdf, 9 pages). What the hell does that mean? In a nutshell, Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution says that the “judicial power” of federal courts extends to “cases” and “controversies.” Federal courts have long held that the “cases” and “controversies” language includes a requirement that a person must have a legally sufficient stake in the outcome of a dispute before invoking a federal court’s jurisdiction. In other words, the plaintiff must have “standing.”

The easy-to-recite, substantially-more-difficult-to-apply test for standing provides that the plaintiff in a federal court case must meet three requirements:

First, the plaintiff must have suffered an injury in fact – an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized, and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical. Second, there must be   causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of – the injury has to be fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant, and not the result of the independent action of some third party not before the court. Third, it must be likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.

DiMaio’s complaint — a shining example of piss poor legal drafting, if the Eleventh Circuit’s description is correct — didn’t come close to making the grade. First and foremost, the complaint never alleged that Mr. DiMaio voted or even intended to vote in the Florida Democratic Primary. Instead, “the complaint simply ‘posit[ed]’ that the DNC ‘may be violating his rights under Article II and the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution’; that enforcement of the DNC’s delegate-stripping rules ‘may or may not violate [his] right to vote in a Presidential primary’; and that, ‘[i]f the decision of the National Party violates [his] constitutional rights, it would be appropriate for this court to make such a finding.'” (Emphasis original.)

FAIL.

The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s dismissal on standing/jurisdiction grounds, but vacated the lower court’s alternative ruling on the merits. After all, a court has no business deciding a case on the merits if it doesn’t have subject matter jurisdiction to begin with.

The Eleventh Circuit also noted that a jurisdiction-based dismissal is necessarily “without prejudice,” meaning that the plaintiff can file the lawsuit anew. We haven’t heard the last of this case, as Mr. DiMaio plans to refile.

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