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Missouri Electric Cooperatives v. State

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

January 17, 2017

MISSOURI ELECTRIC COOPERATIVES, d/b/a Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
STATE OF MISSOURI, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CATHERINE D. PERRY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on defendants' motion to transfer venue. I conclude that transfer of this case to the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Central Division (Jefferson City) is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), and so I will transfer the case to that Court.

         Procedural Background

         This case was filed on December 7, 2016, challenging certain provisions of Missouri's campaign finance law. Article VIII, Section 23 of the Missouri Constitution became effective on November 8, 2016, after it was passed by a vote of the people under Missouri's initiative petition process. The provisions of Section 23 that plaintiffs in this case challenge restrict certain types of corporations and committees from making contributions to political parties and to certain types of committees.

         Defendants in this case are the State of Missouri and the Missouri Ethics Commission as well as the individual Commission members. Plaintiffs are suing the individual defendant commissioners only in their official capacities. Plaintiffs' amended complaint alleges that defendant George Ratermann, one of the commissioners, resides in the Eastern District of Missouri and that venue is proper in this district under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(1). The Missouri Ethics Commission has its offices in Jefferson City, which is in the Western District of Missouri.

         When the case was initially filed, plaintiffs did not seek immediate emergency relief. On December 19, however, they filed their Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction. After defense counsel entered an appearance and plaintiffs' counsel requested a hearing, the Court held a telephone conference with counsel and then scheduled a temporary restraining order hearing for December 29. At that hearing and after the Court indicated that a prompt preliminary injunction hearing could be set, plaintiffs' counsel agreed to withdraw the Motion for Temporary Restraining Order. The Court then set that hearing for January 13, 2017, and set a schedule for briefing the motion. Both sides have filed multiple, extensive briefs.

         Plaintiffs filed their First Amended Complaint on January 4 and the next day Todd Jones, through counsel, filed a motion to intervene as a defendant. On January 10, 2017, I held a telephone conference (on the record) with counsel for the parties as well as counsel for the intervenor, to determine whether the proposed intervenor was seeking to participate in the preliminary injunction hearing. Counsel for the proposed intervenor indicated that he was not seeking to participate in the hearing, and so all parties indicated they would brief the motion to intervene as required by the local rules.[1]

         A separate case that also challenges the same new campaign finance law was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri on December 23, 2016. Free & Fair Election Fund, et al. v. Missouri Ethics Comm'n, et al., Case No. 2:16-CV-04332-ODS. That case is brought by different plaintiffs and different plaintiffs' counsel. The Missouri Ethics Commission and the individual commissioners are defendants in both cases and are represented by the same defense counsel from the Missouri Attorney General's office.[2] No answer or other responsive pleading has yet been filed in either case, as the deadline for such filings has not yet arrived. Both cases, in other words, are in their infancy.

         At the first telephone conference with counsel and again during the January 10 telephone conference, I questioned whether venue was proper in this district. On January 11, 2017, defendants filed their Motion to Change Venue and/or Consolidate. I then held another telephone conference with counsel for the parties, and entered an Order that the previously scheduled preliminary injunction hearing would not go forward. The Order also set a deadline for plaintiffs to show cause why I should not transfer this case to the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri, where venue is undoubtedly proper. Plaintiffs filed their brief opposing the transfer on January 12, 2017.

         Discussion

         Plaintiffs' amended complaint asserts that venue is proper here under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(1), which provides that a civil action may be brought in “a judicial district in which any defendant resides, . . . .” Plaintiffs initially relied on the residence of one commissioner as the basis for venue in this district. In their brief opposing transfer, however, plaintiffs present two other arguments: that venue is proper under § 1391(b)(2) because the effects of the challenged Missouri law will be felt in both Missouri districts, and that the Missouri Ethics Commission is deemed a resident of both districts under § 1391(c)(2). Although I initially told the parties that I did not believe venue was proper here, I now conclude that venue is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(1).[3]

         “[A] suit against a state official in his or her official capacity is not a suit against the official but rather is a suit against the official's office. As such, it is no different from a suit against the State itself.” Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989) (citations omitted). See also Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991) (real party in interest in an official-capacity suit is the governmental entity and not the named official); Zajrael v. Harmon, 677 F.3d 353, 355 (8th Cir. 2012) (“A suit against state employees in their official capacities is the functional equivalent of a suit against the State.”).

         The general rule is that if a suit is brought against a state official in his official capacity, the official's residence is where he performs his official duties.[4]See Simon v. Ward, 80 F.Supp.2d 464, 468-69 (E.D. Pa. 2000) (collecting cases but holding that because the officials were sued in their individual capacities, venue did not depend on where they performed their official duties); Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 682 F.Supp. 834, 835-36 (M.D. N.C. 1988); Procario v. Ambach, 466 F.Supp. 452, 454 (S.D.N.Y. 1979). Some courts have recognized that some state officials may perform their duties in multiple judicial districts, and so venue based on residence may be appropriate in more than one district. See, e.g., Taylor v. White, 132 F.R.D. 636 (E.D. Pa.1990) (state officials can be sued where they maintain their offices, either in the state capitol or in district where regional offices are located in which substantial activities related to the claims took place); Buffalo Teachers Fed'n, Inc. v. Helsby, 426 F.Supp. 828 (S.D.N.Y. 1976). At least one court has concluded that state officials by definition must perform their duties throughout the state. Bay Cnty. Democratic Party v. Land, 340 F.Supp.2d 802, 806-808 (E.D. Mich. 2004).

         The office of the Missouri Ethics Commission is in Jefferson City, in the Western District. Plaintiffs contend, however, that the majority of the Commission meetings are held by teleconference, and that therefore Commissioner Ratermann performs most of his work from his home in St. Louis. I need not determine whether this is correct, however, because under the ...


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