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Case Name Priorities USA v. Nessel VR-MI-0079
Docket / Court 4:19-cv-13341 ( E.D. Mich. )
Additional Docket(s) 2:20-cv-10211  [ 20-10211 ]  Eastern District of MI (U.S.)
State/Territory Michigan
Case Type(s) Election/Voting Rights
Case Summary
This lawsuit was filed on November 12, 2019 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The plaintiff, a left-wing advocacy group called Priorities USA, sued Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel in her official capacity. They were represented by private counsel. The group ... read more >
This lawsuit was filed on November 12, 2019 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The plaintiff, a left-wing advocacy group called Priorities USA, sued Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel in her official capacity. They were represented by private counsel. The group claimed that two Michigan laws, the "Voter Transportation Ban" and the "Absentee Ballot Organizing Ban," violated the U.S. Constitution. The Voter Transportation Ban prohibited the hiring of vehicles to bring voters to an election, unless that voter is physically unable to walk. The Absentee Ballot Organizing Ban created strict limits on the handling of absentee ballots by third parties. The lawsuit argues that these provisions were in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States. The provisions violated the First Amendment, the complaint argued, in that they created an undue burden to vote and they violated the organization's rights to free speech and association. The Fourteenth Amendment charge asserted that the provisions violated the Equal Protection Clause because they only exempted one type of disability -- people unable to walk -- while leaving out many other people who cannot transport themselves to the polls, including people with visual and other physical impairments. The plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief, along with attorney's fees and costs.

The case was assigned to District Judge Mark A. Goldsmith and Magistrate Judge R. Steven Whalen.

A month later, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss on several grounds. First, they argued that the plaintiff lacked standing, as they had not been injured and could not sue as a representative. The motion also argued that the plaintiff did not state a claim upon which relief could be granted with regards to both the Voter Transportation Ban and to the Absentee Ballot Organizing Ban. The defendants argued that the laws only minimally burdened rights to vote and rights to free speech, and were supported by important interests. Judge Goldsmith issued an order on December 23 suggesting that the plaintiffs amend their complaint. In response, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on January 27, 2020.

The new amended complaint added two new plaintiffs. The first, Rise, Inc. was a student-run voter mobilization group operating in Michigan and California. The second, Detroit/Downriver Chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute (DAPRI) was a self-described "senior constituency group" of the AFL-CIO. The amended complaint also made changes to the underlying complaints. The first count now alleged that the Absentee Ballot Organizing Ban violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by being unconstitutionally vague. The amended complaint retained the arguments that the Absentee Ballot Organizing Ban was in violation of free speech and free association rights, and also that it created an undue burden regarding the right to vote. They also inserted a new argument, claiming that the state laws conflicted with Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act (which holds that voters can choose from whom they receive assistance in voting if they are blind, disabled, or unable to read/write). The plaintiffs put forth many of the same claims with regards to the Voter Transportation Ban in the amended complaint, claiming that it was unconstitutionally vague, violated free speech and association rights, created an undue burden to the right to vote, and was superseded by the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1973. Regulations pursuant to that act allow corporations and labor organizations to transport voters to and from the polls. They sought declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as attorney's fees and costs.

At the same time, the plaintiffs began a separate lawsuit with a complaint identical to the amended complaint under this docket. They claimed to have done this "out of an abundance of caution" to make sure that the new arguments regarding standing were properly considered. They immediately moved to consolidate the new case with this one, and the new case was dismissed on February 14, 2020.

On January 28, 2020, a day after the amended complaint was filed, the plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary and permanent injunction. Here, the plaintiffs argued that their claims were meritorious, that they would suffer irreparable harm if injunctive relief was not granted, that a preliminary injunction would not cause substantial harm to others, and that the injunction was in the public interest.

On the last day of January, the case was reassigned to District Judge Stephanie Dawkins Davis.

On February 10, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint, arguing the alterations made to the plaintiffs' complaint still did not grant them standing, because they had not shown that they were actually planning on participating in any of the prohibited behavior. They also argued that the federal statute regarding the Voting Rights Act and the Absentee Ballot Organizing Ban did not conflict, because the latter only prohibits third parties from actively requesting to take a voter's absentee ballot, whereas the Voting Rights Act ensures the voter's ability to ask for assistance in voting. Similarly, they argued that the Voter Transportation Ban did not conflict with the federal regulations, because the Voter Transportation Ban only forbade hiring someone for the purpose of taking the voter to the poll, but did not prohibit the plaintiffs from taking voters to the polls out of their own will.

A little over a week later, the defendants then filed a brief in opposition to the motion for a preliminary and permanent injunction. The brief more or less rehashed the same arguments they made in the motion to dismiss, adding that the plaintiffs would not face irreparable injury (but that the state would) and that an injunction would not be in the public interest.

Over the next few months, several other organizations submitted motions to intervene, including the Michigan Republican Party, the Republican National Committee, the Michigan House of Representatives, and the Michigan Senate. So on May 8, 2020, the court held a hearing regarding those parties' motions to intervene as well as the motion to dismiss. Two weeks later, the court issued an granting the parties' motions to intervene and granting in part and denying in part the defendant's motion to dismiss. The court dismissed Counts III and VII of the amended complaints, those being the allegations that the Absentee Ballot Organizing Ban and the Voter Transportation Ban constituted an undue burden to the right to vote. 2020 WL 2615766.

On June 1, the intervenors (the Michigan Republican Party and the Republican National Committee collectively and the Michigan House of Representatives and the Michigan Senate collectively) submitted similar responses to the amended complaint, which denied all of the allegations apart from the already dismissed counts, and asked that the court dismiss the case. They also submitted lists of affirmative defenses.

Two days later the defendant submitted a response to the amended complaint, which was more or less the same as what the intervenors had submitted.

Over the next few weeks, the intervenors responded to the motion for preliminary and permanent injunctions. The plaintiffs then filed a reply to the responses, and Judge Davis then scheduled a hearing for July 14 to listen to arguments regarding the proposed preliminary and permanent injunctions.

The case is ongoing as of July 28, 2020.

Jack Hibbard - 07/28/2020


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Equal Protection
Freedom of speech/association
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
Disability
disability, unspecified
Mobility impairment
Visual impairment
Discrimination-basis
Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)
General
Voting
Voting access
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Voting
Election administration
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Voting Rights Act, section 208 (assistance for disabled persons), 52 U.S.C. § 10508 (previously 42 U.S.C. § 1973aa-6)
Defendant(s) Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel
Plaintiff Description Three organizations: 1) Priorities USA; 2) Rise, Inc.; 3) Detroit/Downriver A. Philip Randolph Institute
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Filed 11/12/2019
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  Priorities USA v. Nessel
The Ohio State University Michael E. Moritz College of Law
Date: Nov. 12, 2019
By: Election Law @ Moritz (Ohio State University)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Docket(s)
4:19-cv-13341-SDD-RSW (E.D. Mich.)
VR-MI-0079-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/26/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief [ECF# 1]
VR-MI-0079-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/12/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Defendant's Motion to Dismiss [ECF# 10]
VR-MI-0079-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/20/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Regarding Motion to Dismiss [ECF# 13] (E.D. Mich.)
VR-MI-0079-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/23/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief [ECF# 17]
VR-MI-0079-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/27/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Motion for Consolidation of Related Cases [ECF# 20]
VR-MI-0079-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/27/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Motion for a Preliminary and Permanent Injunction [ECF# 22]
VR-MI-0079-0008.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/28/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Defendant's Response to Plaintiffs' Motion to Consolidate [ECF# 26, 26-1, 26-2]
VR-MI-0079-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/07/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint [ECF# 27]
VR-MI-0079-0007.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/10/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Denying Motion to Dismiss as Moot (ECF No. 10), Denying Motion to Expedite Without Prejudice (ECF No. 23), and Setting Briefing Schedule on Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 27) [ECF# 29] (E.D. Mich.)
VR-MI-0079-0009.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/11/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Defendant Attorney General Dana Nessel's Response in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction [ECF# 30]
VR-MI-0079-0010.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/18/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Motion to Intervene by the Michigan Republican Party and the Republican National Committee [ECF# 33, 33-1, 33-2]
VR-MI-0079-0011.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/19/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
The Michigan Senate and Michigan House of Representatives' Motion to Intervene [ECF# 39, 39-1]
VR-MI-0079-0012.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/27/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Plaintiffs' Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint [ECF# 40]
VR-MI-0079-0013.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/02/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Plaintiffs' Reply in Support of their Motion for Preliminary and Permanent Injunction [ECF# 41]
VR-MI-0079-0014.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/03/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Defendant's Reply Brief in Support of the Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint [ECF# 44]
VR-MI-0079-0015.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/09/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Reply Brief in Support of Motion to Intervene by the Michigan Republican Party and the Republican National Committee [ECF# 46 (incl. 46-1 to 46-4)]
VR-MI-0079-0016.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/11/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Plaintiffs' Response in Opposition to the Michigan Legislature's Motion to Intervene [ECF# 48]
VR-MI-0079-0017.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/12/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Reply in Support of the Michigan Senate and Michigan House of Representatives' Motion to Intervene [ECF# 49]
VR-MI-0079-0018.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/19/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion and Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Motion to Dismiss [ECF# 59] (2020 WL 2615766) (E.D. Mich.)
VR-MI-0079-0019.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 05/22/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion and Order Granting Motions to Intervene [ECF# 60 ] (2020 WL 2615504) (E.D. Mich.)
VR-MI-0079-0020.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 05/22/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Michigan Republican Party and Republican National Committee Answer to Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief [ECF# 61]
VR-MI-0079-0021.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/01/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
The Michigan Senate and Michigan House of Representatives' Answer to Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief [ECF# 62]
VR-MI-0079-0022.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/01/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Defendant Attorney General Dana Nessel's Answer to Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief and Affirmative Defenses [ECF# 65]
VR-MI-0079-0023.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/03/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
The Michigan Senate and the Michigan House of Representatives' Response to Plaintiffs' Motion for a Preliminary and Permanent Injunction [ECF# 68]
VR-MI-0079-0024.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/05/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Intervenors Michigan Republican Party and Republican National Committee's Response in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion for a Preliminary and Permanent Injunction [ECF# 70 (incl. 70-1 to 70-8)]
VR-MI-0079-0025.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/05/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Reply in Support of Plaintiffs' Motion for a Preliminary and Permanent Injunction [ECF# 72 (incl. 72-1 to 72-11)]
VR-MI-0079-0026.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/12/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Davis, Stephanie Dawkins (E.D. Mich.) show/hide docs
VR-MI-0079-0009 | VR-MI-0079-0019 | VR-MI-0079-0020 | VR-MI-0079-9000
Goldsmith, Mark Allan (E.D. Mich.) show/hide docs
VR-MI-0079-0003
Whalen, R. Steven (E.D. Mich.) [Magistrate] show/hide docs
VR-MI-0079-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Beane, Amanda J. (Washington) show/hide docs
VR-MI-0079-0026 | VR-MI-0079-9000
Bryant, Christopher James (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
VR-MI-0079-0001 | VR-MI-0079-0004 | VR-MI-0079-0005 | VR-MI-0079-0008 | VR-MI-0079-0013 | VR-MI-0079-0014 | VR-MI-0079-0017 | VR-MI-0079-0026 | VR-MI-0079-9000
Elgart, Courtney (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
VR-MI-0079-0001 | VR-MI-0079-0004 | VR-MI-0079-0005 | VR-MI-0079-0008 | VR-MI-0079-0013 | VR-MI-0079-0014 | VR-MI-0079-0017 | VR-MI-0079-0026 | VR-MI-0079-9000
Elias, Marc Erik (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
VR-MI-0079-0001 | VR-MI-0079-0004 | VR-MI-0079-0005 | VR-MI-0079-0008 | VR-MI-0079-0013 | VR-MI-0079-0014 | VR-MI-0079-0017 | VR-MI-0079-0026 | VR-MI-0079-9000
Hamilton, Kevin J. (Washington) show/hide docs
VR-MI-0079-0001 | VR-MI-0079-0004 | VR-MI-0079-0005 | VR-MI-0079-0008 | VR-MI-0079-0013 | VR-MI-0079-0014 | VR-MI-0079-0017 | VR-MI-0079-0026 | VR-MI-0079-9000
Prescott, Sarah (Michigan) show/hide docs
VR-MI-0079-0001 | VR-MI-0079-0004 | VR-MI-0079-0005 | VR-MI-0079-0008 | VR-MI-0079-0013 | VR-MI-0079-0014 | VR-MI-0079-0017 | VR-MI-0079-0026 | VR-MI-0079-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Eatherly, Steven R (Michigan) show/hide docs
VR-MI-0079-0011 | VR-MI-0079-0016 | VR-MI-0079-0021 | VR-MI-0079-0025 | VR-MI-0079-9000
Grill, Erik A. (Michigan) show/hide docs
VR-MI-0079-0002 | VR-MI-0079-0006 | VR-MI-0079-0007 | VR-MI-0079-0010 | VR-MI-0079-0015 | VR-MI-0079-0023 | VR-MI-0079-9000
Meingast, Heather S. (Michigan) show/hide docs
VR-MI-0079-0002 | VR-MI-0079-0006 | VR-MI-0079-0007 | VR-MI-0079-0010 | VR-MI-0079-0015 | VR-MI-0079-0023 | VR-MI-0079-9000
Meyers, Roger P (Michigan) show/hide docs
VR-MI-0079-0012 | VR-MI-0079-0018 | VR-MI-0079-0022
Seyferth, Patrick G (Michigan) show/hide docs
VR-MI-0079-0012 | VR-MI-0079-0018 | VR-MI-0079-0022 | VR-MI-0079-0024 | VR-MI-0079-9000
Steinberger, Michael K (Michigan) show/hide docs
VR-MI-0079-0012 | VR-MI-0079-0018 | VR-MI-0079-0022 | VR-MI-0079-0024 | VR-MI-0079-9000
Wilder, Kurtis T (Michigan) show/hide docs
VR-MI-0079-0011 | VR-MI-0079-0016 | VR-MI-0079-0021 | VR-MI-0079-0025 | VR-MI-0079-9000

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