During 2003, a law professor residing in Illinois developed a mental illness. Due to this illness, a state court appointed the Office of State Guardian as guardian of his person and, in 2004, of his estate. He moved to Missouri, where a petition was soon filed to appoint a guardian for him. The guardianship in Illinois did not affect his eligibility to vote while residing there, but the guardianship adjudication had a different, prohibitive impact on his voting rights in Missouri. Thus, in October 2004, the former professor, as plaintiff and by the Office of State Guardian, filed a civil complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, naming as defendants Missouri's governor, attorney general, and several city election officials. The plaintiff alleged that, previously, he had been adjudged mentally incapacitated and appointed a guardian and, presently, would like to register to vote for, and to vote in, upcoming elections. Missouri, however, had a constitutional provision and a statute that barred incapacitated persons and those under guardianship from registering to vote and from voting. Alleging that these state laws denied him his fundamental right to vote and violated his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment's due process and equal protection clauses, as well as statutory (and related regulatory) rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C § 12131 et seq., and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, the plaintiff sought declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as attorneys fees and costs. Numerous attorneys represented the plaintiff, including those from Illinois' Guardianship and Advocacy Commission, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, the ACLU National Voting Rights Project, and the ACLU of Eastern Missouri.
The plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction was denied in an unpublished opinion by District Judge Ortrie Smith on October 26, 2004. The judge ruled that it would be inappropriate to issue injunctive relief when the plaintiff had other means of protecting his voting rights, such as seeking in state court proceedings that any guardianship order applicable to him be limited in a way that allowed for him to vote.
In December 2004, an amended complaint was filed. It made essentially the same attacks upon the state's limitations on voting eligibility, but added two additional individual plaintiffs under guardianship orders and one associational plaintiff, the Missouri Protection and Advocacy Services, Inc. ("MOPAS"). It also added another federal constitutional claim, alleging that the full faith and credit clause was violated by Missouri's law, since deprivation of voting rights occurred in Missouri based upon an Illinois adjudication that did not expressly deprive one of voting rights.
Also in December 2004, the Missouri probate court acted upon the petition for appointment of a guardian for the original plaintiff. In an unpublished ruling, Circuit Judge Joan Moriarty found that the Illinois guardianship order had no extraterritorial effect and that the Illinois guardian had exceeded its authority in moving the plaintiff to a Missouri psychiatric facility. The judge directed that the Illinois guardian move the plaintiff to an Illinois facility. The probate court's ruling, however, was reversed on appeal eight months later. Appellate Judge Gary M. Gaertner, Sr., writing for a panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals, found that the Illinois guardianship order was entitled to recognition and enforcement under the federal constitution's full faith and credit clause, particularly given Missouri statutes that reflected a willingness to recognize guardianship judgments without regard to the location of the guardian or the ward. Thus, the Illinois guardian had acted appropriately in moving the plaintiff to Missouri. That the ward had been moved back to Illinois did not fully moot the case, according to the appellate panel, due to the significance of the lower court's erroneous ruling. In re Prye, 168 S.W.3d 116 (Mo. App. 2005).
The federal case proceeded, in the meantime, and the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. These were ruled upon by Judge Smith on July 7, 2006, in an unpublished order. By this time, two of the individual plaintiffs had been dismissed from the case at their request (including the original plaintiff), leaving MOPAS and a plaintiff under a Missouri guardianship order as the challengers to the Missouri laws. Judge Smith first decided that the election board's recent issuance of a voter registration card to the individual plaintiff did not moot the case, because the defendants had not met their burden of showing the permanence of their voluntary cessation of the alleged wrongful conduct. Next, he ruled that the state's use of a guardianship scheme that required individualized determination of a person's abilities and limitations sufficiently allowed for differentiating those who are qualified to vote from those who are not and, so, did not violate the federal constitution or statutes. Additionally, the opportunity for review and modification of state guardianship orders gave wards recourse to protect their interests in voting. Accordingly, Judge Smith granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment.
Plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. On August 23, 2007, that court affirmed the district court, although on somewhat different grounds. In an opinion by Circuit Judge James B. Loken, the court rejected the state's assertion of the Eleventh Amendment as a bar to suit against the state officials, since the named state defendants had "some connection" to enforcement of the allegedly unconstitutional law. The state's arguments fared better, however, on the merits. Judge Loken noted that the state guardianship scheme did not categorically disenfranchise persons under full guardianship, since the state's courts retained authority to preserve a ward's right to vote in accordance with the state's statutory mandate to minimize deprivation of a ward's liberty. Thus, the state law did not deny equal protection or federal statutory rights, given the law's lack of a categorical bar to voting. Further, the court ruled that the advocacy group plaintiff (MOPAS) lacked standing to bring suit on behalf of mere constituents, who lacked the active relationship to the organization that exists when membership exists. Without participation by a ward who had been denied the right to vote because a guardian was appointed for reasons other than mental incapacity, MOPAS' assertion of the rights of such a hypothetical plaintiff was "too abstract," according to Judge Loken, who saw MOPAS as asking for an impermissible advisory opinion. Missouri Protection and Advocacy Services, Inc., v. Carnahan, 499 F.3d 803 (8th Cir. 2007).
Likewise, the remaining individual plaintiff could not prevail, since his local election board had denied him the right to vote in error, not noting that his guardianship order expressly allowed him to retain that right. The board, noting the error after he had been added to the case as a plaintiff, issued him a voter registration card. This made his pending claim for injunctive relief moot, as there was no reasonable expectation that the earlier error would be repeated. Further, he had no standing to assert the rights of others and had not been injured by the alleged flaws in the Missouri voting laws, since his voting rights had been preserved in the guardianship order. Id.
Efforts to seek rehearing and rehearing en banc were denied. After the appellate ruling in favor of the defendants became final, no further material activity occurred in this case.Mike Fagan - 06/16/2008