Williams v. Libertarian Party

Gordon Roy Butt sought to run for Colorado senate for the Libertarian Party in a 2013 recall election. The Secretary of State denied his request to circulate a petition because his request came after the deadline as then set by section 1-12-117(1). Butt and the Libertarian Party (collectively, “the Party”) sued the Secretary under section 1-1-113, C.R.S. (2017), alleging that the statutory deadline conflicted with the Colorado Constitution. Within the section 1-1-113 proceeding, the Party also raised a claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. 1983 (2012), and an accompanying request for an award of attorney’s fees under 42 U.S.C. 1988 (2012), alleging, inter alia, a First Amendment violation. The district court found for the Party on the state constitutional claim, and did not address the section 1983 claim. After the Colorado Supreme Court denied appellate review on a split vote, further proceedings occurred before the district court. The case was appealed once again, and the Supreme Court denied review again. Nine months later, the Party returned to district court seeking summary judgment on its section 1983 claim and, in the alternative, an attorney’s fee award under section 1988 on the ground that the Party had been successful on its state constitutional claim. The district court denied the Party’s request for attorney’s fees, finding that it had not pursued fees in a timely manner. It also dismissed the section 1983 claim as moot due to the General Assembly’s 2014 amendment of section 1-12-117(1). The court of appeals reversed the district court, holding that although the Party’s section 1983 claim was moot, the request for attorney’s fees under section 1988 was appropriate so long as the section 1983 claim was substantial, stemmed from the same nucleus of operative facts as the state constitutional claim, and was reasonably related to the plaintiff’s ultimate success. The court remanded the case to the district court to apply this test to determine whether the Party was entitled to fees. The Colorado Secretary of State appealed, and the Supreme Court reversed: a section 1983 claim may not be brought in a section 1-1-113 proceeding. The language of that section repeatedly refers to "this code," meaning the Colorado Election Code. Therefore, a section 1-1-113 proceeding is limited to allegations of a “breach or neglect of duty or other wrongful act” under the election code itself. § 1-1-113(1). We emphasize that Colorado courts remain entirely open for adjudication of section 1983 claims, including on an expedited basis if a preliminary injunction is sought, and that therefore section 1-1-113 does not run afoul of the Supremacy Clause. View "Williams v. Libertarian Party" on Justia Law