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Pro Se Litigation

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Rule 1 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure calls for “the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding.” Section 1983 inmate civil rights cases can thwart that expectation, and such cases represent about 11% of civil cases filed nationwide. In an effort to reduce the amount of time these cases consume and their costs, the District of Nevada developed an inmate early mediation program that has enjoyed marked success. Court to Court visited the district court in Reno to learn why the program has been so successful. 

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Loeber v. Spargo (Lawrence E. Kahn, N.D.N.Y. 1:04-cv-1193)
A pro se complaint filed a few weeks before the 2004 general election challenged New York districting, among other things. After a hearing on concerns that a United Nations body would oversee New York elections, the district judge dismissed the complaint as speculative and for not naming as defendants parties against whom an injunction would provide the plaintiffs with their desired relief. In 2010, the court of appeals affirmed dismissal of an amended complaint for failure to state a federal cause of action.
Subject: Polling place activities. Topics: Pro se party; malapportionment; Help America Vote Act (HAVA); interlocutory appeal; three-judge court; case assignment.

One of many Case Studies in Emergency Election Litigation.

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Amsterdam v. KITV 4 (David Alan Ezra, D. Haw. 1:10-cv-253) and Moseley v. Hawaii (Susan Oki Mollway, D. Haw. 1:10-cv-255)
Two minor candidates for a special congressional election filed pro se emergency actions in the federal court to compel their inclusion in separate televised candidate forums. The district judges denied the plaintiffs relief on the papers.
Subject: Campaign activities. Topics: News media; pro se party.

One of many Case Studies in Emergency Election Litigation.

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Sloan v. Hearst Media Co. (Paul J. Barbadoro, D.N.H. 1:16-cv-52)
A pro se federal complaint filed on the afternoon of the day of presidential primary elections challenged the plaintiff’s exclusion from televised debates and challenged the refusal of a television station to air the plaintiff’s paid ads. The district judge denied the plaintiff a temporary restraining order on the day that the complaint was filed for failure to comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65(b)(1)’s notice requirements for a temporary restraining order. A little over two months later, a magistrate judge reviewed the complaint and recommended its dismissal. Reviewing the plaintiff’s objections, the district judge adopted the recommendation, and the court of appeals affirmed the dismissal.​
Subject: Campaign activities. Topics: Campaign materials; pro se party; primary election.

One of many Case Studies in Emergency Election Litigation.

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Matheson v. New York City Board of Elections (Edward R. Korman, 1:03-cv-4170), Marchant v. New York City Board of Elections (Kiyo A. Matsumoto, 1:11-cv-4099), and Marchant v. New York City Board of Elections (Roslynn R. Mauskopf, 1:10-cv-3847) (E.D.N.Y.) and Marchant v. New York City Board of Elections (Katherine Polk Failla, 1:13-cv-5493), Escoffery-Bey v. New York City Board of Elections (Jesse M. Furman, 1:13-cv-5656), Keeling v. Sanchez (Paul A. Engelmayer, 1:13-cv-5731), and Newsome v. New York City Board of Elections (Ronnie Abrams, 1:13-cv-5787) (S.D.N.Y.)
In 2003, 2010, 2011, and 2013, supporters of a perennial New York primary election candidate filed federal actions—the first three in the Eastern District of New York and the last in the Southern District of New York—challenging the candidate’s exclusion from the ballot for insufficient ballot petition signatures. The first action was successful. Similar actions on behalf of other candidates filed in the Southern District of New York in 2013 were unsuccessful, in once case because relief had been obtained in parallel state court proceedings.
Topics: Getting on the ballot; primary election; matters for state courts; pro se party; case assignment; attorney fees; intervention.

One of many Case Studies in Emergency Election Litigation.

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Ramratan v. New York City Board of Elections (Nicholas G. Garaufis and Dora L. Irizarry, 1:06-cv-4770), Bert v. New York City Board of Elections (Charles P. Sifton, 1:06-cv-4789), Brown v. Board of Elections (Kiyo A. Matsumoto, 1:08-cv-3512), Fischer v. Suffolk County Board of Elections (Joanna Seybert, 2:08-cv-4171), Minnus v. Board of Elections (Sandra L. Townes, 1:10-cv-3918), Fischer v. NYS Board of Elections (Joanna Seybert, 2:12-cv-5397), and Pidot v. New York State Board of Elections (Joseph F. Bianco, 2:16-cv-3527) (E.D.N.Y.) and Williams-Bey v. Commissioners of Elections (Katherine B. Forrest, 1:12-cv-3836), Thomas v. New York City Board of Elections (Shira A. Scheindlin, 1:12-cv-4223), and Moore v. McFadden (Edgardo Ramos, 1:14-cv-6643) (S.D.N.Y.)
In ten cases, district judges denied relief contrary to state court results to prospective candidates in the Eastern District of New York in 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2016 and in the Southern District of New York in 2012 and 2014.
Topics: Getting on the ballot; matters for state courts; primary election; pro se party; case assignment; laches; recusal.

One of many Case Studies in Emergency Election Litigation.

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Green Party of New York State v. New York State Board of Elections (John Gleeson, E.D.N.Y. 1:02-cv-6465)
Three days before the certification of a gubernatorial election would result in a minor party’s demotion from status as an established party because its candidate received an insufficient number of votes for governor, the party filed a federal complaint challenging the stripping of registered party membership for all of its registered members. The district judge issued a temporary restraining order in the party’s favor. Later, the court of appeals affirmed a preliminary injunction in the party’s favor.
Topics: Registration procedures; interlocutory appeal; intervention; getting on the ballot; attorney fees; pro se party.

One of many Case Studies in Emergency Election Litigation.

In Print: Available for Distribution

This manual provides a practical guide to steps that courts can take before and during litigation to manage nonprisoner pro se litigation more efficiently, steps that may also help pro se litigants better navigate the complexities of federal civil litigation. Part I discusses the concept of procedural fairness and the goal of increasing access to justice; it also addresses some of the potential ethical concerns about providing assistance to pro se litigants. Part II examines specific case-management techniques that federal courts have applied or that have been recommended as potentially useful in pro se cases. Part III provides a more in-depth look at many of the legal issues that can arise during pro se litigation, focusing on the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Federal Rules of Evidence, and case law, in order to give judges a better understanding of the scope of their authority and discretion in pro se matters.

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Kowalski v. Cook County Officers’ Electoral Board (John W. Darrah, N.D. Ill. 1:16-cv-1891)
The federal district judge denied relief to a prospective candidate for county recorder of deeds as barred by res judicata and unsuccessful efforts in state courts.
Topics: Getting on the ballot; matters for state courts; pro se party; primary election.

One of many Case Studies in Emergency Election Litigation.

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Espronceda v. Krier (H.F. Garcia, William Wayne Justice, and Pamela A. Mathy, W.D. Tex. 5:00 cv 1259)
One week after the election, a pro se federal complaint challenged the passage of a referendum to add fluoride to a city’s drinking water. A little over a year later, a three-judge district court granted the defendants summary judgment.
Subject: Ballot measures. Topics: Ballot measure; enjoining certification; pro se party; section 5 preclearance; three-judge court; case assignment; recusal.

One of many Case Studies in Emergency Election Litigation.

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