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Davidson v. City of Cranston

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

September 8, 2014


For Karen Davidson, Debbie Flitman, Eugene Perry, Sylvia Weber, American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, Inc., Plaintiffs: Lynette J. Labinger, LEAD ATTORNEY, Roney & Labinger LLP, Providence, RI USA; Adam Lioz, PRO HAC VICE, Demos, Washington, DC USA; Brenda Wright, PRO HAC VICE, Demos, Brighton, MA USA; Sean J Young, PRO HAC VICE, ACLU, New York, N.Y. USA.

For City of Cranston, Rhode Island, Defendant: Christopher M. Rawson, LEAD ATTORNEY, Lovett Schefrin Harnett, Providence, RI USA; Normand G. Benoit, LEAD ATTORNEY, Partridge, Snow & Hahn LLP, Providence, RI USA; David J. Pellegrino, Partridge, Snow & Hahn LLP, Providence, RI USA.

Page 326


RONALD R. LAGUEUX, Senior United States District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the motion of Defendant City of Cranston, Rhode Island (" the City" ), to dismiss the Complaint against it in its entirety. The Complaint alleges that the municipal ward Redistricting Plan adopted by the City in 2012 violates the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Plaintiffs Karen Davidson, Debbie Flitman, Eugene Perry and Sylvia Weber are City residents. The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, Inc. (hereinafter, together with the named plaintiffs, designated as " Plaintiffs" ), joins the suit in order to represent its approximately 100 members who reside in the City, and who are, allegedly, adversely affected by the Redistricting Plan. For the reasons explained below, this Court denies Defendant's motion to dismiss.


The 2012 Redistricting Plan is based on population numbers tallied by the United States Census Bureau as part of its decennial census count undertaken in 2010. The United States Census Bureau is required by the Constitution to count every person residing in the United States every ten years, in order that the information may be used to allocate representation to the United States House of Representatives. U.S. Const. art. I, § 2, cl. 3. The Census Bureau undertakes to count each person according to their 'usual residence,' and has historically counted prisoners as residents of the district where their prison is located. In 2010, the Census Bureau counted the 3,433 prisoners incarcerated in Rhode Island's only state prison complex, the Adult Correctional Institutions (" ACI" ), as residents of Cranston. When the City drew its ward boundaries for the 2012 Redistricting Plan, the entire prison population was situated within one ward.

Each of Cranston's six wards elects one representative to the City Council. An additional three city councilors are elected at-large. The City's school committee is made up of seven members -- one from each ward and one at-large. According to Plaintiffs, each city ward has approximately 13,000-14,000 residents.

Page 327

According to Plaintiffs, the 3,433 prisoners housed at the ACI, and included as part of the population of Ward Six, cannot vote in the ward. Indeed, Rhode Island's Constitution provides that no one who has been convicted of a felony may vote until his or her sentence is completed. R.I. Const. Art. II, § 1. Those prisoners who are able to vote, who are at the ACI for reasons other than a felony conviction, are required to vote by absentee ballot at their pre-incarceration domicile -- considered by State statute to be their " residence for voting purposes." R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-1-3.1(a)(2).[1]

According to Plaintiffs, " the overwhelming majority" of prisoners are not residents of Cranston, let alone its Ward Six. Assuming this to be true, as the Court must on a motion to dismiss, the number of prisoners who are able to vote in Ward Six likely is negligible. Moreover, Plaintiffs allege, in addition to not voting in Ward Six, the prison population is unable to participate in, benefit from or contribute to any other aspect of civic life in Cranston.

According to Plaintiffs' calculations, the prison population makes up 25% of the total population of Ward Six. As a result, the voting power of the remaining 75% of the Ward's residents[2] is strengthened; while at the same time, the voting power of residents of the other five wards is diluted. Plaintiffs assert in the Complaint, " [E]very three actual residents of that ward [Six] have as much say about city and school affairs as four residents in any other ward." According to the City, the population deviations amongst the wards is around 5%. However, according to Plaintiffs, if the prison population were subtracted from the count, the deviation is over 28%.

Plaintiffs assert that they attended City Council meetings during the redistricting process to object to the inclusion of the ACI population in Ward Six. Nonetheless, the City ultimately adopted the plan, causing Plaintiffs ongoing and irreparable harm. Plaintiffs claim one cause of action, for violation of section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. They seek a declaration that the 2012 Redistricting Plan is unconstitutional and seek to enjoin further elections in Cranston until a constitutionally-acceptable plan is developed.

Standard of Review

Defendant moves to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must accept as true all allegations in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Aulson v. Blanchard, 83 F.3d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1996). The United States Supreme Court has recently stated the standard as follows: " [O]nce a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 563, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). The Supreme Court further refined its requirements in Ashcroft v. Iqbal:

To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.

556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (internal citations omitted).


The right to vote, be counted and be ...

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