Libertarian Party of Colorado and Gordon Roy Butt, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
Wayne Williams, in his official capacity as Colorado Secretary of State; Chuck W. Broerman, in his official capacity as El Paso County Clerk and Recorder; and Gilbert Ortiz, in his official capacity as Pueblo County Clerk and Recorder, Defendants-Appellees.
City and County of Denver District Court No. 13CV33491 Honorable Robert L. McGahey, Jr., Judge
The Matthew C. Ferguson Law Firm P.C., Matthew C. Ferguson, Michelle K. Schindler, Aspen, Colorado, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.
Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, Amy Colony, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Matthew D. Grove, Assistant Solicitor General, Denver, Colorado, for Defendants-Appellees.
¶ 1 The Libertarian Party of Colorado and two recall election candidates, Richard Anglund and Gordon Roy Butt, sued Wayne Williams, in his official capacity as the Colorado Secretary of State, Chuck W. Broerman, in his official capacity as the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder, and Gilbert Ortiz, in his official capacity as the Pueblo County Clerk and Recorder (collectively, the Secretary) alleging that a statutory deadline for filing candidate petitions conflicted with the Colorado Constitution. The Libertarian Party also asserted that the statutory deadline violated its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and it sought declaratory and injunctive relief (but not damages) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2012) and attorney fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 (2012).
¶ 2 The district court granted relief on the state election law claim but did not address the § 1983 and § 1988 claims. On the Libertarian Party's motion for summary judgment on its federal claims, the court ruled that its judgment on the state election law claim, coupled with the supreme court's order denying review of the state claim, constituted a final adjudication on the entire case. Alternatively, the court ruled that the section 1983 and 1988 claims were moot because the General Assembly had since amended the offending state statute. Accordingly, the court denied the Libertarian Party's summary judgment motion and dismissed the remainder of the case. The Libertarian Party appeals.
¶ 3 We hold that neither the district court's judgment on the state election law claim nor the supreme court's order denying review of the district court's judgment constituted an adjudication of the § 1983 and § 1988 claims. We affirm the district court's ruling that the § 1983 claim was moot. But, under federal law, which governs § 1988 claims for attorney fees, that mootness does not necessarily preclude the Libertarian Party's claim for attorney fees under § 1988. We conclude that further proceedings in the district court are necessary to determine if the Libertarian Party is entitled to attorney fees under § 1988. Therefore, we reverse the judgment denying attorney fees and remand for the district court to determine whether the Libertarian Party is entitled to recover its attorney fees, and if so, in what amount.
I. Relevant Facts and Procedural History
¶ 4 Anglund, a Democratic Party candidate, and Butt, a member of the Libertarian Party, requested the Secretary's approval to circulate petitions as successor candidates in a General Assembly recall election. The Secretary denied their requests because they were submitted after a deadline imposed by a Colorado statute, Ch. 170, sec. 8, § 1-12-117(1), 2014 Colo. Sess. Laws 621, and a regulation adopted by the Secretary.
¶ 5 Together with the Libertarian Party, Anglund and Butt sued the Secretary under section 1-1-113, C.R.S. 2015, of the Colorado Election Code, which provides expedited adjudication procedures, including a direct appeal from the district court's judgment to the Colorado Supreme Court. The Libertarian Party contended that the Secretary violated its constitutional right of access to the ballot because the statutory deadline conflicted with a later deadline set forth in article XXI, section 3 of the Colorado Constitution. Its complaint also summarily asserted that the alleged impingement upon its right of access to the ballot violated its rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.
¶ 6 The Libertarian Party asked the district court (1) to order the Secretary to accept candidate petitions until the state constitutional deadline and to refrain from circulating ballots until after that deadline had expired; (2) for injunctive and declaratory relief (but not damages) under § 1983; and (3) for attorney fees under § 1988.
¶ 7 In expedited proceedings under the Colorado Election Code, the district court held that the state statute conflicted with the Colorado Constitution and thus was void. It ordered the Secretary to enforce only the state constitutional deadline, but it did not address the Libertarian Party's § 1983 and § 1988 claims.
¶ 8 The Secretary filed an immediate appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court, as authorized by section 1-1-113(3). Because of an equally divided court, the supreme court denied review and ordered that the decision of the district court was final and "not subject to further appellate review." Libertarian Party v. Ortiz, (Colo. No. 13SA206, Aug. 15, 2013) (unpublished order).
¶ 9 The Libertarian Party then moved for summary judgment, asking the district court to adjudicate its § 1983 claim and to award it attorney fees under § 1988. After initially agreeing with the Libertarian Party that the supreme court's order on the state law issue was not dispositive of the § 1983 or § 1988 claims, the district court later shifted course and ruled that the entire case ended when the supreme court entered its order affirming the district court's judgment on the state election law claim. The district court concluded that because the supreme court's order constituted a final judgment, the only way the Libertarian Party could seek an adjudication of its § 1983 and § 1988 claims was to file a motion for amendment of the judgment under C.R.C.P. 59. Because the Libertarian Party had not done so, ...