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Teel v. Darnell

April 14, 2008

RONALD TEEL; LEONE TEEL; AND JOHN THOMAS LAYTON PLAINTIFFS,
v.
RILEY DARNELL, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SECRETARY OF STATE OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE ; BROOK THOMPSON, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS COORDINATOR OF ELECTIONS OF THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE; THE BRADLEY COUNTY ELECTIONS COMMISSION; FRAN GREEN, IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE BRADLEY COUNTY ELECTIONS COMMISSION; AND KALIN MORRIS, IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS THE ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR OF ELECTIONS OF THE BRADLEY COUNTY ELECTIONS COMMISSION DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Curtis L. Collier

MEMORANDUM

Before the Court is plaintiffs Ronald Teel, Leone Teel, and John T. Layton's ("Plaintiffs") motion for reconsideration (Court File No. 32), along with accompanying memorandum (Court File No. 33) and the response in opposition (Court File No. 35) by defendants Riley Darnell, Brook Thompson, the Bradley County Elections Commission, Fran Green, and Kalin Morris ("Defendants"). Plaintiffs also filed a motion to amend or revise their complaint (Court File No. 34), along with an amended complaint (Court File No. 34-1), and Defendants filed a response in opposition (Court File No. 36). For the following reasons, the Court will DENY Plaintiffs' motion for reconsideration (Court File No. 32) and motion to amend or revise their complaint (Court File No. 34).

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs filed this case against Defendants, who are state and county election officials and the Bradley County Elections Commission, alleging multiple violations of Plaintiffs' rights under the state and federal constitutions. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, which the Court granted, dismissing with prejudice Plaintiffs' federal claims, dismissing without prejudice their state claims, and dismissing without prejudice all claims as against the defendants in their individual capacities (Court File No. 31). The relevant facts of this case are set out in the Court's Memorandum (Court File No. 30) accompanying that Order and will not be repeated here. Teel v. Darnell, 2008 WL 474185, *1-*2, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13121, *2-*6 (E.D. Tenn. Feb. 20, 2008).

Plaintiffs filed this timely motion for reconsideration, along with a motion to amend or revise their complaint. The additions to the complaint state the Teel Plaintiffs considered the commercial mailbox address their "home base"; Plaintiff Layton has returned to Tennessee numerous times, some times for a few days, other times for a few months and he considers the commercial mailbox address to be his "home base" where he can receive messages and be contacted; Layton has connections to the community; the commercial mailbox address is the "home base" of all Plaintiffs, "the place where they are capable of receiving messages and being contacted and the place they intent to return to when they are done traveling. As the geographical location that Plaintiffs sleep can change from day to day, this is the most permanent place they call home." (Court File No. 34-1).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Plaintiffs moved for reconsideration "under the Court's inherent powers to prevent manifest injustice" and also under Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e) (Court File No. 33, p. 4). This Court has considerable discretion whether to alter or amend a prior judgment pursuant to Rule 59(e). Edward H. Bohlin Co., Inc. v. Banning Co., Inc., 6 F.3d 350, 355 (5th Cir. 1993); Huff v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 675 F.2d 119, 122 (6th Cir. 1982). The purpose of such a motion is to bring newly discovered evidence or a manifest error of law or fact to the Court's attention. Helton v. ACS Group, 964 F.Supp. 1175, 1182 (E.D. Tenn. 1997); Milwee v. Peachtree Cypress Inv. Co., 510 F.Supp. 284, 289-90 (E.D. Tenn. 1978). Accordingly, the Court "may grant a Rule 59(e) motion to alter or amend judgment only if there is: (1) a clear error of law; (2) newly discovered evidence; (3) an intervening change in controlling law; or (4) a need to prevent manifest injustice." Henderson v. Walled Lake Consol. Schools, 469 F.3d 479, 496 (6th Cir. 2006); Intera Corp. v. Henderson, 428 F.3d 605, 620 (6th Cir. 2005).

"In practice, because of the narrow purposes for which they are intended, Rule 59(e) motions typically are denied." 11 Charles Alan Wright, et al., Federal Practice and Procedure Civil 2d § 2810.1; see also Ruscavage v. Zuratt, 831 F.Supp. 417, 418 (E.D. Pa. 1993) (noting Rule 59(e) motions "should be granted sparingly because of the interests in finality and conservation of judicial resources"). Therefore, when deciding such motions, the Court must balance the need for finality with the need to render just decisions. Edward H. Bohlin Co., Inc., 6 F.3d at 355.

III. DISCUSSION

The parties in this case are on two different wavelengths. Plaintiffs contend they are being denied the right to vote merely because their only address is a commercial mailbox. Defendants contend Plaintiffs are not entitled to vote in Tennessee because they are not residents of the state. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, which this Court granted. Plaintiffs filed the instant motion to reconsider, and the Court has examined their arguments, but concludes it was correct initially. Taking Plaintiffs' factual allegations as true, they do not reside in Tennessee and therefore suffer no constitutional deficiency from being denied the right to vote in Tennessee.

As the Court noted in its original Memorandum, the right to vote is among the most cherished rights of the American people. But merely being an American citizen does not entitle a person to vote in some locale. Elections are run by the states. Even for national offices, like the House of Representatives, Senate, and the Presidency, elections are held on a state-by-state basis. States are entitled to set eligibility and registration requirements. Burdick v. Takushi, 504 U.S. 428, 433 (1992); Sandusky County Democratic Party v. Blackwell, 387 F.3d 565, 568 (6th Cir. 2004).

To vote in Tennessee, a person must have their residence in the state and concurrently intend to establish that residence as their domicile. Brown v. Hows, 42 S.W.2d 210, 211-12 (Tenn. 1931); Parrott v. Abraham, 146 S.W.3d 623, 628 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2003). Plaintiffs at times refer to mere "physical presence" instead of "residence," but the two cases establish that residence is required, not merely physical presence. Plaintiffs have alleged they intend to remain in Tennessee, and the Court did not dispute that in its previous Memorandum (Court File No. 30, p. 11). The Court, however, noted there was a problem with whether Plaintiffs established a residence in the state (id.). As the Tennessee Supreme Court noted in Brown, "a bare intent to make a particular place one's residence is not sufficient to establish a domicile. There must be some appropriate action harmonizing with the intent." 42 S.W.2d at 212.

The determination of a person's domicile is decided by considering "the conduct and declarations" of the person. Wiseman v. Wiseman, 393 Tenn. 892, 895 (Tenn. 1965). If there is a dispute of fact, the determination should be made by a jury. Coury v. State, 374 Tenn. 397, 400 (Tenn. 1964); see also Wiseman, 216 Tenn. at 895 (where the Tennessee Supreme Court made a determination of domicile as a matter of law). In determining Plaintiffs are not domiciled in Tennessee, this Court considered the facts alleged in their complaint as true and in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs. Those facts establish that Plaintiffs regularly visit the commercial mailbox establishment that contains their Grove Avenue mailbox. The facts do not establish Plaintiffs live there. In their motion to amend, Plaintiffs contend their Grove Avenue address is their "home base" because it is the most permanent place they regularly return to, and where they receive mail and other communications.*fn1

Plaintiffs continue to contend their Grove Avenue address is their residence (Court File No. 34, p. 9). They are wrong. Their Grove Avenue address is a mailbox in a commercial establishment. As Plaintiffs acknowledge, they cannot fit inside the mailbox (Court File No. 32, p. 10). It is merely an address, not a residence. Most people who have mailboxes have residences at or near their mailboxes. Merely having a mailbox is insufficient. As the Court noted in its original Memorandum, since Plaintiffs lack a residential mailbox, they could establish their ...


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