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Guerra v. Oliver

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

December 8, 2017

MAGGIE TOULOUSE OLIVER, New Mexico Secretary of State, Defendant.



         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Amend this Court's May 19, 2017 Judgment. (Doc. 55). Having reviewed the accompanying briefing and being otherwise fully advised, the Court will deny the Motion.

         I. Procedural Posture

         On May 6, 2016, Plaintiff Roque De La Fuente Guerra filed a Complaint against the New Mexico Secretary of State[1], alleging violations of his constitutional rights stemming from his exclusion from the state's Democratic primary ballot. (Doc. 1.) Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that he was denied, without due process, access to the New Mexico Democratic primary ballot despite having collected the requisite number of signatures for inclusion, in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the “Elections Clause, ” Article I, Section 4. (Id.)

         Following this Court's denial of Plaintiff's request for a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction (Doc. 7), Defendant Winter filed his answer to the Complaint on June 7, 2016. (Doc. 9.) Following the substitution of the current Secretary of State, Defendant Oliver filed a Motion to Dismiss[2] on February 14, 2017, asserting lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. (Doc. 33.) This Court granted Defendant's motion and dismissed the case on May 19, 2017. (See Docs. 53, 54.)

         On June 16, 2017, Plaintiff filed a motion seeking to amend this Court's judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). (Doc. 55.) On June 30, 2017, Defendant Oliver filed a response opposing amendment and Plaintiff replied on July 14, 2017. (See Docs. 56, 57.)

         II. Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff “Rocky” Roque De La Fuente Guerra is a California resident domiciled in San Diego. (Doc. 1 at 2.) He is a registered Democratic voter and was registered with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) as a presidential candidate of the Democratic Party as of October 1, 2015. (Id.) Plaintiff meets the qualifications prescribed in Article 2, Section 1 of the United States Constitution for election to the office he seeks in that he is a natural-born citizen of the United States, is over the age of 35, and has been a resident within the United States for 40 years. (Id.)

         In the months following his registration with the FEC, Plaintiff organized a nationwide campaign, attaining qualification to appear on the Democratic Party Presidential Preference Primary Ballots of Alabama, Arkansas, and New Hampshire. (Doc. 1 at 3.) As part of this campaign, Plaintiff sought access to the Democratic Presidential Primary ballot in New Mexico via a petition containing over 32, 000 signatures in order to comply with the requirements of Section 1-15A-6 of the New Mexico Election Code. (Id. at 3-4.) To gather these signatures, Plaintiff hired a reputable signature gathering company and expended over $350, 000. (Id. at 4.)

         On or about March 28, 2016, a representative of the state elections division provided Plaintiff's campaign with an electronic copy of a letter informing Plaintiff that his petitions had been rejected. (Doc. 1 at 5; Doc. 37, Ex. 1.) This letter states that Plaintiff's petitions did not meet the minimum number of signatures as required by the Presidential Primary Act, and that Plaintiff's name would not be placed on the 2016 primary election ballot. (Id.) Following this rejection, Plaintiff's campaign staff made several inquiries for additional information regarding the petition denial, and Defendant provided an explanatory letter on April 13, 2016. (Doc. 1 at 5- 6; Doc. 37, Ex. 2.) This letter stated that Plaintiff had failed to secure the necessary signatures in Congressional District One, explaining that the state had processed 10, 760 of his 12, 940 submitted signatures and determined that only 2, 901 were validly verified. (Id.) This determination meant that it was impossible for Plaintiff to have provided the 5, 644 valid signatures necessary to reach the two percent threshold in District One even if one hundred percent of the unprocessed signatures were valid. (Id.)

         The New Mexico Democratic Presidential Primary took place on June 7, 2016.

         During the course of discovery, Plaintiff took a deposition of Kari Fresquez, the New Mexico Secretary of State's chief elections director, on May 4, 2017. (See generally Doc. 55-2). According to Plaintiff, Fresquez's testimony establishes that: 1) the sole basis used to invalidate signatures recorded on Plaintiff's nominating petitions was if the address recorded on the nominating petition failed to match the address recorded for the voter on their voter registration record; 2) there are no regulations which authorize Defendant to require that signers of presidential nomination petitions engage in the memory exercise of recording the same address that they used when they registered to vote; and 3) the New Mexico Elections Code does not require the state to verify that signatures collected for inclusion in the Democratic primary belonged to voters registered in the Democratic party. (Doc. 55 at 7-8, 12). On May 19, 2017, the Court issued its Memorandum Opinion and Order granting Defendant's motion to dismiss. On June 5, 2017, the transcript of Fresquez's deposition was produced to Plaintiff's legal counsel. (Doc. 55-6 at 2 (Ex. E, Transcript File Delivery).) Plaintiff contends that this evidence established facts which now give rise to the additional constitutional and statutory claims that Plaintiff should be permitted to amend into the pleadings of this action.

         III. Legal Standards

         A. Motions to Alter or Amend Judgment under Rule 59(e)

         Because the Court has an interest in preserving the finality of its judgments, reconsideration is considered an extraordinary remedy which should be granted only in extraordinary circumstances. F.D.I.C. v. United Pac. Ins. Co., 152 F.3d 1266, 1272 (10th Cir. 1998). A Rule 59(e) motion to amend a judgment is appropriate only if the moving party can establish one of the following prerequisites: (1) an intervening change in controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence that could not have been obtained previously through the exercise of due diligence; or (3) the need to correct clear error or prevent manifest injustice. Servants of Paraclete v. Does, 204 F.3d 1005, 1012 (10th Cir. 2000); see also Alto Eldorado Partners v. City of Santa Fe, 664 F.Supp.2d 1213, 1215-16 (D.N.M. 2009). These motions are not an appropriate vehicle to “reargue an issue previously addressed by the court when the motion merely advances new arguments, or supporting facts which were available at the time of the original motion.” Paraclete, 204 F.3d at 1012; see also Voelkel v. Gen. Motors Corp., 846 F.Supp. 1482, 1483 (D. Kan.), aff'd,43 F.3d 1484 (10th Cir. 1994) (noting that a motion for reconsideration ...

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