LA ROSE v. NORTHAMPTON COUNTY et al
MEMORANDUM AND/OR OPINION. SIGNED BY CHIEF JUDGE LAWRENCE F. STENGEL ON 10/19/17. 10/19/17 ENTERED AND COPIES MAILED TO PLAINTIFF.(jaa, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
SVEND LA ROSE,
NORTHAMPTON COUNTY and
OCTOBER 19, 2017
Plaintiff Svend La Rose brings this civil action asserting claims arising under the United
States Constitution against Northampton County and Lehigh County. He seeks to proceed in
forma pauperis. For the following reasons, I will grant Mr. La Rose leave to proceed in forma
pauperis and dismiss his complaint.
Svend La Rose “is a write-in candidate” for elected office on the Bethlehem City
Council. (Compl. ¶ 3.) He claims that Northampton County and Lehigh County are violating
the United States Constitution by acting in accordance with Section 701 of the Pennsylvania
Election Code. Specifically, he alleges that these counties “deny people who are under 18 who
have completed the sixth grade the right to vote [. . .] on the arbitrary and irrational grounds that
they have not reached the magic age of 18 years.” (Id. ¶¶ 7, 9.) Mr. La Rose sets forth two
causes of action based on this perceived injustice. First, he asserts a substantive due process
claim based on an unconstitutional denial of the right to vote. Second, he claims that the
counties violate the Constitution by denying this group the right to vote without equal protection
of law, “but do not refuse to register people who are intellectually disabled to vote, even though
such people are less mentally well-qualified to vote than such minors.” (Id. ¶ 9.) In support of
these claims, he further asserts that the “common law of minority” is unconstitutional as applied,
because it is “arbitrary, irrational, and not even reasonably related, let alone narrowly tailored, to
any legitimate governmental interest, let alone a compelling interest.” (Id. ¶ 8.) Mr. La Rose
seeks a writ of mandate “compelling defendants to register all persons who have completed the
sixth grade, irrespective of age, to vote and to permit them to vote in elections.” (Id. at 2:21–23.)
He believes that he has “the right to have literate minors registered and permitted to vote,”
because “[c]andidates for political office have an interest in having their voting bloc registered
and permitted to vote.” (Pl.’s Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 4.)1
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The Court grants plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis because it appears that he is
not capable of paying the fees to commence this civil action. Accordingly, 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) applies, which requires the Court to dismiss the complaint if it fails to state a
claim. Whether a complaint fails to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is governed by the
same standard applicable to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6),
see Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999), which requires the Court to
determine whether the complaint contains “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a
claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)
(quotations omitted). As plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the Court construes his allegations
liberally. Higgs v. Att’y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).
Along with the complaint, Mr. La Rose submitted what he has termed a motion for
summary judgment and a brief in support of that motion. All of the documents he submitted will
be treated as part of the complaint, despite the titles Mr. La Rose selected for the individual
components of his initial filing. For ease of reference, however, I will cite to the document titles
that Mr. La Rose utilized.
After careful consideration, I find that Mr. La Rose lacks standing to raise his claims, and
that even if he were a proper person to raise these claims, they fail on their merits. I will first
address the standing issue, and then explain why Mr. La Rose has failed to state a claim.
“To satisfy the ‘case or controversy’ standing requirement under Article III, § 2 of the
United States Constitution, a plaintiff must establish that it has suffered a cognizable injury that
is causally related to the alleged conduct of the defendant and is redressable by judicial action.”
Pennsylvania Psychiatric Soc. v. Green Spring Health Servs., Inc., 280 F.3d 278, 283 (3d Cir.
2002) (citing Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs. (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 180–
81 (2000)). “Apart from the constitutional requirements for standing, courts have imposed a set
of prudential limitations on the exercise of federal jurisdiction over third-party claims.” Id. at
287 (citations omitted). These “prudential concerns . . . prevent courts from ‘deciding questions
of broad social import where no individual rights would be vindicated and . . . limit access to the
federal courts to those litigants best suited to assert a particular claim.’” Id. at 287–88 (quoting
Gladstone, Realtors v. Vill. of Bellwood, 441 U.S. 91, 99–100 (1979) (additional citation
omitted)). Accordingly, a party seeking to rely on third-party standing must satisfy “three
preconditions: 1) the plaintiff must suffer injury; 2) the plaintiff and the third party must have a
‘close relationship’; and 3) the third party must face some obstacles that prevent it from pursuing
its own claims.” Id. at 288–89 (citations omitted).
Mr. La Rose has not satisfied the first requirement of individual or third-party standing,
because he has not suffered an injury. The complaint only contains the conclusory allegation
that “literate minors” are Mr. La Rose’s “voting bloc.” He has not pleaded any facts in support
of his belief that, if literate twelve to eighteen year-olds with at least a sixth-grade education
were permitted to vote, they would vote for him. His assertion is purely speculative, and “[i]t is
well settled that resolution of constitutional issues should not be undertaken on the basis of
speculation.” Walgren v. Bd. of Selectmen of Town of Amherst, Mass., 373 F. Supp. 624, 635 (D.
Mass. 1974), aff’d sub nom. Walgren v. Bd. of Selectmen of Town of Amherst, 519 F.2d 1364 (1st
Cir. 1975) (citing O’Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488 (1974); see also Walgren at 625, 637
(questioning whether a candidate for elected office, “a colorful and self-described radical [who]
anticipated wide student support in the election,” “could establish the bona fide injury in fact
which is necessary to raise the rights of the students” in accordance with United States Supreme
Court precedent). Mr. La Rose’s confidence that he could secure the vote of twelve to eighteen
year-olds is not sufficient to demonstrate that he has been, or will be, injured by their inability to
register to vote.
Because Mr. La Rose has not satisfied the injury requirement, I do not address the second
and third elements for either individual or third-party standing. As explained below, however,
even if Mr. La Rose could satisfy all of the requirements for individual or third-party standing,
his claims fail on the merits.
B. Failure to State a Claim
Section 701 of the Pennsylvania Election Code Act provides in pertinent part that
“[e]very citizen of this Commonwealth eighteen years of age, possessing the [required]
qualifications, shall be entitled to vote at all elections.” 25 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. § 2811. The
age requirement for voting in Pennsylvania is also codified by statute, which provides that “[a]n
individual who will be at least 18 years of age on the day of the next election . . . shall be eligible
to register” to vote as further provided by the statute. 25 Pa. C.S. § 1301(a). For the reasons
explained below, the minimum age requirement to vote in Pennsylvania does not violate the due
process or equal protection rights of minors.
1. Substantive Due Process
The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides that no state shall
“deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” U.S. Const.
amend. XIV, § 1. “The substantive component of the Due Process Clause limits what
government may do regardless of the fairness of procedures that it employs, and covers
government conduct in both legislative and executive capacities.” Boyanowski v. Capital Area
Intermediate Unit, 215 F.3d 396, 399 (3d Cir. 2000), abrogated on other grounds as recognized
in, United Artists Theatre Circuit, Inc. v. Township of Warrington, PA, 316 F.3d 392 (3d Cir.
2003). “Typically, a legislative act will withstand substantive due process challenge if the
government ‘identifies a legitimate state interest that the legislature could rationally conclude
was served by the statute,’ although legislative acts that burden certain ‘fundamental’ rights may
be subject to stricter scrutiny.” Nicholas v. Pennsylvania State Univ., 227 F.3d 133, 139 (3d Cir.
2000) (quoting Alexander v. Whitman, 114 F.3d 1392, 1403 (3d Cir. 1997) (citation omitted)).
In other words, “when a plaintiff challenges the validity of a legislative act, substantive due
process typically demands that the act be rationally related to some legitimate government
purpose.” Nicholas, 227 F.3d at 142.
Although voting is a fundamental right—and therefore the state’s interest “is limited to
the power to fix qualifications,” Harper v. Virginia State Bd. of Elections, 383 U.S. 663, 668,
670 (1966)—it is well settled that the age a citizen must attain before being permitted to vote is a
qualification that states may set. “States have often pursued their entirely legitimate interest in
assuring ‘intelligent exercise of the franchise’ [. . .] through such devices as [. . .] age restrictions
on the right to vote.” San Antonio Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 36 n.79 (1973)
(quoting Katzenbach v. Morgan, 384 U.S. 641, 655 (1966) and citing Oregon v. Mitchell, 400
U.S. 112 (1970)); see also Lassiter v. Northampton County Elections Bd., 360 U.S. 45, 51 (1959)
(stating that age is an “obvious example” of a factor “which a State may take into consideration
in determining the qualifications of voters.”); Eu v. San Francisco Cty. Democratic Cent.
Comm., 489 U.S. 214, 231 (1989) (“[A] State may impose certain eligibility requirements for
voters,” including a minimum age, “even though they limit a political party’s ability to garner
support and members.”); Oregon v. Mitchell, 400 U.S. 112, 125 (1970) (“No function is more
essential to the separate and independent existence of the States and their governments than the
power to determine within the limits of the Constitution the qualifications of their own voters for
state, county, and municipal offices and the nature of their own machinery for filling local public
Mr. La Rose bases his substantive due process claim on his belief that it is
unconstitutional for states to deny the right to vote to literate minors over the age of twelve. As
described above, it is not unconstitutional for states to establish a minimum voting age of
eighteen years. Pennsylvania’s decision to require its citizens to attain the age of eighteen years
before they are eligible to vote is a reasonable one. As other courts have noted, “setting a
minimum age limit is obviously in the [state’s] interest of having a minimum of maturity in
voters and therefore in the interest of having an informed electorate.” Gaunt v. Brown, 341 F.
Supp. 1187, 1192 (S.D. Ohio), aff’d, 409 U.S. 809 (1972); see also McCauley v. Univ. of the
Virgin Islands, 618 F.3d 232, 246 (3d Cir. 2010) (“[R]esearch has confirmed the common sense
observation that younger members of our society, children and teens, lack the maturity found in
adults.”). Accordingly, Mr. La Rose’s substantive due process claim is dismissed.
2. Equal Protection
“The Fourteenth Amendment’s promise that no person shall be denied the equal
protection of the laws must coexist with the practical necessity that most legislation classifies for
one purpose or another, with resulting disadvantage to various groups or persons.” Romer v.
Evans, 517 U.S. 620, 631 (1996) (citation omitted). “Although [the Supreme Court has]
emphasized on numerous occasions the breadth of power enjoyed by the States in determining
voter qualifications and the manner of elections, this power must be exercised in a manner
consistent with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” Bullock v. Carter,
405 U.S. 134, 140–41 (1972) (citations omitted). Nonetheless, “[t]o require that every voting
regulation be subjected to strict scrutiny, ‘and to require that the regulation be narrowly tailored
to advance a compelling state interest, . . . would tie the hands of States seeking to assure that
elections are operated equitably and efficiently.’” Lee v. Virginia State Bd. of Elections, 188 F.
Supp. 3d 577, 607–08 (E.D. Va.), aff’d, 843 F.3d 592 (4th Cir. 2016) (quoting Burdick v.
Takushi, 504 U.S. 428, 433 (1992)); see also Burdick, 504 U.S. at 433 (“Election laws will
invariably impose some burden upon individual voters.”). 2 “Accordingly, ‘when a state election
law provision imposes only reasonable, nondiscriminatory restrictions upon the First and
Fourteenth Amendment rights of voters, the State’s important regulatory interests are generally
sufficient to justify’ the restrictions.’” Id. at 608 (quoting Burdick, 504 U.S. at 434 (quotation
omitted)); see also Patriot Party of Allegheny Cty. v. Allegheny Cty. Dep’t of Elections, 95 F.3d
253, 264 (3d Cir. 1996) (“the State’s important regulatory interests are generally sufficient to
Prior to Burdick, the Court had suggested that states could meet strict scrutiny in setting
voting requirements. See Rosario v. Rockefeller, 410 U.S. 752, 761 (1973) (“A State
indisputably has a compelling interest in preserving the integrity of its election process.”).
justify reasonable, nondiscriminatory restrictions.’”) (quoting Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U.S.
780, 788 (1983) (citation omitted)).
Pennsylvania has determined that minors may not vote. As stated above, “setting a
minimum age limit is obviously in the [state’s] interest of having a minimum of maturity in
voters and therefore in the interest of having an informed electorate.” Gaunt, 341 F. Supp. at
1192. The reason why states have determined that children cannot vote is fairly obvious. See,
e.g., D.R. by L.R. v. Middle Bucks Area Vocational Tech. Sch., 972 F.2d 1364, 1380 (3d Cir.
1992) (“The majority of secondary school students are minors, and the law recognizes that their
judgment may not be fully mature and developed: children cannot vote, U.S. Const. amend.
XXVI.”). This is a reasonable determination that Pennsylvania is entitled to make, and it does
not violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
Mr. La Rose’s equal protection claim fails for the additional reason that he has not
identified similarly situated persons. “The Equal Protection Clause prevents States from
arbitrarily treating people differently under their laws. Whether any such differing treatment is
to be deemed arbitrary depends on whether or not it reflects an appropriate differentiating
classification among those affected; the clause has never been thought to require equal treatment
of all persons despite differing circumstances.” Harper, 383 U.S. at 681 (Harlan, J., dissenting).
Thus, an essential element of a claim of selective treatment under the Equal Protection Clause is
that the comparable parties were “similarly situated.” Startzell v. City of Phila., 533 F.3d 183,
203 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Hill v. City of Scranton, 411 F.3d 118, 125 (3d Cir. 2005) (citation
omitted)); see also id. (“Persons are similarly situated under the Equal Protection Clause when
they are alike ‘in all relevant aspects.’”) (quoting Nordlinger v. Hahn, 505 U.S. 1, 10 (1992)).
Here, Mr. La Rose attempts to assert that children aged twelve to eighteen are similarly situated
to adults with intellectual disabilities—they are not. The operative descriptive word in the group
selected by Mr. La Rose for comparison is “adults.” Because one group contains adults and one
group contains children, these groups are not similarly situated and therefore any differing
treatment in their ability to register to vote is not arbitrary. For these reasons, Mr. La Rose’s
equal protection claim is dismissed.
For the foregoing reasons, I will dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim,
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). Mr. La Rose will not be permitted to file an amended
complaint, because amendment would be futile. See Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d
103, 112–13 (3d Cir. 2002).
An appropriate order follows.
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