10th Circuit: New Mexico county’s challenge to election injunction is moot

A lot of problems occurred in the City of Rio Rancho during the 2012 general election. Long lines as a result of too few voting locations drove many potential voters to give up in frustration.

Several voters filed a Section 1983 lawsuit against Sandoval County, asking for injunctive relief to require the County to fix the problems that occurred in 2012. The district court granted a preliminary injunction establishing requirements for the 2014 general election. The voters’ request for permanent injunctive relief is still pending. Sandoval County appealed the preliminary injunction.

Yesterday, the Tenth Circuit issued its opinion in Fleming v. Gutierrez, holding that the County’s appeal from the preliminary injunction is moot because the 2014 election is over. As Judge Tymkovich explained, “We cannot turn back the clock and create a world in which the County does not have to administer the 2014 election under the strictures of the injunction.”

The County argued that the Court should consider its appeal under the exception to the mootness doctrine for issues which are capable of repetition yet evading review. Judge Tymkovich explained that the voters’ request for a permanent injunction was based on the same grounds as the preliminary injunction. Because the request for a permanent injunction remained pending, and would be subject to appellate review once a final judgment was entered, the voters’ claims would not evade review.

The Court also rejected the County’s claim that the voters’ request for attorney’s fees related to the preliminary injunction rendered its appeal non-moot, because as a practical matter, if the County prevailed on the request for a permanent injunction, no attorney’s fees would be due to the voters.

The case will now return to the district court for consideration of the merits of the voters’ request for a permanent injunction.

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