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Lawsuit over ‘firehouse primary’ is dismissed

Where multiple people sued the Commonwealth of Virginia, Commonwealth officials and Democratic Party officials over the locations and timing of a “firehouse primary,” but the Commonwealth officials were immune from suit, the plaintiffs lacked standing and their claims failed as a matter of law, the suit was dismissed.


This is a civil and voting rights action arising from the Democratic Party of Virginia’s so-called “firehouse primary” that occurred on Dec. 20, 2022. Plaintiffs bring this action against various officials of the Commonwealth, and against the Democratic Party of Virginia and certain of its officials. The crux of plaintiffs’ grievances is the number of voting locations available to voters and the short period of time between the announcement of the “firehouse primary” and its occurrence. The case is presently before the court on two motions to dismiss.


All the Commonwealth defendants are sued solely in their official capacities. Thus, each Commonwealth defendant is entitled to a presumption of Eleventh Amendment immunity barring all of plaintiffs’ claims.

Sovereign immunity is overcome only if the state has voluntarily waived the immunity or if Congress has validly abrogated the state’s immunity. Plaintiffs do not allege that Virginia waived its immunity or consented to be sued in this context. Moreover, plaintiffs fail to identify any cause of action against the Commonwealth defendants for which Congress has abrogated Virginia’s sovereign immunity.

Finally, as the court has disposed of plaintiffs’ request for preliminary injunctive relief, plaintiffs’ claims against the Commonwealth defendants do not fall within the sovereign immunity exception recognized in Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908), which in certain circumstances “permits a federal court to issue prospective, injunctive relief against a state officer to prevent ongoing violations of federal law.” All plaintiffs’ claims against the Commonwealth defendants must therefore be dismissed.


In order to satisfy the standing requirements of Article III of the Constitution, a plaintiff must demonstrate that: (1) they have suffered an injury in fact; (2) the asserted injury in fact is fairly traceable to, or caused by, the challenged action of the defendant and (3) it is likely rather than just conjectural that the asserted injury in fact will be redressed by a decision in the plaintiff’s favor.

Plaintiffs J.M. Pope, J. Pope, Walker, Goldman and Marks all successfully voted in the Dec. 20, 2022, “firehouse primary.” Plaintiff Marks also successfully qualified and appeared as a candidate on the December 20 ballot. These plaintiffs therefore suffered no concrete and particularized injury from defendants’ alleged conduct with respect to either the organization and conduct of the “firehouse primary” or the Call to Caucus’s candidate-qualification procedure. Plaintiffs’ counsel’s argument that these plaintiffs’ standing is predicated on their interest in seeing the democratic process perform correctly is nothing more than the sort of “generalized grievance” that the Supreme Court has made clear is insufficient to confer standing.

As to plaintiffs Douglas, McCray and Drumgoole, plaintiffs have not demonstrated that their asserted injury in fact—their inability to vote in the primary — is fairly traceable to, or caused by, the challenged action(s) of defendants. Neither have plaintiffs demonstrated that a favorable outcome for plaintiffs — at this point, with the primary having occurred, a court order halting the special election and directing a re-do of the Democratic primary, with more voting locations and more advance notice — would be likely to redress plaintiffs’ injury, rather than such redress being merely conjectural.

Accordingly, plaintiffs have not satisfied their burden of showing that any one of them satisfies all the standing requirements of Article III of the Constitution, and the second amended complaint must be dismissed in its entirety on that basis.


To avoid any appearance of dismissing a claim that might otherwise have merit on a technicality, the court will proceed to describe how plaintiffs have failed to state any claim upon which relief may be granted.

Plaintiffs rest their claims on the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the Voting Rights Act. However, there is no private right of action under either the First or Fourteenth Amendments. Moreover, even had plaintiffs properly brought their constitutional claims through the vehicle provided by 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiffs have identified no state action that could otherwise form the basis for a constitutional claim. As to their Voting Rights Act claim, plaintiffs have not alleged sufficient facts to state a claim for discrimination against an identifiable protected class.

Defendants’ motions to dismiss granted.

Goldman v. Youngkin, Case No. 3:22-cv-789, Feb. 21, 2023. EDVA at Richmond (Young). VLW 023-3-085. 14 pp.

VLW 023-3-085

Virginia Lawyers Weekly