Central Student Judiciary
Michigan Student Assembly

Hamdan A. YOUSUF

v.

Election Director eMILY wINTER, AND Election Board

case number F-09-02
December 2, 2009

Opinion

Justice Huston (Presiding Justice) delivered the Opinion of a Unanimous Court.

Introduction

Plaintiff Hamdan YOUSUF (“Plaintiff”) has filed this action alleging that the Defendant Emily Winter, in her official capacity as ELECTION DIRECTOR, and the ELECTION BOARD of MSA (collectively “Defendants”), improperly set the deadline for submission of candidate applications and then improperly refused to approve his candidate application after initially accepting it. Plaintiff argues that the actions of Defendants violated his rights under the MSA Constitution (“Constitution”) and MSA Compiled Code (“Code”), and that punitive sanctions against Defendants are appropriate.
A panel of three Justices conducted a trial in this matter on November 23-24, 2009. Justice HUSTON presided, joined by JUSTICE RINGWOOD and JUSTICE TORRES.

Procedural Stance and Jurisdiction

This case was heard in part through CSJ’s original jurisdiction and in part through its appellate jurisdiction. All of Plaintiff’s claims for disciplinary action were heard in original jurisdiction pursuant to CSJ Manual of Procedure (Manual) § 51.11-51.112. Indeed, CSJ is the only body that is constitutionally empowered to entertain such claims for disciplinary action.
Plaintiff’s remaining claims that Defendants acted in violation of the Code and Constitution by altering the deadline to submit candidate applications, and further by conditionally accepting and then subsequently rejecting his candidate application, were heard in appellate jurisdiction pursuant to Manual § 51.12 and Constitution Art. V, sec. D and D(1). These sections of the Constitution specifically indicate that “CSJ shall have appellate jurisdiction over the Assembly’s General Elections” and “shall act as the appellate court for all complaints of violations concerning these elections.” In addition, Constitution Art. V, sec. E(2) specifically empowers the ELECTION BOARD to hear “all disputes” concerning assembly elections. To the extent that there is any ambiguity, we now hold that the ELECTION BOARD is an inferior judiciary to CSJ, and that its decisions are reviewable upon appeal to CSJ for “clear error” or for “findings of fact contrary to the substantial weight of the evidence,” pursuant to our Manual § 51.721.
Although the ELECTION BOARD, as an inferior judiciary, did not issue any sort of ruling that would normally allow Plaintiff to invoke CSJ’s appellate jurisdiction, the ELECTION BOARD chose instead not to rule on his claims at all, either because it believed they were improperly filed or because it believed it was not obligated to consider them. However, pursuant to Manual § 51.721, CSJ is empowered to determine that the proceedings of an inferior judicial body “denied the appellant his/her rights (as enumerated in the All-Campus Constitution and the Complied Code).” It is this sort of appellate review that was conducted in the present case, as we reviewed whether the Defendants violated Plaintiff’s due process rights, granted by the Constitution, in refusing to hear and rule upon his claims.
During the pre-trial proceedings, we addressed Defendants motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. We analyzed Constitution Art. V, sec. E(2)’s requirement that “all disputes” concerning the Assembly elections shall be initiated at the Election Board. We concluded that Plaintiff properly presented both of his substantive claims (that Defendants may not alter the candidate application deadline and may not accept and then reject his application) to the ELECTION BOARD prior to brining them before CSJ. Our decision during pre-trial to accept jurisdiction was proper, because Plaintiff’s actions were sufficient to allow him to invoke this Court’s appellate jurisdiction when his claims to the ELECTION BOARD were not heard and ruled upon within a reasonable amount of time.
To summarize, when a candidate files any sort of dispute with the ELECTION BOARD, and the Board either issues a ruling on that dispute or refuses to hear the dispute at all, CSJ has appellate jurisdiction to review the matter.

Plaintiff’s Case

Plaintiff first contends that Defendants lacked the power to set the candidate application deadline at a time other than “5:00pm 16 days before the start of the election,” based on Code § 5.B.2.d. Plaintiff contends that the Code itself sets the deadline, and that this deadline may not be altered by Defendants. Here, it is undisputed that the ELECTION DIRECTOR set the candidate application deadline one day earlier, at 5:00pm 17 days before the start of the election. Plaintiff contends that this action violated the Code and was without basis in the Constitution.
Plaintiff next contends that Defendants lacked the authority to conditionally accept his candidate application, and then to later overturn that decision. Plaintiff contends that the Constitution and Code do not give the ELECTION BOARD the power to assist the ELECTION DIRECTOR in deciding whether to accept candidate applications, and that the ELECTION DIRECTOR may not overturn her own decision. In addition, Plaintiff contends that the manner in which the ELECTION BOARD decided to reject his application violated his right to due process under Constitution, Art. IX, sec. A(19), because the ELECTION BOARD did not give Plaintiff a chance to present his side of the matter before the ELECTION BOARD rejected his application.
Finally, Plaintiff contends that, because the actions mentioned above were in violation of the Code and Constitution, and because these actions had the effect of removing Plaintiff from the ballot, disciplinary sanctions are appropriate against Defendants. Plaintiff also contends that Defendant ELECTION DIRECTOR forged a University document when she signed the candidate packet receipt stating that the application was accepted before 5:00pm on November 13th, when in fact it was received after 5:00pm on November 13th. Plaintiff seeks disciplinary action against Defendants for such conduct.
Defendant’s Case

In answer to Plaintiff’s first contention, Defendants respond that the Code sets the “maximum” due date. That is, Defendants, in their power to “oversee” the general elections, see Constitution Art. V, sec. E, are empowered to set the deadline for submission of candidate applications, as long as that deadline is no later than 5:00pm 16 days before the start of the election.
In answer to Plaintiff’s second contention, Defendants respond that, in their power to “oversee” the general elections, see Constitution Art. V, sec. E, they are empowered to decide whether or not to accept candidate applications after the deadline. Defendants contend that one of their core functions is determining whether candidate applications comply with the applicable rules, and that the candidate application rules proscribed in the Code and Constitution would be meaningless unless Defendants have the power to enforce them. In addition, Defendants contend that they are entitled to make unilateral determinations regarding whether to accept or reject candidate applications, both before and after those applications are conditionally accepted, and that Plaintiff has no particular due process right to a hearing before the ELECTION BOARD.
In answer to Plaintiff’s final contention, Defendants respond that their actions were not in violation of the Code or Constitution. In the alternative, Defendants contend that, if there was a violation, the requirements of the Code and Constitution were not "fully and clearly formulated, published, and generally made known to everyone concerned," thus precluding disciplinary action under Constitution, Art. IX, sec. A(11). Finally, Defendants contend that the actions of the ELECTION DIRECTOR represented her best effort to deal with a confusing situation (the decision to accept or reject a candidate application submitted after the deadline), which potentially carried a legal answer, and were at worst negligent, but did not amount to “misconduct” that warrants disciplinary action under Manual § 51.111.

Decision of CSJ

Each of Plaintiff’s three contentions will be addressed in turn.

Part 1: Defendants’ Power to Set the Candidate Application Deadline

The Court finds that Defendants are constitutionally empowered by Art. V, sec E to set the deadline for submission of candidate applications, pursuant to their power to “oversee” the MSA general elections. The Code, Art. V.B.2.d., in section entitled “Election Deadlines,” states that “No later than 5:00pm 16 days before the start of the election, candidates must file their candidacy applications with the Election Director or Administrative Coordinator.” We interpret the phrase “no later than” to mean that the ELECTION DIRECTOR and ELECTION BOARD may set the deadline for submitting candidate applications in advance of 5:00pm 16 days before the start of the election, but may not set the application submission deadline later than 5:00pm 16 days before the election. Thus, we hold that the Defendants acted permissibly in setting the deadline for submitting candidate applications at 5:00pm 17 days before the beginning of the present election.
Several factors compel our reading of the Code. First, the specific provision at issue is to be compared to other similar election deadlines which also include the phrase “no later than.” For instance, the Code at Art. V.B.2.e. states that “No later than 16 days before the start of the election, the Election Director shall hold a meeting of all candidates.” The most appropriate reading of this clause is that the ELECTION DIRECTOR may hold the candidate meeting sometime in advance of 16 days before the election, but must hold the meeting at least 16 days in advance of the election. There is no reason to think that the assembly, in passing Code Art. V.B.2.e, meant to require the ELECTION DIRECTOR to hold the candidate meeting exactly 16 days before the start of the election, no more and no less. If the assembly had such a purpose in mind, then it could have made that purpose clear through the language of the Code.
In addition, if in fact, as Plaintiff claims, the assembly meant for the deadline to submit candidate applications to be set exactly at 5:00pm 16 days before the election, and not subject to any alteration by Defendants, then the Code makes clear that the assembly knew how to use language to effectuate that purpose. The Code at Art. V.B.2.f., specifies that “14 days before the start of the election, the official campaign period shall begin.” In contrast to Code sections (d) and (e), section (f) does not include the phrase “no later than.” Thus, in accordance with the familiar canon of statutory interpretation that every phrase shall have meaning, we interpret the difference in language between section (f) as opposed to sections (d) and (e) to mean that the assembly had a different purpose for (f) as opposed to its purpose for (d) and (e). Our understanding of this purpose is that by refusing to include the phrase “no later than” in section (f), the assembly deliberately fixed the term at which the official campaign period shall begin at 14 days prior to the election, and this deadline is not subject to alteration by the ELECTION DIRECTOR or ELECTION BOARD. In contrast, by including the phrase “no later than” in sections (d) and (e), we understand the assembly to have provided for the discretion of Defendants in setting both the deadline for submission of candidate applications and the time for the candidate meeting.
Finally, the Code at Art V.E.1.a.vii. states that candidacy applications shall contain, among other things, “an election calendar with appropriate deadlines clearly marked.” Art. V.E.1.b. of the Code states that the candidacy applications shall be prepared in part by the ELECTION DIRECTOR. We take these two sections as further support for our understanding that the assembly, in passing Code Art. V.B.2.d., anticipated that the ELECTION DIRECTOR would exercise discretion in setting the deadline for submitting completed candidate applications, subject only to the requirement that the submission deadline not be later than 5:00pm 16 days before the election. Because setting such deadlines is a duty of the ELECTION DIRECTOR, the ELECTION BOARD is empowered to assist her in performing that function pursuant to the Code, Art. V.C.2.e.i.
For the foregoing reasons, we hold that Defendants acted in compliance with the Constitution and Code when they set the deadline for submitting candidate applications at 5:00pm on November 13, 2009, 17 days in advance of the start of the election.

Part 2: Defendants’ Power to Conditionally Accept and Then Reject Candidate Applications, and Plaintiff’s Due Process Rights

The Court finds that Defendants are constitutionally empowered by Art. V, sec E to decide whether or not to accept candidate applications, pursuant to their power to “oversee” the MSA general elections. The Code, at Art. V.C.1.d., specifically provides that the ELECTION DIRECTOR has the duty to ensure that all candidates fulfill the requirements for election, and Art. V.C.2.e provides that the ELECTION BOARD has the duty to hear and decide upon election complaints. The Code details a series of requirements for candidate applications at Art. V.E.1., and it is obvious from reading the Code alongside the Constitution that the Constitutional duty to “oversee” the elections contemplates that the ELECTION DIRECTOR and ELECTION BOARD will enforce these requirements. Indeed, the candidate application packet is prepared in part by the ELECTION DIRECTOR, see Code Art. V.E.1.b., and the Constitution specifically provides the ELECTION BOARD with the power to hear all election “disputes,” see Constitution, Art. V, sec E(2).
The Court also finds that the ELECTION DIRECTOR is empowered to conditionally accept a late-filed application, consult the ELECTION BOARD as to such an application, and then decide that the application should not be officially accepted, as the Code specifically empowers the ELECTION BOARD to “assist the Election Director in fulfilling her obligations.” See Code, Art. V.C.2.e.i.
However, when the ELECTION BOARD decides not to officially accept a candidate application that has already been conditionally accepted, the Court finds that the candidate has certain due process rights that must be afforded. As found in Article IX, sec. A(19) of the Constitution, the Assembly shall recognize and undertake to “Guarantee … “the right to judicial due process, including a speedy trial, confrontation of plaintiff and his witnesses, counsel, presumption of innocence, protection against cruel and unusual punishment, and appeal.” The ELECTION DIRECTOR and ELECTION BOARD, as empowered entities of the Assembly, are both bound by this Constitutional constraint.
Thus, the Court holds that a candidacy application, “conditionally accepted” by the Election Director or other authorized staff, may not then be revoked without proper due process. The moment of “conditional acceptance” shall be defined as the time at which the Election Director, or authorized staff, place his or her signature on a certifying receipt to be given to the candidate insinuating that his or her application has been “conditionally accepted.” The Court insists on the term “conditional acceptance” in this opinion, as no candidate may be “officially accepted” until the Election Board reviews his or her application for completeness and receives confirmation of eligibility from the Office of the Registrar. “Official acceptance” shall be defined as the status afforded to a candidate when he or she has satisfied all necessary conditions to have his or her name placed on the ballot.
The Court further holds that a basic due process right is owed to a potential candidate possessing “conditional acceptance” if that status is to be revoked by the ELECTION DIRECTOR, ELECTION BOARD, or both in tandem, for any reason, (including lack of proper enrollment status, failure to file the application on time, or an incomplete application). At minimum, the potential candidate must be afforded:

1. Clear and reasonable notice of the fatal issue with his or her application,
2. A reasonable opportunity to, at minimum, submit a written petition presenting why he or she should be granted “official acceptance,” AND
3. A right to have such a petition heard, considered, and ruled on by the Election Board or Election Director or both, within reasonable and expeditious time, pursuant to the Board or Director’s ordinary operating procedures.

The mechanics of the procedure by which the ELECTION DIRECTOR or ELECTION BOARD consider or rule on a written petition are not within the purview of this Court, subject only to the requirement that a candidate’s written petition should not be ignored by the ELECTION BOARD as “improperly filed.” A candidate has a right to submit a written petition in any manner sufficient to convey to the Board his reasons for seeking to have his application officially accepted.
The Court holds that a decision by the ELECTION DIRECTOR or ELECTION BOARD, in response to a petition from a candidate seeking official acceptance, shall be treated as the decision of an inferior judiciary reviewable by CSJ in its appellate jurisdiction. Pursuant to Manual § 51.721, this decision shall only be reviewed for clear error, or for a finding of fact that is contrary to the substantial weight of the evidence. This limited review by CSJ is essential to the proper functioning of the election system. It is the ELECTION BOARD that is constitutionally charged with resolving election related disputes, including whether to accept candidate applications, and the decisions of the ELECTION BOARD will only be disturbed by CSJ when they are clearly erroneous or based on obviously incorrect facts. In the vast majority of cases, the decision of the ELECTION BOARD to officially accept or reject a candidate application will be the final word.
In this case, the clear weight of the evidence indicates that the Plaintiff attempted to turn in his candidacy application after the duly set 5:00pm deadline on November 13, 2009. The evidence also showed that Plaintiff was notified that his application would not be officially accepted, that he filed a petition with the ELECTION BOARD seeking to have his application accepted, that the ELECTION BOARD and ELECTION DIRECTOR met to determine whether to officially accept those candidate applications that were conditionally accepted, and that the ELECTION BOARD did not review or issue a ruling on Plaintiff’s petition within a reasonable amount of time.
Accordingly, when the ELECTION BOARD, having conditionally accepted Plaintiff’s application, wished to deny that application official acceptance, we hold that it was a violation of Plaintiff’s due process rights for the ELECTION BOARD to refuse to provide Plaintiff with a genuine opportunity to petition the ELECTION BOARD to have his application officially accepted, and to have that petition heard and ruled on. Remand to the ELECTION BOARD is appropriate with orders for it to consider and promptly rule on a properly filed petition for official acceptance from Plaintiff.

Part 3: Plaintiff’s Petition for Disciplinary Action

Plaintiff presents six causes of disciplinary action, as is his right per Manual § 51.222, outlined in paragraphs 24 and 25 of the complaint. Plaintiff must "state the facts showing how he has been injured, and also indicate which specific law justifies a grant of relief or imposition of a penalty." Manual § 51.22. Further, disciplinary action may only be successful when the prosecuted action is in violation of a rule "fully and clearly formulated, published, and generally made known to everyone concerned." Constitution, Art. IX, sec. A(11). The court finds that, although certain actions of Defendants were not in compliance with the Code or Constitution, and were in some respects otherwise reprehensible, no disciplinary sanctions against Defendants are proper.
The first allegation of misconduct regards the application deadline allegedly set in error by Defendants because it was set in advance of the “maximum” deadline specified in the Code. For the reasons stated above, this act was not improper, and we hold that there was no wrongdoing on the part of Defendants.
The second, third, and fourth allegations regard the receipt ("conditional acceptance") by the ELECTION DIRECTOR and initial review process for the candidacy application by the ELECTION BOARD, which would lead to "official acceptance." Plaintiff alleges that receipt of his application by the ELECTION DIRECTOR, followed by later rejection upon ELECTION BOARD review, is a violation of the Code. For the reasons state above, this act of conditional acceptance, followed by rejection, was not itself improper, and we hold that there was no wrongdoing on the part of Defendants.
Plaintiff's strongest complaint is the fifth claim of paragraph 24 of the complaint. Here, plaintiff alleges the "failure [of the ELECTION DIRECTOR] to allow Plaintiff a chance to represent his side at aforementioned review [is] in violation of his right to Due Process,” citing the Constitution, Art. IX, sec A(19). For the reasons stated above, we find that there was a violation of Plaintiff’s due process rights by Defendants. However, we hold that such a violation is not punishable through disciplinary action under the circumstances of this case.
As stated above, an action may only be disciplined when it is in violation of a rule "fully and clearly formulated, published, and generally made known to everyone concerned.” Constitution, Art. IX, sec. A(11). Until the decision of the Court in this case, it was not immediately clear to the parties whether, and how, Defendants were entitled to make decisions regarding the acceptance or rejection of candidate applications. Although we have held that Plaintiff was entitled to some measure of due process when this decision is made, the level of due process required cannot be said to have been “fully and clearly formulated” prior to the decision of the Court in this case. As such, although we find that Defendants denied Plaintiff the due process that he was entitled to, and that Plaintiff was injured by this deprivation, we hold that Plaintiff has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendants’ actions constituted a willful violation of a clearly established provision of the Code or Constitution.
The final cause of action is enumerated in paragraph 25 of the complaint. Plaintiff alleges that the ELECTION DIRECTOR committed willful falsification of a University document in violation of the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities § O ("the Statement"). However, alleged violations of the Statement are not immediately subject to review by CSJ. Instead, Art. VI of the statement lays out the specific procedure for vindicating alleged violations of the Statement, and it would be a violation of the ELECTION DIRECTOR’s due process rights for CSJ to rule on the matter. Thus, although we make no finding as to whether or not the ELECTION DIRECTOR violated the Statement, we note that the ELECTION DIRECTOR faced a complicated and difficult decision when Plaintiff attempted to file his candidate application after the deadline, a decision which potentially carried a legal answer that the ELECTION DIRECTOR did not know at the time. Although there were undoubtedly more appropriate ways for the ELECTION DIRECTOR to have handled this situation, as she admitted at trial, we find her conduct to be the result, at worst, of her negligence regarding the proper way to proceed, and not of any willful desire to harm Plaintiff.
For the foregoing reasons, we hold that no disciplinary sanctions are appropriate in this matter.








Orders

For these reasons,

IT IS ORDERED that Plaintiff YOUSUF’s petition for a permanent injunction placing him on the ballot of the Fall 2009 election is hereby DENIED.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff YOUSUF is granted 24 hours in which to file his written petition to have his candidate application officially accepted. Such a petition is to be filed with the ELECTION DIRECTOR. Plaintiff is not required to file such a petition.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that in the event Plaintiff YOUSUF files a written petition seeking official acceptance of his candidate application with the ELECTION DIRECTOR, within 24 hours, then the ELECTION BOARD shall review that petition through its standard operating procedures and issue a written decision to YOUSUF within 24 hours from the receipt of YOUSUF’S petition, stating the decision of the ELECTION BOARD as to YOUSUF’s petition and the grounds on which the ELECTION BOARD’S decision rests.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the preliminary injunction previously granted in this matter, placing YOUSUF temporarily on the ballot of the Fall 2009 election, shall remain in place, but shall EXPIRE at 3:01 a.m. on November 25, 2009 in the absence of a written petition filed by YOUSUF. Alternatively, in the event that a written petition is filed by YOUSUF, the preliminary injunction shall EXPIRE upon the ELECTION BOARD’S notification to YOUSUF of their decision as to his petition.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff YOUSUF’S petition in this case for disciplinary action against all named Defendants is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE for Insufficient Evidence amounting to a failure to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the conduct of Defendants amounted to “misconduct” at all, or that it amounted to a violation of a “rule that has been fully and clearly formulated.”


Dated this 2nd Day of December, 2009.

Justice Michael R. HUSTON (Presiding Justice), joined by Justice John RINGWOOD and Justice Carlos TORRES