ACLU-NJ v. Township of Wall ACLU-NJ, ACLU-N

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
Writing for the CourtAlito
Citation246 F.3d 258
Decision Date03 April 2001
Docket NumberNo. 00-2075,ACLU-N,AMERICAN
Parties(3rd Cir. 2001) CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION OF NEW JERSEY, ON BEHALF OF ITS MEMBERS, ELEANOR MILLER; RANDY MILLER, v. TOWNSHIP OF WALLCIVIL LIBERTIES UNION OF NEW JERSEY; ELEANOR MILLER; RANDY MILLER, APPELLANTS

Page 258

246 F.3d 258 (3rd Cir. 2001)
ACLU-NJ, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION OF NEW JERSEY, ON BEHALF OF ITS MEMBERS, ELEANOR MILLER; RANDY MILLER,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF WALL ACLU-NJ, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION OF NEW JERSEY; ELEANOR MILLER; RANDY MILLER, APPELLANTS
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT
No. 00-2075
Argued on January 22, 2001
April 3, 2001

ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY (Dist. Court No. 99-CV-00751) District Court Judge: Alfred M. Wolin

Page 259

Copyrighted Material Omitted

Page 260

Lewis H. Robertson 231 Maple Ave. Post Office Box Y Red Bank, NJ 07701 Ronald K. Chen (Argued) Rutgers University Constitutional Litigation Clinic 123 Washington St. Newark, NJ 17102 Counsel for Appellants

Kevin H. Hasson (Argued) The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty 1350 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Suite 605 Washington, DC 20036 Beth Pollack McLaughlin Bennett Gelson & Cramer 1305 Campus Parkway Monmouth Shores Corporate Park Neptune, NJ 07753-6819 Counsel for Appellees

Before: Nygaard, Alito and Rosenn, Circuit Judges.

OPINION OF THE COURT

Alito, Circuit Judge

This is an appeal from a District Court decision holding that a holiday display exhibited by Wall Township, New Jersey, did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. We hold that the plaintiffs lack standing under Article III to challenge the display to which they now object, and we therefore vacate the decision of the District Court and remand for dismissal of the complaint.

I.

Since at least 1997, Wall Township has exhibited a holiday display near the entrance to the municipal building housing much of the Township's government. The individual plaintiffs in this case, Eleanor and Randy Miller, are taxpayers and residents of the Township and members of the organizational plaintiff, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey ("ACLU"). The Millers frequently visit the complex in which the municipal building sits for a variety of personal and professional reasons.

In 1998, while visiting the complex, the Millers observed the Township's holiday display and found it objectionable. The display consisted principally of a creche with traditional figures, a lighted evergreen tree, two decorated urns that are part of the complex, and four snowman banners attached to light posts at the complex.

On February 18, 1999, plaintiffs brought suit in the United States District Court for New Jersey, alleging that the display violated the United States and New Jersey Constitutions. Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief.

In July 1999, the Township moved to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint for lack of standing. The Court denied defendant's motion on October 5, 1999, finding that the plaintiffs possessed standing as a result of their "direct personal contact with the government-sponsored religious display" that has made them "feel less welcome, less accepted, tainted and rejected."

In December 1999, the Township again exhibited a holiday display. The 1999 display was different than the 1998 display, however. In addition to a creche, the 1999 display included a donated menorah, candy cane banners rather than the less prominent snowman banners, a larger evergreen tree, and two signs reading: (1) "Through this and other displays and events through the year, Wall Township is pleased to celebrate our American cultural traditions, as well as our legacy of diversity and freedom" and (2) "Merry Christmas Happy Hanukkah." Second Affidavit of Randy Miller PP 5-6, 10-11 ("Mr. Miller II") (Appendix at A44-A45 ("App.")); Declaration of Joseph Verruni PP 5-6, 8 (App. at A59-A60); see also Declaration of Michael D. Fitzgerald PP 3-4 (App. at A53); Declaration of Michael D. Fitzgerald PP 3-4 (App. at A81-A82).

Mr. Miller observed the modified display on December 2, 1999. On December 20, 1999, plaintiffs moved for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

Page 261

At a December 23, 1999 hearing, the Court denied plaintiffs' motion for a restraining order due to plaintiffs' delay in seeking relief and, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. Rule 65, consolidated plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction with a future trial on the merits.

In early 2000, the Township moved for summary judgment. The District Court invited and received additional evidence from the parties, including a January 26, 2000 Township resolution directing the purchase of "twig-style reindeer and a sleigh" to add to the display and formalizing the future components of the display.

Based on the evidence submitted and without a for mal trial, the District Court ruled on the merits of plaintiffs' suit on June 22, 2000. The Court found that the Township's holiday display, as modified and memorialized in the 2000 resolution, did not violate the federal or New Jersey Constitutions and entered judgment for the Township.

Plaintiffs appealed, contesting the District Court's consideration of the January 2000 resolution and the conclusion that the Township's display is constitutional. In their written and oral arguments, plaintiffs made clear that they seek relief only as to the 1999 display.

II.

On appeal, the Township again asserts that plaintiffs lack standing to challenge the constitutionality of the holiday display. We review the issue of standing de novo. See Maio v. Aetna, Inc., 221 F.3d 472, 482 (3d Cir. 2000); Stehney v. Perry, 101 F.3d 925, 929 (3d Cir. 1996).

The standing requirement implicit in Article III "is not merely a troublesome hurdle to be overcome if possible so as to reach the `merits' of a lawsuit," but an integral part of the governmental charter established by the Constitution. Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 476 (1982). If plaintiffs do not possess Article III standing, both the District Court and this Court lack subject matter jurisdiction to address the merits of plaintiffs' case. See id. at 475-76; Warth v. Seldin, 442 U.S. 490, 498 (1975); Morris v. Horn, 187 F.3d 333, 344 (3d Cir. 1999).

Plaintiffs bear the burden of proving standing. See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992). Plaintiffs must carry that burden "in the same way as any other matter on which the plaintiff bears the burden of proof, i.e., with the manner and degree of evidence required at successive stages of the litigation." Lujan, 504 U.S. at 561; see also FOCUS v. Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, 75 F.3d 834, 838 (3d Cir. 1996). As this appeal comes to us after full litigation on the merits, plaintiffs must establish standing in the same manner as would be required to prevail on the ultimate merits of their case. Cf. Gonzales v. North Township of Lake County, 4 F.3d 1412, 1415 (7th Cir. 1993) ("At the summary judgment stage, the plaintiff must produce evidence [of standing] in the form of Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) affidavits or documents . . . .").

The ACLU for its part rests its standing on the interests of its members, the Millers, rather than on an independent injury to the organization. As a result, the ACLU's ability to sue is strictly dependent on that of the Millers. See Valley Forge, 454 U.S. at 476 n.14; Freedom from Religion Found., Inc. v. Zielke, 845 F.2d 1463, 1469 (7th Cir. 1988); American Civil Liberties Union v. City of St.

Page 262

Charles, 794 F.2d 265, 267 (7th Cir. 1986). The Millers claim standing based on their status as municipal taxpayers or on non- economic injuries resulting from the display. As we explain below, the Millers failed to establish standing in either capacity.

A.

The Supreme Court recognized in Doremus v. Board of Education of Hawthorne, 342 U.S. 429, 434 (1952), that a municipal taxpayer may possess standing to litigate "a good-faith pocketbook action." See also Doe v. Beaumont Indep. Sch. Dist., 173 F.3d 274, 282 (5th Cir. 1999) ("[T]o establish . . . municipal taxpayer standing . . . a plaintiff must show only that (1) he pays taxes to the relevant entity, and (2) tax revenues are expended on the disputed practice."); Clay v. Fort Wayne Community Sch., 76 F.3d 873, 879 (7th Cir. 1996) (acknowledging the good-faith pocketbook requirement adopted by Doremus for municipal taxpayer standing); United States v. New York, 972 F.2d 464, 470 (2d Cir. 1992) ("[M]unicipal taxpayers have standing to challenge allegedly unlawful municipal expenditures.") (collecting cases); Cammack v. Waihee, 932 F.2d 765, 770 (9th Cir. 1991) ("[T]he Doremus requirement of a pocketbook injury applies to municipal taxpayer standing . . . .") (collecting cases); District of Columbia Common Cause v. District of Columbia, 858 F .2d 1, 4 (D.C. Cir. 1988) (same).1

The plaintiffs in Doremus were state and municipal taxpayers who challenged a state law mandating Bible reading in public schools. Doremus, 342 U.S. at 430-31, 433. The Supreme Court found that the plaintiffs failed to establish a direct monetary injury that would confer standing to raise such a challenge, as they did not allege that the Bible reading was "supported by any separate tax or paid for from any particular appropriation or that it adds any sum whatever to the cost of conducting the school." Id. at 433. Likewise, the plaintiffs failed to provide any "information . . . as to what kind of taxes" they paid or to aver "that the Bible reading increase[d] any tax they [did] pay or that as taxpayers they are, will, or possibly can be out of pocket because of " the activity. Id. In short, the plaintiffs failed to establish more than a potential deminimis drain on tax revenues due to the challenged reading. See id. at 431-32; see also Doe v. Madison Sch. Dist. No. 321, 177 F.3d 789, 794 (9th Cir. 1999) (en banc) (noting that "the school's expenditures for teachers' salaries, equipment, building maintenance, and the like were insufficient to confer taxpayer standing[in Doremus] despite their indirect support of the Bible reading"). As a...

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  • American Atheists, Inc. v. Detroit Downtown Development Authority, No. 07-2398.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • May 28, 2009
    ...1030-32 (1st Cir.1982) (same), rev'd on other grounds, 465 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 1355, 79 L.Ed.2d 604 (1984), with ACLU-NJ v. Twp. of Wall, 246 F.3d 258, 262-64 (3d Cir.2001) (plaintiffs did not have municipal-taxpayer standing because they did not show the city spent any funds on the challen......
  • Toll Bros., Inc. v. Township of Readington, No. 06-1053.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • February 4, 2009
    ...of the complaint for lack of standing. See Goode v. City of Philadelphia, 539 F.3d 311, 316 (3d Cir.2008); ACLU-NJ v. Twp. of Wall, 246 F.3d 258, 261 (3d Cir.2001). We review the District Court's denial of Toll Brothers' request for leave to file an amended complaint for abuse of discretion......
  • Freedom from Religion Found., Inc. v. Saccone, Case No. 1:12–cv–536.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Pennsylvania
    • October 1, 2012
    ...422 U.S. 490, 498, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975); see also American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey v. Township of Wall, 246 F.3d 258, 261 (3d Cir.2001) (“ACLU–NJ ”) (standing “ ‘is not merely a troublesome hurdle to be overcome if possible so as to reach the ‘merits' of a lawsui......
  • We are America/Somos America v. Maricopa Cnty. Bd. of Supervisors, No. CIV-06-2816-PHX-RCB
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Arizona
    • August 17, 2011
    ...as referring to municipal taxpayer standing. See id. at 228. 15.The Ninth Circuit is not alone. See, e.g., ACLU-NJ v. Twp. of Wall, 246 F.3d 258, 262 (3d Cir. 2001); Koenick v. Felton, 190 F.3d 259, 263 (4th Cir. 1999); Clay v. Fort Wayne Cmty. Sch., 76 F.3d 873, 879 (7th Cir. 1996); D.C. C......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
66 cases
  • American Atheists, Inc. v. Detroit Downtown Development Authority, No. 07-2398.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • May 28, 2009
    ...1030-32 (1st Cir.1982) (same), rev'd on other grounds, 465 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 1355, 79 L.Ed.2d 604 (1984), with ACLU-NJ v. Twp. of Wall, 246 F.3d 258, 262-64 (3d Cir.2001) (plaintiffs did not have municipal-taxpayer standing because they did not show the city spent any funds on the challen......
  • Toll Bros., Inc. v. Township of Readington, No. 06-1053.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • February 4, 2009
    ...of the complaint for lack of standing. See Goode v. City of Philadelphia, 539 F.3d 311, 316 (3d Cir.2008); ACLU-NJ v. Twp. of Wall, 246 F.3d 258, 261 (3d Cir.2001). We review the District Court's denial of Toll Brothers' request for leave to file an amended complaint for abuse of discretion......
  • Freedom from Religion Found., Inc. v. Saccone, Case No. 1:12–cv–536.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Pennsylvania
    • October 1, 2012
    ...422 U.S. 490, 498, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975); see also American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey v. Township of Wall, 246 F.3d 258, 261 (3d Cir.2001) (“ACLU–NJ ”) (standing “ ‘is not merely a troublesome hurdle to be overcome if possible so as to reach the ‘merits' of a lawsui......
  • We are America/Somos America v. Maricopa Cnty. Bd. of Supervisors, No. CIV-06-2816-PHX-RCB
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Arizona
    • August 17, 2011
    ...as referring to municipal taxpayer standing. See id. at 228. 15.The Ninth Circuit is not alone. See, e.g., ACLU-NJ v. Twp. of Wall, 246 F.3d 258, 262 (3d Cir. 2001); Koenick v. Felton, 190 F.3d 259, 263 (4th Cir. 1999); Clay v. Fort Wayne Cmty. Sch., 76 F.3d 873, 879 (7th Cir. 1996); D.C. C......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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