Castañon v. United States, Civil Action No. 18-2545 Three-Judge Court (RDM, RLW, TNM)

Decision Date12 March 2020
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 18-2545 Three-Judge Court (RDM, RLW, TNM)
Citation444 F.Supp.3d 118
Parties Angelica CASTAÑON, et al., Plaintiffs, v. UNITED STATES, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

Christopher J. Wright, Deepika Ravi, Timothy J. Simeone, Patrick Pearse O'Donnell, Harris, Wiltshire, & Grannis LLP, Washington, DC, for Plaintiffs.

Rebecca Michelle Kopplin, United States Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for Defendants.


Wilkins, Circuit Judge:

This suit is brought by registered voters residing in the District of Columbia (the "District") in an effort to secure for themselves, and others similarly situated, the ability to elect voting representatives to the United States Congress. Plaintiffs challenge their lack of the congressional franchise as unconstitutional because violative of their rights to equal protection, due process, and association and representation. This case is a close cousin of a suit litigated a generation ago, Adams v. Clinton , 90 F. Supp. 2d 35 (D.D.C.), aff'd sub nom. Alexander v. Mineta , 531 U.S. 940, 121 S.Ct. 336, 148 L.Ed.2d 269 (2000) (mem.), and aff'd , 531 U.S. 941, 121 S.Ct. 336, 148 L.Ed.2d 270 (2000) (mem.), whose reasoning necessarily informs ours and whose outcome, in the end, we echo.

Beyond the gravity of its substance, perhaps this suit's most notable attribute is its bifurcation – the gap between Plaintiffs' central theory of the case and those tertiary aspects of Plaintiffs' claims whose merits we are empowered to address. We recognize that District residents' lack of the congressional franchise is viewed by many, even most, as deeply unjust, and we have given each aspect of Plaintiffs' claims most serious consideration, but our ruling today is compelled by precedent and by the Constitution itself.

I. Procedural History

Plaintiffs – who are U.S. citizens, registered voters, and residents of the various Wards of the District of Columbia, Am. Compl. ¶ 21, ECF No. 9 – filed their Complaint on November 5, 2018, and amended it on November 26, 2018, see generally id. The Amended Complaint "seeks to secure the right to full voting representation in the United States Congress for American citizens living in the District of Columbia," id. ¶ 1, and alleges three counts: denial of equal protection, denial of due process, and infringement of the right to association and representation, id. ¶¶ 135-42. Originally named as defendants were: the Speaker, the Clerk, and the Sergeant at Arms of the U.S. House of Representatives (collectively, "the House Defendants"); the President Pro Tempore , the Secretary, and the Sergeant at Arms and Doorkeeper of the U.S. Senate, as well as the Vice President in his capacity as President of the Senate ("the Senate Defendants"); and the President and the Secretary of Commerce of the United States ("the Executive Defendants"). Id. ¶¶ 59-67. But on March 27, 2019, Plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed the House Defendants, and the House later filed an amicus brief in support of Plaintiffs' cause.

On the day Plaintiffs filed the Amended Complaint, they brought a motion for the convening of a three-judge panel, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2284(a), which provides that "[a] district court of three judges shall be convened ... when an action is filed challenging the constitutionality of the apportionment of congressional districts[.]" District Judge Randolph D. Moss, to whom the case was originally assigned, found it appropriate to convene a three-judge District Court; he therefore requested that then-Chief Judge Merrick B. Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit designate two other judges to serve on this panel. See 28 U.S.C. § 2284(b)(1) (authorizing the chief judge of the circuit to designate a three-judge court).

Before us are a motion to dismiss ("MTD") pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), filed jointly by the Executive and Senate Defendants, ECF No. 21, and Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment ("MSJ") pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, ECF No. 23. Amici have filed a total of eight briefs.1

Having benefitted from oral argument, the parties' filings, and the submissions of amici , we now consider, in turn, the applicable standards of review, relevant legal history, this panel's subject-matter jurisdiction, the justiciability of the claims over which we assert jurisdiction, and the merits of the justiciable claims.

II. Standards of Review

"[T]he scope of Rule 12(b)(1) is flexible," comprehending standing as well as most justiciability issues. See 5B FED. PRAC. & PROC. CIV. § 1350 (Wright & Miller 3d ed.). Jurisdictional issues are to be considered and resolved at the threshold, and the party invoking federal jurisdiction – here, Plaintiffs – bears the burden of establishing that the plaintiffs have standing. Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't , 523 U.S. 83, 94-95, 104, 118 S.Ct. 1003, 140 L.Ed.2d 210 (1998). The Court may look beyond the complaint in resolving questions of jurisdiction. See Am. Freedom Law Ctr. v. Obama , 821 F.3d 44, 49 (D.C. Cir. 2016). On a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, "it is well-settled that the complaint will be construed broadly and liberally, in conformity with the general principle set forth in Rule 8(e)[.]" 5B FED. PRAC. & PROC. CIV. § 1350 (Wright & Miller 3d ed.) ; see also Scheuer v. Rhodes , 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974) ("[I]t is well established that, in passing on a motion to dismiss, whether on the ground of lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter or for failure to state a cause of action, the allegations of the complaint should be construed favorably to the pleader."), abrogated on other grounds as recognized in Davis v. Scherer , 468 U.S. 183, 191, 104 S.Ct. 3012, 82 L.Ed.2d 139 (1984).

When considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court assesses whether the complaint "contain[s] 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, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868, (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) ). Here, too, the Amended Complaint is construed in Plaintiffs' favor, Scheuer , 416 U.S. at 236, 94 S.Ct. 1683, and its material allegations are accepted as true, Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937. In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, we "consider the complaint in its entirety," and may also consider "documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial notice." Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights , 551 U.S. 308, 322, 127 S.Ct. 2499, 168 L.Ed.2d 179 (2007) (citing 5B FED. PRAC. & PROC. CIV. § 1357 (Wright & Miller 3d ed. 2004 and Supp. 2007) ).

Summary judgment, meanwhile, is appropriate where the movant can demonstrate "that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). A dispute about a material fact "is ‘genuine’ ... if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). At the summary-judgment stage, "[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Id. at 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505. There are no disputes of material fact here.

III. Background

The Seventeenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that "[t]he Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each state, elected by the people thereof[.]" U.S. CONST. amend. XVII. Article I of the Constitution, meanwhile, provides that "[t]he House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States[.]" Id. art. I, § 2, cl. 1. The Fourteenth Amendment dictates that "Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers," id. amend. XIV, and Article I provides that an "actual Enumeration" shall be conducted every ten years, id. art. I, § 2, cl. 3. The provisions of the Constitution relating to the apportionment of House representation are effectuated by statute. The Secretary of Commerce is charged, by 13 U.S.C. § 141, with the conduct of the decennial census; that statute also mandates that the Secretary tabulate the total population "by States" and report the same to the President within nine months of the census date, id. § 141(b). The President must then "transmit to the Congress a statement showing the whole number of persons in each State ... and the number of Representatives to which each State would be entitled[.]" 2 U.S.C. § 2a(a). "Each State shall be entitled ... to the number of Representatives shown" in the President's statement, and within fifteen days of receiving that statement, the Clerk of the House must "send to the executive of each State a certificate of the number of Representatives to which such State is entitled[.]" Id. § 2a(b). It is undisputed, and the Court takes judicial notice of the fact, see FED. R. EVID. 201, that District residents are unrepresented in Congress by anyone but the Delegate, who by statute has a seat in the House and may debate, but may not vote, 2 U.S.C. § 25a(a).

IV. Adams

Neither we nor the parties write on a blank slate. Twenty years ago, another three-judge panel of this Court had occasion to pass on claims very similar to those now before us, issuing a well-reasoned opinion we are inclined to follow to the extent we are not bound to do so. The holdings of the Adams court, together with the Supreme Court's summary affirmances of the Adams panel's judgment, serve as the background against which we rule.

Adams represented the consolidation of two cases: Adams v. Clinton and Alexander v. Daley . 90 F. Supp. 2d at...

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