Statton v. Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission, 052120 FED11, 19-11927

Docket Nº:19-11927
Opinion Judge:GRANT, Circuit Judge
Party Name:JOSHUA STATTON, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. FLORIDA FEDERAL JUDICIAL NOMINATING COMMISSION, CARLOS LOPEZ-CANTERA, Defendants-Appellees.
Judge Panel:Before WILLIAM PRYOR, JILL PRYOR, and GRANT, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:May 21, 2020
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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JOSHUA STATTON, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

FLORIDA FEDERAL JUDICIAL NOMINATING COMMISSION, CARLOS LOPEZ-CANTERA, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 19-11927

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

May 21, 2020

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida D.C. Docket No. 8:19-cv-00485-VMC-CPT

Before WILLIAM PRYOR, JILL PRYOR, and GRANT, Circuit Judges.

GRANT, Circuit Judge

This appeal arises from a Freedom of Information Act suit filed against the Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission and its former statewide chair, Carlos Lopez-Cantera. The district court dismissed the suit for want of subject matter jurisdiction because neither the Commission nor Lopez-Cantera is an "agency" within the meaning of FOIA. The would-be plaintiff appeals pro se. We agree with the most important part of the district court's order: the Commission is not an agency. But because this fact creates a defect in the merits of the complaint rather than in the district court's jurisdiction, we hold that the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. On that basis, we affirm judgment in favor of the defendants.

I.

In 2017, Florida's United States Senators at the time, Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, created the Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission, the latest in a long line of such commissions in Florida. Florida's Senators provide the President recommendations for filling federal judicial vacancies within the state, and the Commission, according to its governing rules, "facilitate[d] the identification of excellent, highly-qualified, and eligible candidates" for those vacancies.

The Commission's members were volunteers selected by the Senators from both the Florida Bar and the general public. Upon receiving a request from the Senators, the Commission began its selection process, which consisted of a call for applications, public comment, and interviews. After deliberations, the Commission sent a list of finalists to the Senators. The Senators had the option of interviewing the finalists and, if neither Senator objected, forwarding the list of finalists to the President. But "forwarding a name for consideration by the White House [did] not explicitly or implicitly indicate that a Senator [would] support that individual's ultimate confirmation." The Commission's process and all of its rules were subject to amendment at the Senators' sole discretion.

The Commission lapsed in January 2019 at the conclusion of the 115th Congress. A month later, Joshua Statton sent a Freedom of Information Act request to Lopez-Cantera in his capacity as the Commission's former statewide chair. Statton, an officer at a government watchdog group called Florida for Transparency, believed that a particular judge had made false representations and material omissions on the application form he gave the Commission. Statton's FOIA request sought a copy of the judge's application, along with...

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