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LEACH v. RESOLUTION TRUST CORP.

August 18, 1994

JAMES A. LEACH, Plaintiff,
v.
RESOLUTION TRUST CORPORATION and OFFICE OF THRIFT SUPERVISION, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHARLES R. RICHEY

 UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 The Plaintiff in the above-captioned case is the Honorable James A. Leach, the duly elected Member of the United States House of Representatives from the First Congressional District of Iowa. Acting in his capacity as a Member of Congress and as the Ranking Minority Member of the House Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs ("the House Banking Committee"), Representative Leach has sought all documents pertaining to the Madison Savings & Loan Association ("Madison") from the Defendants in this suit, the Resolution Trust Corporation ("RTC") and the Office of Thrift Supervision ("OTS").

 Now before the Court are the Plaintiff's "Motion for Summary Judgment" and the Defendants' "Motion to Dismiss, or, in the alternative, for Summary Judgment." On July 14, 1994, the Court held a hearing to address the issues raised by the instant Notions. Upon careful consideration of all of the pleadings, the oral arguments of counsel, the applicable law, and the entire record herein, the Court has determined that it would be improvident for the judiciary to enter into this dispute and, pursuant to the doctrine of remedial discretion, the Court shall thus decline to entertain review of the issues presented by the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment. Accordingly, for the reasons set forth in greater detail below, the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss shall be granted.

 BACKGROUND

 The parties do not dispute most of the essential facts in this case. Acting in his capacity as a Member of Congress and as the Ranking Minority Member of the House Banking Committee, Representative Leach has requested that the Defendants produce all documents in their possession, custody, or control pertaining to the Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan Association and its affiliates and subsidiaries. Both Defendants treated this request as one made pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552, and processed Representative Leach's case accordingly. *fn1"

 In responding to the Plaintiff's request, the RTC and the OTS released over 8,000 pages of documents, withholding only those materials deemed exempt from public disclosure under FOIA. See Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment at 2. Representative Leach, however, has challenged this withholding as a matter of law, asserting, inter alia, that individual members of Congress are entitled to receive even confidential or otherwise privileged documents pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(d).

 Section (d) of the Freedom of Information Act, otherwise known as the "Congressional Savings Clause," explicitly provides that:

 
This section does not authorize withholding of information or limit the availability of records to the public, except as specifically stated in this section. This section is not authority to withhold information from Congress.

 5 U.S.C. § 552(d) (emphasis added). At the heart of this dispute, then, is the meaning of "Congress" under this section of FOIA and the applicability of the Congressional savings clause to individual members of Congress seeking access to documents generally exempt from public disclosure.

 The Defendants contend that section 552(d) is inapplicable to this case because, although the Plaintiff has requested these documents in his official capacity as a Member of Congress and as the Ranking Minority Member of the Banking Committee, there is no indication that Representative Leach is acting on behalf of Congress itself, or a duly authorized committee thereof. *fn2" Indeed, the Defendants argue that there is ample evidence to suggest that Congress -- and the Banking Committee in particular -- have specifically not authorized the Plaintiff's request.

 Representative Leach, however, challenges the Defendants' decision to process his request as if he were a private citizen rather than an official member of Congress. The Plaintiff maintains that his request was designed to enable him to perform his legislative oversight responsibilities as the Ranking Minority Member of the House Banking Committee. *fn3" Representative Leach thus contends that he is authorized by the Congressional savings clause to receive such information despite the fact that it is otherwise exempt from public disclosure.

 The legal question squarely presented, then, is what rights of access individual members of Congress possess under FOIA, when acting in an official capacity, but without the authorization of Congress as a whole, or a duly authorized committee thereof. For reasons set forth below, however, the Court shall decline to undertake review of this matter in view of the important separation-of-powers concerns implicated by the specific context in which this case arises.

 DISCUSSION

 By now the public is undoubtedly quite familiar with the continuing controversy surrounding the debate over the appropriate nature and scope of congressional hearings pertaining to Madison and related matters. By filing the instant suit, the Plaintiff has asked the Court to interpret the meaning of "Congress" in the Congressional savings clause. Although the Complaint presents a question of statutory interpretation well within the Court's jurisdiction to hear, prudential concerns dictate that this is an appropriate case for the exercise of the Court's remedial discretion to decline review of this suit. Representative Leach's real dispute is with his colleagues in Congress, who are capable of providing him with substantial, if not complete relief, and the Court is thus reluctant to interfere with what should essentially be an handled as an internal congressional matter.

 I. The Court cannot accept the Defendants' claim that Representative Leach's dispute must be dismissed as a nonjusticiable political question.

 As a preliminary matter, the Court must first briefly address the Defendants' contention that Representative Leach's case should be dismissed as a nonjusticiable political question. Although the Court shares some of the Defendants' concerns that judicial involvement in this matter might potentially embroil the courts in a political dispute best left to a coordinate branch of government, the Court is ultimately unable to conclude that the Plaintiff's Complaint is technically nonjusticiable under the political question doctrine.

 Both parties agree that the Court's determination as to whether the instant suit presents a political question must be guided by the Supreme Court's decision in Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 7 L. Ed. 2d 663, 82 S. Ct. 691 (1962), in which the Supreme Court explicitly considered the "contours of the 'political question' doctrine." Id. at 210. Providing guidance in the identification of nonjusticiable "political questions," the Supreme Court declared that

 
each has one or more elements which identify it as essentially a function of the separation of powers. Prominent on the surface of any case held to involve a political question is found a textually demonstrable constitutional commitment of the issue to a coordinate political department; or a lack of judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving it; or the impossibility of deciding without an initial policy determination of a kind clearly for nonjudicial discretion; or the impossibility of a court's undertaking independent resolution without expressing lack of respect due coordinate branches of government; or an unusual need for unquestioning adherence to a political decision already made; or the potentiality of embarrassment from multifarious pronouncements by various departments on one question.

 Id. at 217.

 Further relying on Justice Powell's concurrence in Goldwater v. Carter, 444 U.S. 996, 62 L. Ed. 2d 428, 100 S. Ct. 533 (1979), the Defendants urge the Court to consider three issues in deciding whether the Plaintiff's Complaint should be dismissed pursuant to the political question doctrine:

 
As set forth in the seminal case of Baker v. Carr. . . the doctrine incorporates three inquiries: (i) Does the issue involve resolution of questions committed by the text of the Constitution to a coordinate branch of Government? (ii) Would resolution of the question demand that a court move beyond areas of judicial expertise? (iii) Do prudential considerations counsel against judicial intervention?

 Id. at 998. Upon consideration of all three factors, however, the Court cannot accept Defendants' contention that this case should be dismissed as a nonjusticiable political question.

 Although the Defendants are correct in asserting that Representative Leach's claims potentially implicate a number of "internal" issues related to the question of how the House will conduct its oversight functions, the question squarely presented by the Complaint is one of statutory interpretation: the meaning of "Congress" as it is used in the Congressional savings clause. As such, the issue is clearly not one committed by the text of the Constitution to a coordinate branch of Government, nor would resolution of this matter demand that the Court move beyond areas of traditional judicial expertise. Indeed, there can be no dispute that the courts are specifically authorized to undertake judicial review in such cases. Nor can there be any doubt that the judiciary is clearly well within the realm of judicial expertise when asked to review cases brought under FOIA and the APA.

 Thus, although quite concerned about the prudential problems raised by the instant suit, the Court is unwilling to hold that Representative Leach's case should be dismissed as nonjusticiable under the political question doctrine. There is no question that the Plaintiff has exhausted his administrative remedies in filing the instant Complaint, and the Court will not dismiss as ...


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