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Hoffman v. Jeffords

December 13, 2001

JOHN HOFFMAN AND MICHAEL HAHALYAK, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
JAMES JEFFORDS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Royce C. Lamberth, United States District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on the defendant's motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' amended complaint and the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment. Specifically, the defendant argues that the amended complaint should be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) because the Court lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate the plaintiffs' claims, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(5) because of insufficiency of process, and pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) because the plaintiffs have failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The plaintiffs, in contrast, argue that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. After a thorough review of the amended complaint, the parties' memoranda, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the defendant's motion should be GRANTED and the plaintiffs' motion should be DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

The plaintiffs in this case, two Republicans from Pennsylvania, seek judicial review of Senator James M. Jeffords' decision to leave the Republican party. In the amended complaint, the plaintiffs claim that Senator Jeffords violated Vermont election laws and the Fourteenth and Seventeenth Amendments to the United States Constitution by changing his political party affiliation after being elected as a Republican. The plaintiffs want this Court to order Senator Jeffords to reinstate his affiliation with the Republican party and to enjoin him from caucusing with the Democratic members of the Senate.

The voters of Vermont first elected James M. Jeffords to the United States Senate in 1988. After being re-elected in 1994, Senator Jeffords again sought and won the Republican nomination in Vermont's September 12, 2000 primary election. Senator Jeffords retained his seat in the Senate by winning the November 7, 2000 general election, where he ran as the Republican nominee. On January 3, 2001, the President of the Senate presented the Senate with a certificate of election signed by the Governor of Vermont certifying Senator Jeffords' election to a new six-year term. At the opening of the 107th Congress, Senator Jeffords returned as a member of the Republican Conference, which encompassed all Republican members of the Senate. In fact, Senator Jeffords had at all times during his tenure in the Senate caucused with the other Republican members.

On May 24, 2001, however, Senator Jeffords announced his decision to leave the Republican party, become an Independent, and caucus with the Senate Democrats for organizational purposes. Senator Jeffords' decision to caucus with the Senate Democrats was particularly important--and controversial--because the 2000 elections resulted in a Senate composed of 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats. The 2000 elections thus yielded, for only the third time in American history, an equal balance of power between the two principal political parties. *fn1

Even though there was an equal number of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, the Republicans had gained working control of the Senate because of the Vice President's power, as President of the Senate, to cast tie-breaking votes. Accordingly, Republicans took working control of the Senate after Chief Justice Rehnquist swore in Richard B. Cheney, who is a Republican, as Vice President on January 20, 2001. Moreover, pursuant to an organizational agreement entered into by both parties, an equal number of Republican and Democratic members served on all committees, with Republican senators assuming the committee chairs. After separate deliberations by the Republican and Democratic caucuses, committee members from each party were appointed on January 25 and January 30, 2001.

By changing political parties, Senator Jeffords enabled the Democratic party to assume working control of the Senate. On June 5, 2001, after returning from the Memorial Day recess, Senator Jeffords attended the Democrats' weekly policy caucus luncheon for the first time, and, on the next day, the Democrats took control of the Senate. On June 6, 2001, the presiding officer recognized Senator Tom Daschle, a Democrat, as the leader of the party with dominant representation in the Senate. As the majority party, the Democrats elected a new President pro tempore and assumed the chairs of all Senate committees. Additionally, pursuant to a new organizing resolution, the Democrats gained a one-member majority on all committees except for the Select Committee on Ethics, which always has equal party representation.

The plaintiffs, who describe themselves as registered Republicans, filed the instant suit shortly after Senator Jeffords announced his decision to switch political parties. In the amended complaint, the plaintiffs state that jurisdiction is founded on diversity of citizenship and because of federal questions arising under the Fourteenth and Seventeenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The plaintiffs allege that they "have been adversely impacted in that the Republican program to be ushered in by the Republican party nationally has been seriously obstructed by the defendant's unauthorized act in altering party affiliation." They further claim that Senator Jeffords' decision to change parties "destroys the confidence of the electorate," "destroys the foundation of good government by lowering the standard of integrity of its representatives," "promotes party raiding which would seriously weaken the stability of the elective process," "undermines the very purpose of anti-raiding statutes," "eliminates the heart of a well balanced political party," and was without the approval of the individuals that voted for him in the Vermont elections. The plaintiffs have moved for summary judgment on each of these claims.

In response to the amended complaint, Senator Jeffords filed a motion to dismiss on September 10, 2001. In the motion, he argues that there are several independent bases upon which this Court should dismiss the plaintiffs' amended complaint. Senator Jeffords first contends that the action should be dismissed because the Court does not have jurisdiction to adjudicate the plaintiffs' claims. In particular, Senator Jeffords asserts that the plaintiffs lack standing to bring this lawsuit and that the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution bars their claims against him. Next, Senator Jeffords argues that the amended complaint should be dismissed because the plaintiffs failed to serve properly the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, as required by Rule 4(i) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Finally, Senator Jeffords contends that the action should be dismissed because it is non-justiciable under the political question doctrine.

II. ANALYSIS

The Supreme Court has made it clear that before a federal court can consider the merits of a claim, the person seeking to invoke the jurisdiction of the court must establish that they have standing to initiate the lawsuit. Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149, 155 (1990). The burden of showing that this standing requirement is met rests squarely on the party bringing the action. FW/PBS, Inc. v. Dallas, 493 U.S. 215, 231 (1990) (finding that "petitioners in this case must allege facts essential to show jurisdiction."). In order to show that standing exists, "the party who seeks the exercise of jurisdiction in his favor" must clearly "allege facts demonstrating that he is a proper party to invoke judicial resolution of the dispute." Id. If the plaintiff fails to make the necessary allegations, then the Court must find that the party does not have standing to bring the lawsuit. Id. (citing McNutt v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 189 (1936)). See also U.S. v. Hays, 515 U.S. 737, 743 (1995). Moreover, once a court finds that a plaintiff does not have standing to initiate an action, it must dismiss the complaint. Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 502 (1975) (noting that if "the plaintiff's standing does not adequately appear from all materials of record, the complaint must be dismissed.").

Courts should not consider the merits of the plaintiff's claim in determining whether he has standing to bring the lawsuit. Id. at 500 (recognizing that "standing in no way depends on the merits of the plaintiff's contention that particular conduct is illegal"); Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149, 155 (1990) (stating that "we thus put aside for now Whitmore's Eighth Amendment challenge and consider whether he has established the existence of a 'case or controversy.'"). In fact, "[f]or purposes of ruling on a motion to dismiss for want of standing, both the trial and reviewing courts must accept as true all material allegations of the complaint, and must construe the complaint in favor of the complaining party." Warth, 422 U.S. at 501; AFL-CIO v. Pierce, 697 F.2d 303, 305 (D.C. Cir. 1982) (noting that "[f]or purposes of the standing issue, we accept as valid Congressman Sabo's pleaded legal theory.").

Based on this legal standard, the Court will first address the threshold jurisdictional issue of standing. In making that determination, the Court will assume that the facts alleged in the complaint are true. Only after finding that the plaintiffs have standing will the Court evaluate the other issues raised in the defendant's motion to dismiss and the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment. Warth, 422 U.S. at 498 (recognizing that standing "is the threshold question in every federal case, determining the power of the court to entertain the suit."). If, however, the Court concludes that the plaintiffs do not have standing, it will dismiss the complaint without any further discussion of the other issues raised in the two motions. FW/PBS Inc., 493 U.S. at 230 ("We do not reach the merits of the adult entertainment and adult cabaret petitioners' challenges to the civil disability provision, § 41A-5(a)(10), and the provision disabling individuals residing with those whose licenses have been denied or revoked, § 41A-5(a)(5), because petitioners have failed to show they have standing to ...


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