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Judicial Watch, Inc. v. National Energy Policy Development Group

November 1, 2002

JUDICIAL WATCH, INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
NATIONAL ENERGY POLICY DEVELOPMENT GROUP, DEFENDANT.
SIERRA CLUB, PLAINTIFF,
v.
VICE PRESIDENT RICHARD CHENEY, ET AL. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Emmet G. Sullivan, United States District Judge

As amended November 13, 2002

ORDER

Pending before the Court is non-agency defendants' motion for a stay of proceedings pending appeal of this Court's October 17, 2002, September 9, 2002, and July 11, 2002 Orders authorizing limited discovery from defendants on threshold issues, and ordering defendants to produce non-privileged documents responsive to plaintiffs' discovery requests, along with a privilege log identifying those documents for which defendants believe there is a valid basis for the assertion of a privilege. Upon careful consideration of defendants' motion, the response and reply thereto, and the relevant legal authority, and for the following reasons, it is by the Court hereby

ORDERED that defendants' motion for a stay is DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

Non-agency defendants move for a stay of, inter alia, this Court's October 17, 2002 Order, which requires them, consistent with this Court's August 2, 2002 Order and July 11, 2002 Memorandum Opinion and Order, to respond to plaintiffs' First Set of Interrogatories and to produce by no later than November 5, 2002, non-privileged documents responsive to plaintiffs' First Request for Document Production, along with a log identifying specific documents or particularized categories of documents for which they assert that a privilege precludes production. Defendants seek a stay to pursue an appeal to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, on the grounds that this Court's Orders implicate important constitutional and statutory questions that are best resolved by the Court of Appeals before litigation proceeds any further in this case.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

The following factors are to be considered when determining whether a stay pending appeal is warranted:

(1) the likelihood that the party seeking the stay will prevail on the merits of the appeal; (2) the likelihood that the moving party will be irreparably harmed absent a stay; (3) the prospect that others will be harmed if the court grants the stay; and (4) the public interest in granting the stay. To justify the granting of a stay, a movant need not always establish a high probability of success on the merits. Probability of success is inversely proportional to the degree of irreparable injury evidenced. A stay may be granted with either a high probability of success and some injury, or vice versa. Cuomo v. United States Nuclear Regulatory Comm'n, 772 F.2d 972, 974 (D.C. Cir. 1985); Washington Metro. Area Transit Comm'n v. Holiday Tours, Inc., 559 F.2d 841, 842, 843 (D.C. Cir. 1977).

It is "the movant's obligation to justify the court's exercise of such an extraordinary remedy." Cuomo, 772 F.2d at 978. This Circuit has recently reiterated that a moving party must satisfy "stringent standards required for a stay pending appeal." Summers v. Howard Univ., Civ. A. No. 02-7069, 2002 WL 31269623 (D.C. Cir. Oct. 10, 2002). Where a moving party fails to establish a substantial case on the merits, and further fails to "demonstrate that the balance of equities or the public interest strongly favors the granting of a stay," a motion for stay is properly denied. Cuomo, 772 F.2d at 972.

A. Likelihood of Success on the Merits

Recognizing that this Court has, on numerous occasions, rejected their arguments to this effect, defendants nevertheless continue to assert that Court Orders requiring them to respond in any fashion to plaintiffs' discovery requests create an "unconstitutional burden" on the Executive Branch unless plaintiffs are first required to demonstrate "compelling need" for the discovery sought. Defendants have cited no authority, and indeed this Court knows of none, which supports this proposition. To the contrary, every case cited by the defendants in support of their position involved precisely the same procedure adopted by this Court in this case. Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court has recently confirmed the continued validity of the precedent of long-standing relied upon by this Court in the Orders and Opinions contested by defendants. As recently as 1997, the nation's highest court held

In sum, "[i]t is settled law that the separation-of-powers doctrine does not bar every exercise of jurisdiction over the President of the United States." . . . the Judiciary may severely burden the Executive Branch by reviewing the legality of the President's official conduct . . ..[emphasis added] Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681, 705, 117 S. Ct. 1636, 1650 (1997).

Here, as in Jones, this Court is of the opinion that defendants "err[ ] by presuming that interactions between the Judicial Branch and the Executive, even quite burdensome interactions, necessarily rise to the level of constitutionally forbidden impairment of the Executive's ability to perform its constitutionally ...


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