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Nader v. Democratic National Committee

May 27, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Document Nos. 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 34




In 2000, Ralph Nader campaigned for the presidency of the United States and earned over 2.8 million votes, 2.74 percent of all votes cast. In 2004, he again threw his hat in the ring, this time garnering only 465,650 votes, a sliver more than one-third of one percent of the total vote and less than one-fifth of the amount he collected in 2000.*fn1 Rather than attributing his poor showing to public disenchantment with independent candidates following the closely divided 2000 presidential election or an unpopular platform or any one of the array of reasons that voters choose one candidate over another, Nader, along with Peter Camejo (his 2004 running mate) and six voter plaintiffs hailing from Arizona, Ohio and Oregon allege that the defendants, the Democratic National Committee ("DNC"), DNC attorney Jack Corrigan, DNC consultant Robert Brandon, Michigan Democratic Party Chair and DNC Vice Chair Mark Brewer, John Kerry, the Democratic Party's presidential nominee in 2004, Kerry-Edwards 2004, Inc., The Ballot Project, Inc. and its president Toby Moffett and director Elizabeth Holtzman, America Coming Together ("ACT"), Service Employees International Union ("SEIU") and the law firm Reed Smith, LLP, engineered his defeat by conspiring to deprive him of votes and campaign cash via ballot eligibility challenges in multiple suits across the country. Specifically, the plaintiffs charge the defendants with civil conspiracy, malicious prosecution and abuse of process.

The defendants move to dismiss, arguing that the plaintiffs have failed to state a claim, that the relevant statutes of limitation bar suit and that the defendants' actions are protected as the exercise of their First Amendment right of petition. They further argue that this court lacks jurisdiction because the plaintiffs lack standing, that the plaintiffs' request for injunctive relief is moot and that the plaintiffs' claims must be dismissed because they invite the review and rejection of a state-court judgment rendered before proceedings commenced in federal court. Because this court lacks jurisdiction to consider the plaintiffs' malicious prosecution claims that directly attack prior state court judgments, and because the First Amendment bars the remaining claims, the courts grants the defendants' motions to dismiss and dismisses the amended complaint.


A. Factual History

The plaintiffs allege that the defendants conspired to file twenty-four complaints in eighteen state courts and five complaints before the Federal Election Commission ("FEC") within a twelve-week period between June and September of 2004. Am. Compl. ¶ 3.*fn2 Seeking to improve John Kerry's chances by removing Nader as a competitor from the race, the defendants brought multiple challenges to Nader's candidacy not, the plaintiffs insist, "to vindicate valid legal claims, but rather to bankrupt Nader-Camejo's campaign by forcing the candidates to spend their limited resources of time, talent and money on the defense of unfounded lawsuits." Id. ¶ 4. Nader eventually loaned his own campaign $100,000 "to cover legal bills, staff salaries and operating expenses," which the campaign never paid back. Am. Compl. ¶ 228. Ultimately, the FEC dismissed the complaints, and the defendants prevailed in only five states -- Arizona, Illinois, Ohio, Oregon and Pennsylvania -- in keeping Nader off the ballot. Id. ¶ 4; DNC's Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. 1. In Pennsylvania defendant Reed Smith secured an $81,102.19 judgment against Nader personally for litigation costs, for which the firm brought attachment proceedings in D.C. Superior Court for $61,638.45. Am. Compl. ¶ 229.

B. Procedural History

The plaintiffs filed a complaint in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia on October 30, 2007, accusing the defendants of conspiracy and abuse of process and malicious prosecution in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Compl. ¶¶ 238-43. The complaint also alleged conspiracy and violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 of the Qualifications Clause and the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Id. ¶¶ 244-55. On October 31, 2007, the plaintiffs filed a similar complaint in the Eastern District of Virginia raising the same constitutional claims against different defendants. On November 27, 2007, the Superior Court defendants removed the case to this court. On January 23, 2008, the plaintiffs amended their complaint, deleting the counts alleging constitutional violations. The plaintiffs also filed a motion to remand but withdrew the motion on March 13, 2008, a day after the Eastern District of Virginia transferred its case to this court after denying the plaintiffs leave to amend and denying without prejudice the defendants' pending motions to dismiss. No motion to consolidate these actions has been filed, and no pending motions remain in the action transferred from the Eastern District of Virginia. The court's opinion today, therefore, considers only the pending motions to dismiss in the action raising state tort claims removed from the Superior Court.


A. Standing

1. Legal Standard for a Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1)

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and the law presumes that "a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994); St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 288-89 (1938); see also Gen. Motors Corp. v. Envtl. Prot. Agency, 363 F.3d 442, 448 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (noting that "[a]s a court of limited jurisdiction, we begin, and end, with an examination of our jurisdiction").

Because "subject-matter jurisdiction is an 'Art. III as well as a statutory requirement[,] no action of the parties can confer subject-matter jurisdiction upon a federal court.'" Akinseye v. District of Columbia, 339 F.3d 970, 971 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (quoting Ins. Corp. of Ir., Ltd. v. Compagnie des Bauxite de Guinea, 456 U.S. 694, 702 (1982)). On a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that the court has subject-matter jurisdiction. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992). The court may dismiss a complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction only if "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Empagran S.A. v. F. Hoffman-Laroche, Ltd., 315 F.3d 338, 343 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)).

Because subject-matter jurisdiction focuses on the court's power to hear the claim, however, the court must give the plaintiff's factual allegations closer scrutiny when resolving a Rule 12(b)(1) motion than would be required for a Rule 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim. Macharia v. United States, 334 F.3d 61, 64, 69 (D.C. Cir. 2003); Grand Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185 F. Supp. 2d 9, 13 (D.D.C. 2001). Thus, the court is not limited to the allegations contained in the complaint. Hohri v. United States, 782 F.2d 227, 241 (D.C. Cir. 1986), vacated on other grounds, 482 U.S. 64 (1987). When necessary, the court may consider the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced ...

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