Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Nasser Al-Aulaqi v. Barack H. Obama

December 7, 2010

NASSER AL-AULAQI,
ON HIS OWN BEHALF AND AS NEXT FRIEND OF ANWAR AL-AULAQI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BARACK H. OBAMA, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES; ROBERT M. GATES, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SECRETARY OF DEFENSE; AND LEON E. PANETTA, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS DIRECTOR OF THE CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY, DEFENDANTS.



MEMORANDUM OPINION

On August 30, 2010, plaintiff Nasser Al-Aulaqi ("plaintiff") filed this action, claiming that the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Director of the CIA (collectively, "defendants") have unlawfully authorized the targeted killing of plaintiff's son, Anwar Al-Aulaqi, a dual U.S.-Yemeni citizen currently hiding in Yemen who has alleged ties to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula ("AQAP"). Plaintiff seeks an injunction prohibiting defendants from intentionally killing Anwar Al-Aulaqi "unless he presents a concrete, specific, and imminent threat to life or physical safety, and there are no means other than lethal force that could reasonably be employed to neutralize the threat." See Compl., Prayer for Relief (c). Defendants have responded with a motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint on five threshold grounds: standing, the political question doctrine, the Court's exercise of its "equitable discretion," the absence of a cause of action under the Alien Tort Statute ("ATS"), and the state secrets privilege.

This is a unique and extraordinary case. Both the threshold and merits issues present fundamental questions of separation of powers involving the proper role of the courts in our constitutional structure. Leading Supreme Court decisions from Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803), through Justice Jackson's celebrated concurrence in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579 (1952), to the more recent cases dealing with Guantanamo detainees have been invoked to guide this Court's deliberations. Vital considerations of national security and of military and foreign affairs (and hence potentially of state secrets) are at play.

Stark, and perplexing, questions readily come to mind, including the following: How is it that judicial approval is required when the United States decides to target a U.S. citizen overseas for electronic surveillance, but that, according to defendants, judicial scrutiny is prohibited when the United States decides to target a U.S. citizen overseas for death? Can a U.S. citizen --himself or through another -- use the U.S. judicial system to vindicate his constitutional rights while simultaneously evading U.S. law enforcement authorities, calling for "jihad against the West," and engaging in operational planning for an organization that has already carried out numerous terrorist attacks against the United States? Can the Executive order the assassination of a U.S. citizen without first affording him any form of judicial process whatsoever, based on the mere assertion that he is a dangerous member of a terrorist organization? How can the courts, as plaintiff proposes, make real-time assessments of the nature and severity of alleged threats to national security, determine the imminence of those threats, weigh the benefits and costs of possible diplomatic and military responses, and ultimately decide whether, and under what circumstances, the use of military force against such threats is justified? When would it ever make sense for the United States to disclose in advance to the "target" of contemplated military action the precise standards under which it will take that military action? And how does the evolving AQAP relate to core al Qaeda for purposes of assessing the legality of targeting AQAP (or its principals) under the September 18, 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force?

These and other legal and policy questions posed by this case are controversial and of great public interest. "Unfortunately, however, no matter how interesting and no matter how important this case may be . . . we cannot address it unless we have jurisdiction." United States v. White, 743 F.2d 488, 492 (7th Cir. 1984). Before reaching the merits of plaintiff's claims, then, this Court must decide whether plaintiff is the proper person to bring the constitutional and statutory challenges he asserts, and whether plaintiff's challenges, as framed, state claims within the ambit of the Judiciary to resolve. These jurisdictional issues pose "distinct and separate limitation[s], so that either the absence of standing or the presence of a political question suffices to prevent the power of the federal judiciary from being invoked by the complaining party." Schlesinger v. Reservists Comm. to Stop the War, 418 U.S. 208, 215 (1974) (internal citations omitted).

Although these threshold questions of jurisdiction may seem less significant than the questions posed by the merits of plaintiff's claims, "[m]uch more than legal niceties are at stake here" -- the "constitutional elements of jurisdiction are an essential ingredient of separation and equilibration of powers, restraining the courts from acting at certain times, and even restraining them from acting permanently regarding certain subjects." Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 101 (1998). Here, the jurisdictional hurdles that plaintiff must surmount are both complex and at the heart of the intriguing nature of this case. But "[a] court without jurisdiction is a court without power, no matter how appealing the case for exceptions may be," Bailey v. Sharp, 782 F.2d 1366, 1373 (7th Cir. 1986) (Easterbrook, J., concurring), and hence it is these threshold obstacles to reaching the merits of plaintiff's constitutional and statutory challenges that must be the initial focus of this Court's attention. Because these questions of justiciability require dismissal of this case at the outset, the serious issues regarding the merits of the alleged authorization of the targeted killing of a U.S. citizen overseas must await another day or another (non-judicial) forum.

BACKGROUND

This case arises from the United States's alleged policy of "authorizing, planning, and carrying out targeted killings, including of U.S. citizens, outside the context of armed conflict." See Compl. ¶ 13. Specifically, plaintiff, a Yemeni citizen, claims that the United States has authorized the targeted killing of plaintiff's son, Anwar Al-Aulaqi, in violation of the Constitution and international law. See id. ¶¶ 3-4, 9, 17, 21, 23.

Anwar Al-Aulaqi is a Muslim cleric with dual U.S.-Yemeni citizenship, who is currently believed to be in hiding in Yemen. See id. ¶¶ 9, 26; see also Defs.' Mem. in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss ("Defs.' Mem.") [Docket Entry 15], at 1; Pl.'s Mem. in Support of Pl.'s Mot. for Prelim. Inj. ("Pl.'s Mem.") [Docket Entry 3], Decl. of Ben Wizner ("Wizner Decl."), Ex. AA. Anwar Al-Aulaqi was born in New Mexico in 1971, and spent much of his early life in the United States, attending college at Colorado State University and receiving his master's degree from San Diego State University before moving to Yemen in 2004. See Wizner Decl., Ex. AB, Decl. of Dr. Nasser Al-Aulaqi ("Al-Aulaqi Decl.") ¶¶ 3-4. On July 16, 2010, the U.S. Treasury

Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control ("OFAC") designated Anwar Al-Aulaqi as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist ("SDGT") in light of evidence that he was "acting for or on behalf of al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)" and "providing financial, material or technological support for, or other services to or in support of, acts of terrorism[.]" See Defs.' Mem. at 6-7 (quoting Designation of ANWAR AL-AULAQI Pursuant to Executive Order 13224 and the Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 594, 75 Fed. Reg. 43233 (July 16, 2010)) (hereinafter, "OFAC Designation"). In its designation, OFAC explained that Anwar Al-Aulaqi had "taken on an increasingly operational role" in AQAP since late 2009, as he "facilitated training camps in Yemen in support of acts of terrorism" and provided "instructions" to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the man accused of attempting to detonate a bomb aboard a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day 2009. See OFAC Designation. Media sources have also reported ties between Anwar Al-Aulaqi and Nidal Malik Hasan, the U.S. Army Major suspected of killing 13 people in a November 2009 shooting at Fort Hood, Texas. See, e.g., Wizner Decl., Exs. E, F, H, J, L, M, V, W. According to a January 2010 Los Angeles Times article, unnamed "U.S. officials" have discovered that Anwar Al-Aulaqi and Hasan exchanged as many as eighteen e-mails prior to the Fort Hood shootings. See id., Ex. E.

Recently, Anwar Al-Aulaqi has made numerous public statements calling for"jihad against the West," praising the actions of "his students" Abdulmutallab and Hasan, and asking others to "follow suit." See, e.g., Wizner Decl., Ex. V; Defs.' Reply to Pl.'s Opp. to Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss ("Defs.' Reply") [Docket Entry 29], Exs. 1-2; Defs.' Mem., Ex. 1, Unclassified Decl. of James R. Clapper, Dir. of Nat'l Intelligence ("Clapper Decl.") ¶ 16. Michael Leiter, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, has explained that Anwar Al-Aulaqi's "familiarity with the West" is a "key concern" for the United States, see Defs.' Mem., Ex. 3, and media sources have similarly cited Anwar Al-Aulaqi's ability to communicate with an English-speaking audience as a source of "particular concern" to U.S. officials, see Wizner Decl., Ex. V. But despite the United States's expressed "concern" regarding Anwar Al-Aulaqi's "familiarity with the West" and his "role in AQAP," see Defs.' Mem., Ex. 3, the United States has not yet publicly charged Anwar Al-Aulaqi with any crime. See Pl.'s Mem. in Opp. to Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss ("Pl.'s Opp.") [Docket Entry 25], at 9. For his part, Anwar Al-Aulaqi has made clear that he has no intention of making himself available for criminal prosecution in U.S. courts, remarking in a May 2010 AQAP video interview that he "will never surrender" to the United States, and that "[i]f the Americans want me, [they can] come look for me." See Wizner Decl., Ex. V; see also Clapper Decl. ¶ 16; Defs.' Mem. at 14 n.5 (quoting Anwar Al-Aulaqi as stating, "I have no intention of turning myself in to [the Americans]. If they want me, let them search for me.").

Plaintiff does not deny his son's affiliation with AQAP or his designation as a SDGT. Rather, plaintiff challenges his son's alleged unlawful inclusion on so-called "kill lists" that he contends are maintained by the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command ("JSOC"). See Pl.'s Mem. at 5; see also Compl. ¶¶ 3, 19. In support of his claim that the United States has placed Anwar Al-Aulaqi on "kill lists," plaintiff cites a number of media reports, which attribute their information to anonymous U.S. military and intelligence sources. See, e.g., Compl. ¶ 19;

Pl.'s Mem. at 5; Wizner Decl., Exs. F, H, L. For example, in January 2010, The Washington Post reported that, according to unnamed military officials, Anwar Al-Aulaqi was on "a shortlist of U.S. citizens" that JSOC was authorized to kill or capture. See Wizner Decl., Ex. F. A few months later, The Washington Post cited an anonymous U.S. official as stating that Anwar Al-Aulaqi had become "the first U.S. citizen added to a list of suspected terrorists the CIA is authorized to kill." See id., Ex. L. And in July 2010, National Public Radio announced -- on the basis of unidentified "[i]ntelligence sources" -- that the United States had already ordered "almost a dozen" unsuccessful drone and air-strikes targeting Anwar Al-Aulaqi in Yemen. See id., Ex. S.

Based on these news reports, plaintiff claims that the United States has placed Anwar AlAulaqi on the CIA and JSOC "kill lists" without "charge, trial, or conviction." See Compl. ¶ 1. Plaintiff alleges that individuals like his son are placed on "kill lists" after a "closed executive process" in which defendants and other executive officials determine that "secret criteria" have been satisfied. See id. ¶ 21; Pl.'s Mem. at 5-6. Plaintiff further avers "[u]pon information and belief" that once an individual is placed on a "kill list," he remains there for "months at a time." See Compl. ¶ 22; see also Pl.'s Mem. at 6; Wizner Decl., Ex. E (quoting unnamed U.S. officials as stating that "kill lists" are reviewed every six months and names are removed from the list if there is no longer intelligence linking the person to "known terrorists or [terrorist] plans"). Consequently, plaintiff argues, Anwar Al-Aulaqi is "now subject to a standing order that permits the CIA and JSOC to kill him . . . without regard to whether, at the time lethal force will be used, he presents a concrete, specific, and imminent threat to life, or whether there are reasonable means short of lethal force that could be used to address any such threat." See Compl. ¶¶ 21, 23.

The United States has neither confirmed nor denied the allegation that it has issued a "standing order" authorizing the CIA and JSOC to kill plaintiff's son. See Defs.' Mem. at 36; see also Mot. Hr'g Tr. [Docket Entry 30] 17:24-18:1, Nov. 8, 2010. Additionally, the United States has neither confirmed nor denied whether -- if it has, in fact, authorized the use of lethal force against plaintiff's son -- the authorization was made with regard to whether Anwar Al-Aulaqi presents a concrete, specific, and imminent threat to life, or whether there were reasonable means short of lethal force that could be used to address any such threat. See Defs.' Mem. at 36. The United States has, however, repeatedly stated that if Anwar Al-Aulaqi "were to surrender or otherwise present himself to the proper authorities in a peaceful and appropriate manner, legal principles with which the United States has traditionally and uniformly complied would prohibit using lethal force or other violence against him in such circumstances." Id. at 2; see also Mot. Hr'g Tr. 15:2-9.

Nevertheless, plaintiff alleges that due to his son's inclusion on the CIA and JSOC "kill lists," Anwar Al-Aulaqi is in "hiding under threat of death and cannot access counsel or the courts to assert his constitutional rights without disclosing his whereabouts and exposing himself to possible attack by Defendants." Compl. ¶ 9; see also id. ¶ 26; Al-Aulaqi Decl. ¶ 10 (stating that "[b]ecause the U.S. government is seeking to kill my son, as reported, he cannot access legal assistance or a court without risking his life"). Plaintiff therefore brings four claims -- three constitutional, and one statutory -- on his son's behalf. He asserts that the United States's alleged policy of authorizing the targeted killing of U.S. citizens, including plaintiff's son, outside of armed conflict, "in circumstances in which they do not present concrete, specific, and imminent threats to life or physical safety, and where there are means other than lethal force that could reasonably be employed to neutralize any such threat," violates (1) Anwar Al-Aulaqi's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures and (2) his Fifth Amendment right not to be deprived of life without due process of law. See Compl. ¶¶ 27-28. Plaintiff further claims that (3) the United States's refusal to disclose the criteria by which it selects U.S. citizens like plaintiff's son for targeted killing independently violates the notice requirement of the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause. See id. ¶ 30. Finally, plaintiff brings (4) a statutory claim under the Alien Tort Statute ("ATS"), 28 U.S.C. § 1350, alleging that the United States's "policy of targeted killings violates treaty and customary international law." See id. ¶ 29.

Plaintiff seeks both declaratory and injunctive relief. First, he requests a declaration that, outside of armed conflict, the Constitution prohibits defendants "from carrying out the targeted killing of U.S. citizens," including Anwar Al-Aulaqi, "except in circumstances in which they present a concrete, specific, and imminent threat to life or physical safety, and there are no means other than lethal force that could reasonably be employed to neutralize the threat." See Compl., Prayer for Relief (a); id. ¶ 6; Pl.'s Mem. at 39-40. Second, plaintiff requests a declaration that, outside of armed conflict, "treaty and customary international law" prohibit the targeted killing of all individuals -- regardless of their citizenship -- except in those same, limited circumstances. See Compl., Prayer for Relief (b); id. ¶ 6; Pl.'s Mem. at 40. Third, plaintiff requests a preliminary injunction prohibiting defendants from intentionally killing Anwar Al-Aulaqi "unless he presents a concrete, specific, and imminent threat to life or physical safety, and there are no means other than lethal force that could reasonably be employed to neutralize the threat." See Compl., Prayer for Relief (c); Pl.'s Mem. at 40. Finally, plaintiff seeks an injunction ordering defendants to disclose the criteria that the United States uses to determine whether a U.S. citizen will be targeted for killing. See Compl., Prayer for Relief (d); id. ¶ 6; Pl.'s Mem. at 40.

Presently before the Court is defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint on five distinct grounds: (1) standing; (2) political question; (3) "equitable discretion"; (4) lack of a cause of action under the ATS; and (5) the state secrets privilege. See Defs.' Mot. at 1. On November 8, 2010, this Court held a motions hearing on plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction and defendants' motion to dismiss, and heard nearly three hours of argument from counsel for the parties.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Defendants assert three primary grounds for dismissal, arguing that (1) plaintiff fails to state an ATS claim upon which relief can be granted; (2) plaintiff lacks standing to bring his three constitutional claims; and (3) all of plaintiff's claims -- both statutory and constitutional --present non-justiciable political questions. See Defs.' Mot. at 1; see also Mot. Hr'g Tr. 37:3-5 (in which defendants state that plaintiff's constitutional claims and his ATS claim are barred by the political question doctrine). The first of these three grounds for dismissal constitutes a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, whereas the latter two challenge subject matter jurisdiction and must be evaluated under Rule 12(b)(1). See Haase v. Sessions, 835 F.2d 902, 906 (D.C. Cir. 1987) (stating that "the defect of standing is a defect in subject matter jurisdiction"); Gonzalez-Vera v. Kissinger, 449 F.3d 1260, 1262 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (explaining that a dismissal under the political question doctrine constitutes a dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and "not an adjudication on the merits"). "[I]n passing on a motion to dismiss, whether on the ground of lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter or for failure to state a cause of action, the allegations of the complaint should be construed favorably to the pleader." Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); see Leatherman v. Tarrant Cnty. Narcotics and Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993); Phillips v. Bureau of Prisons, 591 F.2d 966, 968 (D.C. Cir. 1979). In other words, the factual allegations in the plaintiff's complaint must be presumed true, and the plaintiff must be given every favorable inference that may be drawn from the allegations of fact. Scheuer, 416 U.S. at 236; Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000). At the same time, however, the Court need not accept as true "a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation," nor need it accept inferences that are unsupported by the facts set forth in the complaint. Trudeau v. Fed. Trade Comm'n, 456 F.3d 178, 193 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)).

Under Rule 12(b)(1), the party seeking to invoke the jurisdiction of a federal court --plaintiff in this case -- bears the burden of establishing that the court has jurisdiction to hear his claims. See U.S. Ecology, Inc. v. U.S. Dep't of Interior, 231 F.3d 20, 24 (D.C. Cir. 2000); Grand Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185 F. Supp. 2d 9, 13 (D.D.C. 2001) (explaining that a court has an "affirmative obligation to ensure that it is acting within the scope of its jurisdictional authority"); Pitney Bowes, Inc. v. U.S. Postal Serv., 27 F. Supp. 2d 15, 19 (D.D.C. 1998). Since the elements necessary to establish jurisdiction are "not mere pleading requirements but rather an indispensable part of the plaintiff's case, each element must be supported in the same way as any other matter on which the plaintiff bears the burden of proof;

i.e., with the manner and degree of evidence required at successive stages of the litigation." Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992). Although courts examining a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss -- such as for lack of standing -- will "construe the complaint in favor of the complaining party," see Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501 (1975), the "'plaintiff's factual allegations in the complaint . . . will bear closer scrutiny in resolving a 12(b)(1) motion' than in resolving a 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim," Grand Lodge, 185 F. Supp. 2d at 13-14 (quoting 5A Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1350 (2d ed. 1987)). Thus, a court may consider material other than the allegations of the complaint in determining whether it has jurisdiction to hear the case, so long as the court accepts the factual allegations in the complaint as true. See Jerome Stevens Pharm., Inc. v. FDA, 402 F.3d 1249, 1253-54 (D.C. Cir. 2005); EEOC v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624-25 n.3 (D.C. Cir. 1997); Herbert v. Nat'l Acad. of Scis., 974 F.2d 192, 197 (D.C. Cir. 1992).

To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint need only contain "'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,'" such that the defendant has "'fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)); accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam). Although "detailed factual allegations" are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must furnish "more than labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" in order to provide the "grounds" of "entitle[ment] to relief." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56; see also Papasan, 478 U.S. at 286. Instead, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, --- U.S. ----, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570); Atherton v. Dist. of Columbia Office of the Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681 (D.C. Cir. 2009). A complaint is considered plausible on its face "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. This amounts to a "two-pronged approach," under which a court first identifies the factual allegations that are entitled to an assumption of truth and then determines "whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id. at 1950-51.

DISCUSSION

I. Standing

Before this Court may entertain the merits of his claims, plaintiff, as the party invoking federal jurisdiction, must establish that he has the requisite standing to sue. See Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560-61. Article III of the U.S. Constitution "limits the 'judicial power' of the United States to the resolution of 'cases' and 'controversies,'" Valley Forge Christian Coll. v. Am. United for Separation of Church and State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 471 (1982), and the doctrine of standing serves to identify those "'Cases' and 'Controversies' that are of the justiciable sort referred to in Article III" and which are thus "'appropriately resolved through the judicial process,'" Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560 (quoting Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149, 155 (1990)). "In essence the question of standing is whether the litigant is entitled to have the court decide the merits of the dispute or of particular issues." See Warth, 422 U.S. at 498.

Standing doctrine encompasses "both constitutional limitations on federal-court jurisdiction and prudential limitations on its exercise." Id. To establish the "irreducible constitutional minimum of standing," a plaintiff must allege (1) an "injury in fact" which is "(a) concrete and particularized and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical"; (2) "a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of"; and (3) a likelihood "that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision." Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560-61 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). A "particularized" injury is defined as one that "affect[s] the plaintiff in a personal and individual way." Id. at 561 n.1. Thus, Article III "requires the party who invokes the court's authority to 'show that he personally has suffered some actual or threatened injury as a result of the putatively illegal conduct of the defendant.'" Valley Forge, 454 U.S. at 472 (quoting Gladstone, Realtors v. Village of Bellwood, 441 U.S. 91, 99 (1979)) (emphasis added).

Closely related to the constitutional requirement that a plaintiff must suffer a "personal" injury to establish standing is the prudential requirement that a "plaintiff generally must assert his own legal rights and interests, and cannot rest his claim to relief on the legal rights or interests of third parties." Warth, 422 U.S. at 499; see also Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 751 (1984). This "self-imposed" judicial limitation on the exercise of federal jurisdiction serves dual purposes, as it helps to prevent "the adjudication of rights which those not before the Court may not wish to assert" and also seeks to ensure "that the most effective advocate of the rights at issue is present to champion them." Duke Power Co. v. Carolina Envtl. Study Group, Inc., 438 U.S. 59, 80 (1978). Nevertheless, since the prohibition against one party asserting the legal rights of another is prudential -- not constitutional -- the Supreme Court may "recognize[] exceptions to this general rule," see Coalition of Clergy, Lawyers, & Professors v. Bush, 310 F.3d 1153, 1160 (9th Cir. 2002), and it has done so in "narrowly limited" circumstances, see Duke Power Co., 438 U.S. at 80. The doctrines of "next friend" and "third party" standing constitute two such limited exceptions to the general rule that a party may not bring suit to vindicate the legal rights of another. See Whitmore, 495 U.S. at 162-65; Powers v. Ohio, 499 U.S. 400, 410-11 (1991).

In his complaint, plaintiff purports to bring three constitutional claims as his son's "next friend." See Compl. ¶¶ 27-28, 30. First, he claims that the United States's alleged policy of authorizing the targeted killing of U.S. citizens, including his son, outside of armed conflict, and "in circumstances in which they do not present concrete, specific, and imminent threats to life or physical safety, and where there are means other than lethal force that could reasonably be employed to neutralize any such threat," violates Anwar Al-Aulaqi's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures. See id. ¶ 27. Second, plaintiff argues that this targeted killing policy violates Anwar Al-Aulaqi's Fifth Amendment right not to be deprived of life without due process of law. See id. ¶ 28. Third, plaintiff alleges that the failure to disclose the criteria by which U.S. citizens like Anwar Al-Aulaqi are selected for targeted killing violates those citizens' rights to notice under the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause. See id. ¶ 30. In opposing defendants' motion to dismiss, plaintiff asserts an additional basis for raising these claims, maintaining that he also has third party standing to sue on his son's behalf. See Pl.'s Opp. at 2-6, 11-15. The Court will address plaintiff's arguments in support of "next friend" standing and third party standing in turn.*fn1

A. Next Friend Standing

"Next friend" standing originated in connection with petitions for habeas corpus, as early American courts allowed "next friends" to appear "on behalf of detained prisoners who [were] unable, usually because of mental incompetence or inaccessibility, to seek relief themselves."

See Whitmore, 495 U.S. at 162. Congress statutorily authorized "next friend" standing in the habeas corpus context in 1948, amending the habeas corpus statute to allow petitions to be "'signed and verified by the person for whose relief it is intended or by someone acting in his behalf.'" See id. at 162-63 (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2242) (emphasis in original). In Whitmore v. Arkansas, the Supreme Court expressly declined to decide whether congressional authorization --like that provided by 28 U.S.C. § 2242 -- is necessary to confer "next friend" standing outside the habeas corpus context. See id. at 164-65. The Court noted, however, that to the extent parties may ever invoke a "federal doctrine of 'next friend' standing" in non-habeas proceedings, the scope of that doctrine "is no broader than what is permitted by the habeas corpus statute, which codified the historical practice." Id.

After examining "[d]ecisions applying the habeas corpus statute," the Whitmore Court set forth "two firmly rooted prerequisites" that must be satisfied in order for an individual to be accorded standing to proceed as another's "next friend." See id. at 163. First, the putative "'next friend' must provide an adequate explanation - such as inaccessibility, mental incompetence, or other disability - why the real party in interest cannot appear on his own behalf to prosecute the action." Id. Second, "the 'next friend' must be truly dedicated to the best interests of the person on whose behalf he seeks to litigate." Id. The Whitmore Court further suggested that -- while not necessarily a "firmly rooted prerequisite" to "next friend" standing -- a "next friend" must also "have some significant relationship with the real party in interest." Id.at 164. The burden is on the putative "next friend" to prove "the propriety of his status and thereby justify the jurisdiction of the court." Id. Even where the requirements of "next friend" standing are met, the "'next friend' does not himself become a party to the . . . action in which he participates, but simply pursues the cause on behalf of the . . . real party in interest." Id. at 163. Thus, the "next friend" relies "wholly on the injury to the real party in interest to satisfy constitutional standing requirements." Id. at 178 n.6 (Marshall, J., dissenting).*fn2

1. Anwar Al-Aulaqi's Access to the Courts

Plaintiff has failed to provide an adequate explanation for his son's inability to appear on his own behalf, which is fatal to plaintiff's attempt to establish "next friend" standing.*fn3 In his complaint, plaintiff maintains that his son cannot bring suit on his own behalf because he is "in hiding under threat of death" and any attempt to access counsel or the courts would "expos[e] him[] to possible attack by Defendants." Compl. ¶ 9; see also id. ¶ 26; Al-Aulaqi Decl. ¶ 10. But while Anwar Al-Aulaqi may have chosen to "hide" from U.S. law enforcement authorities, there is nothing preventing him from peacefully presenting himself at the U.S. Embassy in Yemen and expressing a desire to vindicate his constitutional rights in U.S. courts. Defendants have made clear -- and indeed, both international and domestic law would require -- that if Anwar Al-Aulaqi were to present himself in that manner, the United States would be "prohibit[ed] [from] using lethal force or other violence against him in such circumstances." See Defs.' Mem. at 2; see also id. at 5, 13-14; Mot. Hr'g Tr. 15:6-8 (government counsel states that "if [Anwar Al-Aulaqi] does present himself, he is under no danger of the United States government using lethal force" against him); Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War art. 3, Aug. 12, 1949, 6 U.S.T. 3316, 75 U.N.T.S. 135 (explaining that "[i]n the case of armed conflict not of an international character," a party to the conflict is prohibited from using "violence to life and person" with respect to individuals "who have laid down their arms"); Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557, 629-32 (2006) (holding that Geneva Convention Common Article 3 applies to the current U.S. conflict with al Qaeda); Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 11 (1985) (explaining in the domestic law enforcement context that "[a] police officer may not seize an unarmed, nondangerous suspect by shooting him dead").

Plaintiff argues that to accept defendants' position -- that Anwar Al-Aulaqi can access the U.S. judicial system so long as he "surrenders" -- "would require the Court to accept at the standing stage what is disputed on the merits," since the Court would then be acknowledging that Anwar Al-Aulaqi is, in fact, currently "a participant in an armed conflict against the United States." See Pl.'s Opp. at 9. Not so. The Court's conclusion that Anwar Al-Aulaqi can access the U.S. judicial system by presenting himself in a peaceful manner implies no judgment as to Anwar Al-Aulaqi's status as a potential terrorist. All U.S. citizens may avail themselves of the U.S. judicial system if they present themselves peacefully, and no U.S. citizen may simultaneously avail himself of the U.S. judicial system and evade U.S. law enforcement authorities. Anwar Al-Aulaqi is thus faced with the same choice presented to all U.S. citizens.*fn4

It is certainly possible that Anwar Al-Aulaqi could be arrested -- and imprisoned -- if he were to come out of hiding to seek judicial relief in U.S. courts. Without expressing an opinion as to the likelihood of Anwar Al-Aulaqi's future arrest or imprisonment, it is significant to note that an individual's incarceration does not render him unable to access the courts within the meaning of Whitmore. See Avent v. Dist. of Columbia, 2009 WL 387668, at *1 (D.D.C. Feb. 13, 2009) (finding that parent lacked "next friend" standing to pursue claim on behalf of her incarcerated and mentally capable adult child); see also Arocho v. Camp Hill Corr. Facilities, 417 F. Supp. 2d 661, 662 (M.D. Pa. 2005) (denying father "next friend" standing to sue on behalf of his incarcerated adult son, who "had access to prison legal sources" and was fully capable of prosecuting the case on his own behalf). Indeed, "prisoners can, and do, bring civil suits all the time." Avent, 2009 WL 387668, at *1. Given that an individual's actual incarceration is insufficient to show that he lacks access to the courts, the mere prospect of Anwar Al-Aulaqi's future incarceration fails to satisfy Whitmore's "inaccessibility" requirement.

Plaintiff argues, however, that if his son were to seek judicial relief, he would not be detained as an ordinary federal prisoner, but instead would be subject to "indefinite detention without charge." See Pl.'s Opp. at 14; see also Mot. Hr'g Tr. 64:10-12. It is true that courts have, in some instances, granted "next friend" standing to enemy combatants being held "incommunicado." For example, in Padilla v. Rumsfeld, 352 F.3d 695 (2d Cir. 2003), rev'd and remanded on other grounds, 542 U.S. 426 (2004), the Second Circuit granted an attorney "next friend"standing to file a habeas petition on behalf of an American citizen who was being detained as an enemy combatant at a U.S. naval base in South Carolina. See id. at 700, 703. The court in Padilla had little difficulty concluding that the real party in interest was unable to "access the courts" under Whitmore, as he had been denied "any contact with his counsel, his family or any other non-military personnel" for eighteen months. See id. Similarly, in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 296 F.3d 278 (4th Cir. 2002), vacated on other grounds, 542 U.S. 507 (2004), the Fourth Circuit permitted the father of a military detainee to petition the court on his son's behalf, see id. at 280, as the son was being "held incommunicado and subjected to an infinite detention . . . without access to a lawyer," see Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 243 F. Supp. 2d 527, 528 (E.D. Va. 2002).

But unlike the detainees in Padilla and Hamdi, Anwar Al-Aulaqi is not in U.S. custody, nor is he being held incommunicado against his will. To the extent that Anwar Al-Aulaqi is currently incommunicado, that is the result of his own choice. Moreover, there is reason to doubt whether Anwar Al-Aulaqi is, in fact, incommunicado. Since his alleged period of hiding began in January 2010, see Al-Aulaqi Decl. ¶ 8, Anwar Al-Aulaqi has communicated with the outside world on numerous occasions, participating in AQAP video interviews and publishing online articles in the AQAP magazine Inspire. See, e.g., Defs.' Mem. at 14 n.5 (describing May 2010 AQAP video interview with Anwar Al-Aulaqi); Clapper Decl. ¶ 16 (same); Wizner Decl., Ex. V (same); Defs.' Reply at 4 (referencing April 2010 and July 2010 Inspire articles written by Anwar Al-Aulaqi); Defs.' Reply, Exs. 1-2 (providing copies of Anwar Al-Aulaqi's April 2010 and July 2010 Inspirearticles). Anwar Al-Aulaqi has continued to use his personal website to convey messages to readers worldwide, see Wizner Decl., Ex. V, and a July 2010 online article written by Anwar Al-Aulaqi advises readers that they "may contact Shayk [Anwar] Al-Aulaqi through any of the emails listed on the contact page." See Defs.' Reply at 4 n.4; id., Ex. 2. Needless to say, Anwar Al-Aulaqi's access to e-mail renders the circumstances of his existing, self-made "confinement" far different than the confinement of the detainees in Padilla and Hamdi.

Even if Anwar Al-Aulaqi were to be captured and detained, the conditions of his confinement would still need to be akin to those in Padilla and Hamdi before his father could be accorded standing to proceed as Anwar Al-Aulaqi's "next friend." In cases brought by purported "next friends" on behalf of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, courts have not presumed that the detainees lack access to the U.S. judicial system, but have required the would-be "next friends" to make a showing of inaccessibility. See, e.g., Ahmed v. Bush, 2005 WL 6066070, at *1-2 (D.D.C. May 25, 2005) (ordering supplemental briefing to substantiate petitioner's claim to "next friend" standing where petition had merely "presume[d], rather than demonstrate[d] through facts, that [the detainee] ha[d] been denied access to the courts of the United States"); Fenstermaker v. Bush, 2007 WL 1705068, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. June 12, 2007) (finding that "next friend" lacked standing to proceed, in part because he was "unable to demonstrate that the Detainees cannot appear on their own behalf"); Does 1-570 v. Bush, 2006 WL 3096685, at *5 (D.D.C. Oct. 31, 2006) (questioning whether petitioners satisfied Whitmore "inaccessibility" requirement in light of evidence that Guantanamo Bay detainees have "been able to file petitions before the Court in large numbers").

Because Anwar Al-Aulaqi has not yet been detained, it is impossible to determine whether the nature of any such hypothetical detention would be more similar to that in Padilla and Hamdi, or to the Guantanamo Bay cases in which detainees have been found capable of bringing suit on their own behalf. Regardless, the mere prospect of future detention is insufficient to warrant a finding that Anwar Al-Aulaqi currently lacks access to the courts.

2. Plaintiff's Dedication to Anwar Al-Aulaqi's "Best Interests"

Not only has plaintiff failed to prove that Anwar Al-Aulaqi lacks access to the courts, but he has also failed to show that he is "truly dedicated" to Anwar Al-Aulaqi's "best interests." Plaintiff states that, as Anwar Al-Aulaqi's father, he "only wants to do what is in his [son's] best interests." See Al-Aulaqi Decl. ¶ 11. He further maintains that "he believe[s] taking legal action to stop the United States from killing [his] son is in his [son's] best interests." Id. Accepting these statements as true, they are nonetheless insufficient to establish that this lawsuit accords with Anwar Al-Aulaqi's best interests within the meaning of Whitmore.

Under the second prong of Whitmore, a purported "next friend" may not simply speculate as to the best interests of the party on whose behalf he seeks to litigate. See Does 1-570, 2006 WL 3096685, at *5. Rather, the "next friend" must provide some evidence that he is acting in accordance with the intentions or wishes of the real party in interest. See id. Courts have therefore refused to grant "next friend" standing where the putative "next friend" has never conferred with the party in interest and, as a result, can offer no "basis on which to conclude that the [party] want[s] legal representation as a general matter or more specifically by counsel in the instant matter." Id.; see also Idris v. Obama, 667 F. Supp. 2d 25, 29 (D.D.C. 2009) (holding that "because [the putative 'next friend'] has never met with petitioner since his confinement, counsel cannot be certain that [the 'next friend'] represents petitioner's best interests").

In Does 1-570, the court denied standing to attorneys seeking to file habeas petitions as "next friends" on behalf of hundreds of unidentified Guantanamo Bay detainees with whom they had never met. See Does 1-570, 2006 WL 3096685, at *5, *8. As the court explained, "[w]hile it may be fair to assume that the detainees want to be released from detention in Guantanamo Bay, there may be reasons why detainees may not want to file habeas petitions as a vehicle for accomplishing this purpose." Id. at *6. For example, the court noted, "certain detainees may mistrust the United States judicial system and choose to avoid participating in such proceedings altogether." Id. Absent proof as to the specific "interests and preferences" of the detainees on whose behalf they sought to litigate, the attorneys in Does 1-570 could not meet "the requirements of 'next friend' standing pursuant to the second prong of Whitmore." See id. at *4, *5; see also Fenstermaker, 2007 WL 1705068, at *6 n. 10 (refusing to accord "next friend" standing to attorney seeking to represent Guantanamo Bay detainees when attorney conceded that if consulted, the detainees might express their desire to become "martyrs" rather than to litigate).

Here, plaintiff has presented no evidence that his son wants to vindicate his U.S. constitutional rights through the U.S. judicial system. Plaintiff concedes that he has not spoken to Anwar Al-Aulaqi since he was allegedly first targeted for "killing" by the United States, see Compl. ¶ 26; Al-Aulaqi Decl. ¶ 9; Pl.'s Opp. at 7, and hence plaintiff "cannot be certain that [he] represents [Anwar Al-Aulaqi's] best interests," see Idris, 667 F. Supp. 2d at 29. Although plaintiff maintains that his son's "public silence with respect to the present lawsuit" supports an inference that Anwar Al-Aulaqi does not object to this litigation, see Pl.'s Opp. at 10, plaintiff cannot base his claim to "next friend" standing on his son's mere failure to expressly disavow this suit. Rather, plaintiff bears the burden of showing that this action accords with his son's best interests. See Whitmore, 495 U.S. at 164 (explaining that "[t]he burden is on the 'next friend' clearly to establish the propriety of his status and thereby justify the jurisdiction of the court").

Indeed, to the extent that Anwar Al-Aulaqi has made his personal preferences known, he has indicated precisely the opposite -- i.e., that he believes it is not in his best interests to prosecute this case. According to plaintiff's complaint, the media first reported that Anwar AlAulaqi had been added to the JSOC "kill list" as early as January 2010. See Compl. ¶ 19. However, at no point has Anwar Al-Aulaqi sought to challenge his alleged inclusion on the CIA or JSOC "kill lists," nor has he communicated any desire to do so. Although plaintiff maintains that "Anwar Al-Aulaqi cannot communicate with his father or counsel without endangering his own life," see Compl. ¶ 26 (emphasis added), this contention is belied by the numerous public statements that Anwar Al-Aulaqi has made since his alleged period of hiding began. Several times during the past ten months, Anwar Al-Aulaqi has publicly expressed his desire for "jihad against the West," see Defs.' Reply, Ex. 2, and he has called upon Muslims to meet "American aggression" not with "pigeons and olive branches" but "with bullets and bombs." See id., Ex. 1. Given that Anwar Al-Aulaqi has been able to make such controversial statements with ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.