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Ralph Nader v. Federal Election Commission

April 12, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Royce C. Lamberth, Chief Judge


Before the Court is plaintiff's Motion [25] to Alter or Amend the Judgment. Having carefully considered the Motion, Opposition, the absence of a reply, the entire record in this case, and the applicable law, the Court will deny plaintiff's Motion.


The plaintiff in this case is former Presidential candidate Ralph Nader. He filed an administrative complaint with the Federal Election Commission in May 2008, where he alleged that many individuals, law firms, and political organizations affiliated with the Democratic Party (collectively, "respondents") conspired to deny him and his running mate ballot access in numerous states as candidates for President and Vice President in the 2004 general election. See Nader v. Fed. Election Comm'n, No. 10-989, 2011 WL 5386423, *1 (D.D.C. Nov. 9, 2011). Nader's administrative complaint brought four counts, and claimed that the respondents violated various provisions of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 regarding contribution limits and registration and reporting requirements. Id.

The FEC reviewed Nader's administrative complaint and dismissed it by a unanimous vote. It found "no reason to believe" that various respondents had violated FECA, dismissed the administrative complaint as to certain Section 527 groups, and closed the matter as to every other person and entity named in the administrative complaint. Id. at *2. Pursuant to 2 U.S.C. § 437g(a)(8), Nader filed a complaint in this Court for wrongful dismissal, arguing that the FEC's decision was contrary to law, arbitrary and capricious, and an abuse of discretion. Id. Nader and the FEC filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and the Court granted the FEC's motion in November 2011. Id. at *13. Nader then filed the instant Motion, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e), asking the Court to alter or amend the Court's Memorandum Opinion based on various errors he believes that Opinion contains. Pl.'s Mot. to Alter or Amend Judgment [25] 1, Dec. 7, 2011.


Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a party, within 28 days following entry of a judgment, to file a motion to alter or amend that judgment. Motions filed under Rule 59(e) are generally disfavored, and are granted only when the moving party establishes that extraordinary circumstances justify relief. Niedermeier v. Office of Baucus, 153 F. Supp. 2d 23, 28 (D.D.C. 2001). A court need not grant such a motion unless it finds that there is an intervening change of controlling law, new evidence, or the need to correct clear error or prevent manifest injustice. Anyanwutaku v. Moore, 151 F.3d 1053, 1057--58 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (citations and quotation marks omitted). Such motions are not an opportunity to reargue facts and theories upon which a court has already ruled. New York v. United States, 880 F. Supp. 37, 38 (D.D.C. 1995).


Nader's Motion will be denied because it fails to establish that extraordinary circumstances warrant alteration or amendment of the Court's November 2011 Memorandum Opinion. In addition to misquoting and mischaracterizing that Opinion, Nader's Motion rehashes arguments from his Motion for Summary Judgment, while substituting the Court instead of the FEC as the villain.

Nader argues in his Motion that the Court clearly erred by (1) finding that the FEC's failure to notify numerous respondents of Nader's administrative complaint was harmless error; (2) imposing an "improper evidentiary burden" on him by calling for "actual proof" of FECA violations rather than the less stringent "reason to believe" standard of 2 U.S.C. § 437g(a)(2); and (3) "misconstru[ing] and "disregard[ing]" evidence in the administrative record. See Pl.'s Mem. [25] 2. The Court will discuss each of these arguments in turn.

A.Harmless Error

Nader's Motion fails to demonstrate that the Court clearly erred in ruling that the FEC's failure to comply with the notification requirement of § 437g(a)(1) of FECA constituted harmless error. In its Opinion, the Court agreed with Nader that the FEC violated the Act by failing to notify all of the respondents, as § 437g(a)(1) unambiguously requires. Nader, 2011 WL 5386423, at *14. However, based upon a well-reasoned decision from this District, the Court found the "harmless error" doctrine applicable to the FEC's procedural failing. Id. at *13 (citing Fed. Election Comm'n v. Club for Growth, Inc., 432 F. Supp. 2d 87, 90 (D.D.C. 2006)). Since Nader failed to show that he was harmed by the FEC's failure to notify the individuals and entities whom he alleged had violated the law, the Court found the FEC's error harmless and declined to reverse the agency's decision. Id.

In the instant Motion, Nader does not appear to challenge the Court's reading of Club for Growth as finding the harmless error doctrine applicable within the context of violations of the very notification procedure at issue in this case. See Pl.'s Mem. [25] 4. Instead, Nader believes that this case should have come out differently because Club for Growth involved a "minor" error, whereas here the FEC's failure to notify various respondents constituted, Nader says, a "complete failure to commence the Act's mandatory enforcement process." Id. at 5.

However, what matters is not how one labels a procedural error, but whether there's actual harm, and on this point Nader's Motion is lacking. Nader's general point-namely, that failure to serve certain respondents with § 437g(a)(1) notice "terminated this enforcement action at its inception," Pl.'s Mem. [25] 3-is literally false, as the enforcement action was not terminated as to any respondent, notified or not, until the Commission's vote to dismiss. Nader's other theory concerning harm likewise succumbs under scrutiny. He suggests that failure to provide § 437g(a)(1) notice to others harmed him because the FEC, if it had notified all respondents, could have reviewed these additional responses to the administrative complaint and so would have made a decision on a more "developed" administrative record. Id. at 4. However, as the Court stated in its Opinion, § 437g(a)(1) notification doesn't automatically lead to the production of responses from those the FEC notified-they are not required to respond. Therefore Nader's contention that the FEC would have received responses, and would have ...

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