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Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Office of Director of National Intelligence

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 22, 2018

JUDICIAL WATCH, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
OFFICE OF THE DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TREVOR N. MCFADDEN, United States District Judge

         This matter is one of approximately 13 lawsuits filed by Judicial Watch, Inc. (“Judicial Watch”) regarding Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State and her mishandling of classified information. Compl. ¶¶ 18-19, 22, 32, ECF No. 1. Judicial Watch seeks, through this Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) action, a declaratory judgment and order that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, among others (collectively, the “Government”) should have and now must conduct a damage assessment of former Secretary Clinton's email practices as allegedly required by Intelligence Community Directive (“ICD”) 732. Id. at 11. The Government's motion to dismiss argues that Judicial Watch lacks standing-the constitutionally required predicate that provides a plaintiff entrée into federal court, and which requires a showing that the plaintiff was actually injured by the wrong ascribed to the defendant. See Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss 1, ECF No. 8. The Government further argues that the Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Id. Having confirmed that jurisdiction and venue is proper in this Court, [1] and upon consideration of the pleadings, relevant law, and related legal memoranda in opposition and in support, I find that Judicial Watch's interest in filing a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) suit for disclosure of the requisite damage assessment does not create standing to enforce ICD 732. Accordingly, the Government's motion will be granted and the Complaint will be dismissed without prejudice.

         I. Background

         Judicial Watch, a not-for-profit organization, seeks a declaratory judgment and order against the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the U.S. Department of State, and the Acting Director of National Intelligence, National Counterintelligence Executive, and U.S. Secretary of State in their official capacities. Compl. ¶¶ 4-8; id. at 11. Judicial Watch alleges that the Government was required, under ICD 732, to conduct a “damage assessment” regarding Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while serving as Secretary of State and that its failure to do so prevented it from submitting a FOIA request for the report and records of the assessment. Id. ¶¶ 13, 38. In particular, Judicial Watch alleges that because the FBI found Secretary Clinton and her colleagues to be “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information, ” resulting in the “possib[ility] that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton's personal e-mail account, ” this triggered ICD 732's requirement to conduct a damage assessment as a result of “an actual or suspected unauthorized disclosure or compromise of classified national intelligence that may cause damage to U.S. national security.” Id. ¶¶ 22, 35; ICD 732 § D.2 (June 27, 2014), ECF No. 8-2. Judicial Watch asks the Government's inaction be declared “agency action unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed” and as “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.” Compl. 11; see also 5 U.S.C. §§ 706(1), 2(A). The Government contests that Judicial Watch's alleged injury-its inability to submit a FOIA request-constitutes an “injury-in-fact” to confer standing, and that Judicial Watch is in the “zone of interests” protected by the ICD. Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss. 1-2.

         II. Legal Standard

         The “core component of standing is an essential and unchanging part of the case-or-controversy requirement of Article III.” Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992). To meet this constitutional requirement, a plaintiff must suffer an “injury in fact, ” an “invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized; and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.” Id. (citations omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). There must also exist a “causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of”; and the injury must be of a type “likely” to be “redressed by a favorable decision.” Id. 560-61 (internal quotation marks omitted). “The party invoking federal jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing these elements” with the same “manner and degree of evidence required at the successive stages of the litigation.” Id. at 561.

         One type of concrete and particularized injury in fact that may confer standing is informational injury, in which a party shows that “it has been deprived of information that, on its interpretation, a statute requires the government or a third party to disclose to it, and [that] it suffers, by being denied access to that information, the type of harm Congress sought to prevent by requiring disclosure.” Friends of Animals v. Jewell, 828 F.3d 989, 992 (D.C. Cir. 2016) (citing FEC v. Akins, 524 U.S. 11, 21-22 (1998)).

         In addition to the “minimum requirements of Article III standing, ” to obtain judicial review under the APA, a party must show that the injury asserted falls within the “zone of interests” of the statute. Animal Legal Def. Fund, Inc. v. Espy, 23 F.3d 496, 499, 501 (D.C. Cir. 1994); see also Lexmark Int'l, Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc., 134 S.Ct. 1377, 1388 (2014) (the “zone of interests” limitation applies to all statutorily created causes of action, including those for judicial review under the APA). Whether a plaintiff falls within the zone of interests “requires [courts] to determine, using traditional tools of statutory interpretation, whether a legislatively conferred cause of action encompasses a particular plaintiff's claim.” Id. at 1387. In other words, to be within the zone of interests, a plaintiff “must show either a congressional intent to protect or regulate the interest asserted, or some other indication that the litigant is a suitable party to pursue that interest in court.” Animal Legal Def. Fund, 23 F.3d at 502. Informational injuries “can surmount the zone of interests threshold only in very special statutory contexts.” Id.

         III. Analysis

         Intelligence Community Directive 732, issued by then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in June 2014, establishes the “policy for the conduct of damage assessments in response to the unauthorized disclosure or compromise of classified national intelligence.” ICD 732 § B.1. The policy specifies the parameters by which damage assessments are mandatory, see Id. § D.2, and when they are permissive, see Id. § D.3. When conducted, the policy also specifies what damage assessments shall include; for instance, a “description of the circumstances under which the unauthorized disclosure or compromise transpired” and a “summary of findings for use in understanding and mitigating damage that could result from future unauthorized disclosures and compromises.” Id. § D.7. Judicial Watch contends that the FBI's investigation into Hillary Clinton's email practices while Secretary of State unearthed findings that constitute precisely the scenario that requires a damage assessment under ICD 732 Section D.2, and that the Government's failure to conduct one harms Judicial Watch's mission of public education. See Mem. of P. & A. in Opp. to Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss (“Pl.'s Opp.”) 7, ECF No. 10. As ICD 732 provides no private right of action for enforcement, Judicial Watch has sued under the APA. See generally ICD 732; Compl. 11. Because Judicial Watch fails to establish that it has suffered an informational injury and that it is within ICD 732's “zone of interests, ” it lacks standing to bring this challenge.[2]

         A. Informational Injury

         Judicial Watch fails to establish that it has a concrete and particularized injury since the provision[3] under which it seeks information-ICD 732-does not require disclosure. It creatively argues that since ICD 732 requires a damage assessment, and FOIA requires disclosure, it meets the standard for informational injury. Pl.'s Opp. 9. Putting aside the Government's arguments that the circumstances alleged by Judicial Watch do not trigger the mandatory assessment provision of ICD 732 and further, that classified and law enforcement information may properly be withheld from disclosure under FOIA, bootstrapping ICD 732 to FOIA does not establish the deprivation of a statutorily-required disclosure. See Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss 3, 11 n.7; Friends of Animals, 828 F.3d at 992.

         Judicial Watch relies on two cases to support its theory. One, Murray Energy Corporation v. McCarthy, is a non-controlling case from the Northern District of West Virginia that was vacated in part by the Fourth Circuit on other grounds. No. 5:14-cv-39, 2016 WL 6083946 (N.D. W.Va. Oct. 17, 2016), vacated in part, Murray Energy Corp. v. Admin. of EPA, 861 F.3d 529, 537 (4th Cir. 2017) (declining to address the EPA's challenges to the district court's standing rulings). In its brief discussion of informational injury, the district court found that it was sufficient for the plaintiffs to potentially “be entitled to the information which has not been collected or analyzed” and that the plaintiffs potentially could receive the information through a FOIA request. 2016 WL 6083946 at *16. Whether the statute, in conjunction with FOIA, afforded informational injury was not a direct issue at question, and the court's comparatively brief treatment of informational injury in relation to its consideration of other bases for standing counsels that I not rely on it in my analysis.

         Judicial Watch's primary case law, Waterkeeper Alliance v. EPA, concerns the interrelation between two statutes, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (“CERCLA”) and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (“EPCRA”). 853 F.3d 527, 530, 533 (D.C. Cir. 2017). As it pertains to the release of hazardous materials into the environment, CERCLA and its implementing regulations requires farms over a particular size to report certain information to federal authorities while EPCRA requires all farms, regardless of size, to report the same information to relevant state and local agencies. Id. at 531-32. The EPA argued that the plaintiffs did not have standing to sue under CERCLA because it does not have a provision requiring public disclosure of the information reported, as EPCRA does. Id. at 533. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit disagreed, finding that there is a “complex interplay between CERCLA and EPCRA” such that exempting certain information from CERCLA ...


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