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Sevier v. Lowenthal

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 26, 2018

CHRIS SEVIER, Plaintiff,
v.
ALAN LOWENTHAL, U.S. Representative for California's 47th Congressional District, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RANDOLPH D. MOSS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Chris Sevier, proceeding pro se, seeks the removal of “the Gay Pride Rainbow Colored Flag” from “the halls and public access way[s] of Federal legislative buildings.” Dkt. 1 at 2 (Compl. ¶ 2). “[H]omosexuality, ” he says, “is a religion, ” id. at 16 (Compl. ¶ 32), which the public display of the gay pride flag impermissibly favors, id. at 28-30 (Compl. ¶¶ 65-76). According to Sevier, display of the flag violates the Establishment Clause, discourages him from lobbying Congress, and violates his rights to equal protection and substantive due process. Id. at 28-32 (Compl. ¶¶ 65-91). Sevier has made similar claims in, by his count, “more than [fifteen]” other lawsuits. Dkt. 25 at 3. In addition, Sevier asks that the Court “declare that the holdings in United States v. Windsor, . . . and Obergefell v. Hodges, . . . are intellectually dishonest and amount to acts of judicial tyranny and judicial malpractice.” Dkt. 1 at 36 (Compl. Prayer for Relief).

         Currently pending before the Court are Defendants' motion to dismiss, Dkt. 8, Sevier's motion for leave to amend his complaint, Dkt. 25, a motion to intervene, Dkt. 5, and numerous other motions. For the reasons explained below, the Court will GRANT Defendants' motion to dismiss, will DENY the motion to amend, will DENY the motion to intervene, and will dispose of the remaining motions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Sevier's complaint consists largely of his views regarding homosexuality and criticisms of the Supreme Court's Obergefell decision. See, e.g., Dkt. 1 at 3, 6, 10-28 (Compl. ¶¶ 5-6, 14, 19, 21, 23-31, 33, 35-45, 51-52, 56-58, 62-64). It also recounts Sevier's efforts to “put[] [Obergefell] to the test” by marrying inanimate objects. Id. at 5 (Compl. ¶ 12); see also, e.g., id. at 22-23 (Compl. ¶¶ 49-54). The present action appears to focus, however, on the following allegations: Defendants, who are four members of the U.S. House of Representatives, have allegedly “authorized and installed [one or more] Gay Pride Rainbow Colored Flag[s]” in the hallways outside their offices, id. at 6-11 (Compl. ¶¶ 16-19), which Sevier “frequently encounter[s], ” id. at 5 (Compl. ¶ 12). Given Sevier's “religious worldview” that “homosexuality is obscene, immoral, [and] subversive to human flourishing, ” id. at 5-6, 11-12 (Compl. ¶¶ 13, 21), he “[i]s offended by [the flags'] presence, ” id. at 4-5, 23 (Compl. ¶¶ 11, 55). The flags, he says, make him “feel[] unwelcome[], ” id. at 5 (Compl. ¶ 12), because he does not “adhere to [Defendants'] particular religious orthodoxy, ” id. at 6 (Compl. ¶ 15).

         The “religious ideology” that Sevier has in mind is homosexuality itself. See, e.g., id. at 16 (Compl. ¶ 32) (“[H]omosexuality is a religion . . . .”). He contends that “the [h]omosexual church” is “the largest denomination” of “the overall church of ‘western expressive individualism postmodern moral relativism, '” id. at 2-3, 28, 29 (Compl. ¶¶ 4, 69, 74), which posits that “nobody's version of morality as a basis of law matters except for the private moral code that [the adherent] personally advocat[es], ” id. at 12 (Compl. ¶ 22). In Sevier's view, then, the gay pride flag “is a ‘religious symbol' for the homosexual denomination, ” id. at 2-3 (Compl. ¶ 4), and its “placement . . . amounts to [Defendants'] endorsement of a particular religion, ” id. at 28 (Compl. ¶ 67).

         The public display of these flags, moreover, allegedly “treats different sects within the church of moral relativism with different degrees of favorability.” Id. at 24-25 (Compl. ¶ 59). Sevier says he belongs to “a less popular sect” of the church of moral relativism, id. (Compl. ¶ 59), which he calls the “machinist sect[], ” id. at 29 (Compl. ¶ 72). As a “machinist, ” Sevier's “sex-based self-asserted identity narrative is that he prefers to be married to an inanimate object.” Id. at 22 (Compl. ¶ 49). So, according to Sevier, unless Defendants “install a flag that represents people who self-identify as polygamists, machinists, zoophiles, and heterosexuals, ” id. at 21 (Compl. ¶ 47), their actions “treat . . . the homosexual denomination of . . . the church of moral relativism with disproportionate favor, ” id. at 29 (Compl. ¶ 72).

         Based on these allegations, Sevier alleges violations of the Establishment, Equal Protection, and Due Process clauses. Id. at 28-32 (Compl. ¶¶ 65-91). He seeks an injunction requiring that Defendants remove the flags, or, in the alternative, “fly the [f]lags that represent the people in the zoophile, polygamy, and machinism sects [of] the overall church of moral relativism.” Id. at 36 (Compl. Prayer for Relief). He also seeks declaratory judgments that (1) Defendants' display of the flags “is unconstitutional;” (2) that Obergefell and Windsor are “intellectually dishonest . . . acts of judicial tyranny and judicial malpractice;” and (3) that “homosexuality is a ‘religion' . . . [that the] government cannot legally recognize.” Id. (Compl. Prayer for Relief).

         Sevier's initial lawsuit was filed on March 23, 2017, Dkt. 1, and on August 9, 2017, he filed a motion for summary judgment, Dkt. 4. On August 15, 2017, John Gunter Jr., Whitney Kohl, and Joan Grace Harley-“three self-identified polygamists” who appear to be coordinating with Sevier in this and other cases-moved to intervene as of right under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a)(2), or alternatively, to intervene permissively under Rule 24(b)(1)(B). Dkt. 5 at 8. Gunter, Kohl, and Harley allege Equal Protection, Due Process, and Establishment Clause claims that are similar in form to those advanced by Sevier, although their allegations of injury focus even more on their opposition to gay marriage generally and their “feel[ing] deeply offended” by “[t]he Defendants['] display of the gay pride flag for self-serving political reasons.” Dkt. 5 at 8-10, 21.

         On September 22, 2017, Defendants-four members of the House of Representatives who have displayed the flags outside their offices-moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) on the grounds that Sevier lacks standing and that the case presents a nonjusticiable political question; under Rule 12(b)(5) for insufficient service of process; and under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. See Dkt. 8. They ask also that the Court treat their motion to dismiss as an opposition to the motion to intervene and Sevier's motion for summary judgment. Id. at 10 n.2. Because Defendants' motion raises a number of threshold issues, the Court denied Sevier's motion for summary judgment as premature, Minute Order (Sept. 24, 2017), and ordered him to respond to Defendants' motion to dismiss, Dkt. 9. Instead, he filed two “affidavits” in support of his complaint. Dkt. 10; Dkt. 11. Then, on October 2, 2017, he moved to stay these proceedings pending the resolution of his motion to intervene in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, No. 16-111, a case currently before the Supreme Court. Dkt. 12. The Court denied that motion, Minute Order (Oct. 4, 2017), and Sevier continued to file affidavits in support of his complaint, Dkt. 15; Dkt. 16; Dkt. 17; Dkt. 18; Dkt. 19. On October 7, 2017, Sevier filed a “motion for the court to make an expedited ruling on the intervention motion.” Dkt. 20 at 1. Although not styled as such, this document responds to the arguments made in Defendants' motion to dismiss. See Id. at 2-6.

         On November 4, 2017, Sevier moved to amend his complaint, elaborating on his earlier objections to the Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell and incorporating additional arguments in response to the motion to dismiss. See Dkt. 25; Dkt. 26. Sevier filed this document-he refers to it as a combined motion to amend, statement in support of the motion to intervene, and response to the motion to dismiss-twice, but with different exhibits attached. Compare Dkt. 25, with Dkt. 26. Defendants, in turn, filed a reply to the portion of the document opposing the motion to dismiss, Dkt. 27, and a response to the portion seeking to amend the complaint, Dkt. 28. Sevier then sought leave to file an overlength reply in support of his motion to amend, Dkt. 30, and an overlength surreply to the motion to dismiss, see Dkt. 32, in addition to filing shorter versions of both, Dkt. 30-2; Dkt. 32-2.

         Since the conclusion of briefing on the motion to dismiss and motion to amend, two of the proposed intervenors filed motions for summary judgment, Dkt. 34; Dkt. 47, one of which is “essentially the same document” as Sevier's proposed surreply, Dkt. 32 at 2. Sevier has continued to file additional “affidavits” or “notices” not clearly relevant to any of the pending motions. See Dkt. 29; Dkt. 35; Dkt. 37; Dkt. 38; Dkt. 42; Dkt. 43; Dkt. 44; Dkt. 45; Dkt. 50. He has also moved for a scheduling conference, Dkt. 36, to strike a filing that the Clerk of the Court identified as having been entered in error, Dkt. 40, and to supplement his earlier pleadings with filings he or the proposed intervenors have made in other cases, Dkt. 41; Dkt. 46. Finally, the National Alliance of Black Pastors, Dkt. 48, and the Coalition of Doctors Defending Reparative Therapy, Dkt. 49, have sought leave to file amicus briefs.

         For the reasons explained below, the Court will GRANT Defendants' motion to dismiss, Dkt. 8; DENY the motion to intervene, Dkt. 5; DENY the motion to amend the complaint, Dkt. 25; GRANT the motion for leave to file an overlength reply in support of the motion to amend the complaint, Dkt. 30; DENY the motion for leave to file an overlength surreply to the motion to dismiss, Dkt. 32; DENY the motions for summary judgment filed by proposed intervenors, Dkt. 34; Dkt. 47, DENY the motion for a scheduling conference, Dkt. 36; DENY the motion to strike, Dkt. 40; DENY the motions to supplement, Dkt. 41; Dkt. 46; and GRANT the motions for leave to file amicus briefs, Dkt. 48; Dkt. 49.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6)

         Defendants have first moved under Rule 12(b)(1) to dismiss the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. “The party invoking federal jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing” each of the elements of Article III standing, although “the manner and degree of evidence required” varies with “the successive stages of the litigation.” Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992). “At the pleading stage, general factual allegations of injury resulting from the defendant's conduct” will often suffice. Id.; see also Owner-Operator Indep. Drivers Ass'n v. Dep't of Transp., 879 F.3d 339, 346-47 (D.C. Cir. 2018). “[T]hreadbare recitals of the elements of [standing], supported by mere conclusory statements, ” however, will not. Arpaio v. Obama, 797 F.3d 11, 19 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). The Court need not “assume the truth of legal conclusions” nor must it “accept inferences that are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint.” Id. (quoting Islamic Am. Relief Agency v. Gonzales, 477 F.3d 728, 732 (D.C. Cir. 2007)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Defendants have also moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Such a motion is designed to “test[] the legal sufficiency of a complaint.” Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). In evaluating such a motion, the Court “must first ‘tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state [the] claim' to relief, and then determine whether the plaintiff has pleaded those elements with adequate factual support to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Blue v. District of Columbia, 811 F.3d 14, 20 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675, 678) (alterations in original) (citation omitted). The Court need not accept as true legal conclusions disguised as factual allegations, “‘naked assertions' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement, '” or a “‘formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 557 (2007)) (alterations omitted). The plaintiff, however, is entitled to “the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.” See Am. Nat'l Ins. Co. v. FDIC, 642 F.3d 1137, 1139 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (quoting Thomas v. Principi, 394 F.3d 970, 972 (D.C. Cir. 2005)).

         B. Motion to Intervene Under Rule 24

         Parties seeking to intervene as of right under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a) must comply with four requirements. Deutsche Bank Nat'l Tr. Co. v. FDIC, 717 F.3d 189, 192 (D.C. Cir. 2013). First, “the application to intervene must be timely.” Id. (quoting Karsner v. Lothian, 532 F.3d 876, 885 (D.C. Cir. 2008)). Second, “the applicant must demonstrate a legally protected interest in the action.” Id. (quoting Karsner, 532 F.3d at 885). Third, “the action must threaten to impair that interest.” Id. (quoting Karsner, 532 F.3d at 885). Fourth, “no party to the action can be an adequate representative of the applicant's interests.” Id. (quoting Karsner, 532 F.3d at 885). A movant seeking to intervene as of right ...


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