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Siegel v. United States Department of Treasury

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 28, 2018

RICHARD SIEGEL, et al., Plaintiffs,


          RANDOLPH D. MOSS United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, Dkt. 24. Plaintiffs are twenty-eight individuals who object to various actions allegedly taken by Israel or Israeli citizens against Palestinians. They bring this case against the Department of Defense, the Department of the Treasury, and the Department of State, and those Departments' Secretaries in their official capacities. Plaintiffs argue that U.S. support-primarily in the form of foreign aid and charitable donations administered or facilitated by Defendants-has helped Israel commit various crimes against Palestinians and that continued aid violates an amalgam of international and domestic laws. They request that the Court “order agency defendants to stop providing any and all financial and military assistance to Israel.” Dkt. 2 at 68. For the reasons explained below, the Court concludes that Plaintiffs lack Article III standing. The Court will, accordingly, GRANT Defendants' motion and will dismiss the complaint.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Because this matter is before the Court on a motion to dismiss, the Court must “accept [Plaintiffs'] well-pleaded factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences from those allegations in . . . [P]laintiff[s'] favor.” Arpaio v. Obama, 797 F.3d 11, 19 (D.C. Cir. 2015).

         The nub of Plaintiffs' claim is a “concern[] about the fact that . . . American aid dollars . . . are going to fund” Israel, which they allege is responsible for numerous harms to Palestinians. Dkt. 2 at 23 (Compl. ¶ 19). Primarily, Plaintiffs take issue with the $200 billion they say the United States “ha[s] given to Israel over the last thirty years.” Id. at 9. They contend that this money has funded a “Master Plan” to colonize land owned by Palestinians, to “confiscate Palestinian homes, ” to “rid[] the West Bank and Jerusalem of all non-Jews, ” and to “permanently annex” Jerusalem and what Plaintiffs refer to as the “Occupied Palestinian Territory.” Id. at 25, 26, 33 (Compl. ¶¶ 26, 28, 44). They argue that this “Master Plan” is abetted by U.S. “financial and military aid” and that withdrawing this aid would “exert pressure on Israel” to cease its unlawful activity. Id. at 26, 28 (Compl. ¶¶ 29, 33).

         Plaintiffs also allege that, beyond this “Master Plan, ” Defendants' aid to Israel has facilitated “wholesale violence like arson, ethnic cleansing, arms trafficking, [and] the maiming and murdering of Palestinians living near illegal [Israeli] settlements.” Id. at 39 (Compl. ¶ 56). The complaint enumerates a litany of offenses the Israeli army has purportedly committed and claims that “[w]ithout the $200 billion provided by [Defendants, ] the Israeli armed forces . . . would have lacked sufficient funding to . . . commit these horrendous war crimes.” Id. at 43- 46 (Compl. ¶¶ 64-68). Of particular relevance to the pending motion, Plaintiffs allege that U.S. aid has helped support the confiscation of property belonging to Plaintiffs Ali Ali and Linda Kateeb; they allege that they “lost their private property” after it was “seized and [later] occupied by belligerent settlers who are protected by the Israeli army, ” which they argue was funded by U.S. aid dollars. Id. at 14-15 (Compl. ¶ 4). This seizure, moreover, was allegedly made “without due process” and “[b]ecause of their national Palestinian heritage.” Id. at 14, 17 (Compl. ¶¶ 4, 8).

         Finally, Plaintiffs argue that the Defendants' decisions to continue to provide aid to Israel are arbitrary and capricious because they have “adopt[ed] a pro-Israel double standard and . . . [have] not adher[ed] to their own regulations which prohibit funding ethnic cleansing, genocide and the de-nationalization of a civilian population.” Id. at 59; see also Id. at 59-68 (Compl. ¶¶ 84-103). According to Plaintiffs, these actions are “obvious war crimes” that violate the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A). Id. at 59; see also Id. at 24 (Compl. ¶ 22).

         On the basis of these allegedly illegal actions, Plaintiffs seek an injunction “to stop [Defendants from] providing any and all financial and military assistance to Israel.” Id. at 68. “Unless the [Defendants] deny further assistance to Israel, ” the Plaintiffs argue, Israeli settlers, “the Israeli army[, ] and its Air Force will simply continue their thirty[-]year pattern of gross human rights abuses, including ethnic cleansing and genocide.” Id. at 68-69.


         “Article III of the Constitution limits the jurisdiction of federal courts to ‘actual cases or controversies between proper litigants.'” Mendoza v. Perez, 754 F.3d 1002, 1010 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (quoting Fla. Audubon Soc'y v. Bentsen, 94 F.3d 658, 661 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (en banc)). “[D]efect[s]” in Article III standing, accordingly, constitute “defect[s] in subject matter jurisdiction.” Haase v. Sessions, 835 F.2d 902, 906 (D.C. Cir. 1987). The “plaintiff bears the burden of . . . establishing the elements of standing, ” and 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 the successive stages of the litigation.” Arpaio, 797 F.3d at 19 (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992)). As a result, “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim [of standing] that is plausible on its face.” Id. (alterations in original) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). “[T]hreadbare recitals of the elements of [standing], supported by mere conclusory statements, [will] not suffice, ” id. (second alteration in original) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678), and 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. (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Islamic Am. Relief Agency v. Gonzales, 477 F.3d 728, 732 (D.C. Cir. 2007)).

         Establishing standing requires a showing of three elements-injury in fact, causation, and redressability-which together constitute the “irreducible constitutional minimum of standing.” Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560. On a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must “sufficiently allege a ‘concrete and particularized' injury that is ‘fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant' and ‘likely' to be ‘redressed by a favorable decision.'” West v. Lynch, 845 F.3d 1228, 1230 (D.C. Cir. 2017) (quoting Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560-61). The first element, injury in fact, requires that a plaintiff show an “invasion of a legally protected interest which is . . . actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.” Arpaio, 797 F.3d at 19 (quoting Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560-61). The second element, causation, demands a “causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of” that is attributable to the defendant, “and not the result of the independent action of some third party not before the court.” Id. (quoting Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560-61). The final element, redressability, requires that the injury be remediable “by a favorable decision.” Id. (quoting Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560-61).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiffs' theory of standing relies on two distinct groups of injuries. First, twenty-six of those bringing suit assert injuries based on their concerns as taxpayers about U.S. government decisions that purportedly facilitate Israeli actions detrimental to Palestinians. Second, Plaintiffs Kateeb and Ali allege that Israeli settlers took their property with the support of the Israeli military. The Court concludes that the former group lacks standing because it has failed to assert a sufficiently particularized and concrete injury in fact and that the latter group lacks standing because Kateeb and Ali have not adequately alleged either a sufficient causal link between the challenged actions and their injuries or that any deprivation of property they suffered would be redressable by a favorable decision. The Court discusses these defects in turn.

         A. ...

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