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Feldman v. Bowser

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 30, 2018

CLARICE FELDMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
MURIEL E. BOWSER, in her official capacity as Mayor of the District of Columbia, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The Local Budget Autonomy Amendment Act of 2012 (“the Budget Autonomy Act”), D.C. Law 19-321, 60 D.C. Reg. 1724 (Feb. 15, 2013), represents the culmination of decades of effort on the part of the government of the District of Columbia (the “District”) to obtain greater budget autonomy by limiting the degree of congressional oversight over the manner in which the District enacts its annual budget and spends local tax and fee revenues. In the instant action, Plaintiff Clarice Feldman claims that the Budget Autonomy Act improperly circumvents congressionally-mandated budget procedures, because it authorizes the District to adopt and implement a “local” spending plan as part of the municipality's annual budget without submitting that portion of the budget to the President and Congress for approval. (See Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 12-24 (comparing the budgeting procedures that the Budget Autonomy Act prescribes with the congressionally-mandated procedures of the Home Rule Act, D.C. Code §§ 1-201.01 et seq.); id. ¶¶ 41-42 (alleging that the Budget Autonomy Act violates the procedures prescribed in the Home Rule Act).) By virtue of her status as a District of Columbia taxpayer, Feldman contends that she has Article III standing to file a federal lawsuit that challenges the Budget Autonomy Act and each of the annual fiscal year (“FY”) budgets that the District has enacted pursuant to that Act from 2016 to the present. Feldman's one-count complaint requests a declaration that the Budget Autonomy Act and the local portion of the District's annual budgets are unlawful, and seeks an injunction that prevents defendants Muriel Bowser (in her official capacity as the District's Mayor) and Jeffrey DeWitt (in his official capacity as the District's Chief Financial Officer) (collectively, “Defendants”) from incurring further obligations or making further expenditures of local taxpayer funds on those portions of the District's annual budget. (See Id. at 9.)[1]

         Before this Court at present are the two motions to dismiss the complaint that Defendants have filed in this action. (See Def. DeWitt's Mot. to Dismiss (“DeWitt's Mot.”), ECF No. 9; Def. Bowser's Mot. to Dismiss (“Bowser's Mot.”), ECF No. 10.)[2]As relevant here, both motions raise threshold challenges to Feldman's standing to bring this action. For the reasons explained below, this Court agrees with Defendants that Feldman does not have standing to challenge the legality of the Budget Autonomy Act or the method by which the District allocates its funds to be expended for otherwise-lawful purposes. Accordingly, this Court concludes that it has no subject-matter jurisdiction to entertain Feldman's complaint, and thus, Defendants' motions to dismiss the complaint must be GRANTED. A separate Order consistent with this Memorandum Opinion will follow.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. The Home Rule Act And The Budget Autonomy Act

         Before the early 1970s, the Council of the District of Columbia did not exist, and the United States Congress “prepared and approved, in an appropriations act, a budget for the District” each year. James W. Moeller, Congressional Management of the District of Columbia Prior to Home Rule: The Struggle to Underground Power Lines in the Nation's Capital, 19 UDC L. Rev. 115, 116-17 (2016). Congress enacted the Home Rule Act in 1973, as a compromise between continued congressional oversight and District autonomy. The Home Rule Act granted “the people of the District of Columbia an opportunity in exercising their rights once more and yet with adequate safeguards for the Federal interest component.” Council of the Dist. of Columbia v. Gray, 42 F.Supp.3d 134, 139 (D.D.C. 2014), vacated and remanded sub nom. Council of the Dist. of Columbia v. Bowser, No. 14-7067, 2015 WL 3450417 (D.C. Cir. May 27, 2015) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). As an initial matter, the Home Rule Act established the Council as the District's legislative branch. See D.C. Code § 1-204.01.[3] Moreover, Title IV of the Home Rule Act set forth the District's Charter, which “establish[es] the means of governance of the District[, ]” id. § 1-203.01, and thus essentially “serve[s] as a constitution[, ]” Jackson v. Dist. of Columbia Bd. of Elections & Ethics, 999 A.2d 89, 123 (D.C. 2010). And just as with a state constitution, the District's Council can amend the Charter pursuant to a process set forth in the Home Rule Act. See D.C. Code § 1-203.03(a).

         Significantly for present purposes, the Home Rule Act also authorized the District's Council to adopt an annual budget (including both locally-derived and federal funds), which the Mayor submitted to the President of the United States, who then forwarded that budget request to Congress for review as part of the national budget. See Id. § 1-204.46 (2006); see also Gray, 42 F.Supp.3d at 140. Notably, the Home Rule Act made clear that the budget that the District so proposed could not be put into effect, nor could any monies be obligated or expended pursuant to that budget, “unless such amount [was first affirmatively] approved by Act of Congress, and then only according to such Act.” D.C. Code § 1-204.46 (2006).

         In 2012, the District's Council undertook to amend the procedures that the Home Rule Act established with respect to the District's budget-implementing process. The Council unanimously passed a legislative proposal-the Budget Autonomy Act-which the District of Columbia's residents subsequently voted to ratify, and Congress ultimately let stand without expressing its disapproval. See Gray, 42 F.Supp.3d at 142. (See also Bowser's Mot. at 15.) As enacted, the Budget Autonomy Act altered the Home Rule Act by removing the federal government from the budget-formulation and appropriation process for most District funds. Specifically, the Budget Autonomy Act bifurcated the District's annual budget into a “local” portion consisting of locally-derived funds (e.g., funds raised from local taxes imposed on District residents), and a federal portion consisting of federally-derived funds (e.g., funds provided by Congress) (see Bowser's Mot. at 14), and as to the local portion, removed the President from the review process entirely, providing that, rather than having the Mayor submit the entire budget to the President to be presented to Congress, “[t]he local portion of the annual budget shall be submitted by the Chairman of the Council to the Speaker of the House of Representatives[, ]” Budget Autonomy Act § 2(e). In addition, the Budget Autonomy Act established that Congress's review of the local portion of the District's proposed budget would be passive, rather than active. (See Bowser's Mot. at 14-15.) Thus, rather than requiring Congress to enact affirmative legislation approving the District's annual budget-as had been the process under the pre-amendment Home Rule Act-the Budget Autonomy Act permitted the local portion of the District's budget to take effect if, after a thirty-day review period, Congress did not pass a joint resolution disapproving of the District's spending plan. (See id.)

         B. Challenges To The Budget Autonomy Act

         Several months after the July 2013 enactment of the Budget Autonomy Act, then-District of Columbia Attorney General Irvin Nathan formally advised then-Mayor Vincent Gray that he should not implement the Act, and should “advise Executive Branch officials and employees not to do so absent a binding judicial decision to the contrary.” Gray, 42 F.Supp.3d at 142 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). In April of 2014, based on the Attorney General's recommendation, Gray and Defendant DeWitt (the District's Chief Financial Officer) advised the Council (1) that they believed the Act violated the Home Rule Act, the District's Charter, and other federal laws, (2) that any fiscal year budget had to be enacted pursuant to the pre-amendment provisions of the Home Rule Act, and (3) that, on Mayor Gray's watch, no expenditures would be authorized pursuant to a budget that was enacted in accordance with the Budget Autonomy Act. See Id. at 143. The Council disagreed with this assessment, and in response, sued Mayor Gray in D.C. Superior Court, seeking a declaration that the Budget Autonomy Act is valid and enforceable, and also an injunction requiring Gray and DeWitt to adhere to the Act's provisions. (See Compl. for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief, Council of the Dist. of Columbia v. Gray, No. 2014-CA-2371-B (Apr. 17, 2014).) That action was removed to this federal district, and on May 19, 2014, the Court (Sullivan, J.) ruled that the Budget Autonomy Act violated the Home Rule Act and the Anti-Deficiency Act, 31 U.S.C. § 1341, because, among other things, it exceeds the Home Rule Act's limits on the District's ability to alter the federal government's role in the District's budget. See Gray, 42 F.Supp.3d at 138, 146.

         The Council appealed the District Court's decision to the D.C. Circuit. See Bowser, 2015 WL 3450417, at *1. However, while that appeal was pending, Councilwoman Muriel Bowser was elected as the District's Mayor. (See Bowser's Mot. at 15-16.) Bowser supported the Budget Autonomy Act and intended to enforce it, and she therefore moved to dismiss the Council's appeal and vacate the District Court's judgment on grounds that the Mayor's office had changed its position in a manner that rendered the Council's legal claims moot. (See Id. at 16.) The D.C. Circuit granted Bowser's request without explanation, and vacated the District Court's opinion with instructions to remand the case back to Superior Court. See Bowser, 2015 WL 3450417, at *1.

         On remand, the parties were the Council and Bowser in support of the Budget Autonomy Act, and DeWitt still in opposition. On March 18, 2016, the Superior Court ruled that, in its opinion, the Budget Autonomy Act was lawful. (See Omnibus Order, Council of the Dist. of Columbia v. DeWitt, No. 2014-CA-2371-B (Mar. 18, 2016).) According to the Superior Court, the Act was a valid exercise of the District's authority to amend the Home Rule Act and the District's Charter largely because, by enacting the Home Rule Act, Congress had intended to delegate sweeping legislative authority to the District; because no provision of the Home Rule Act or the Anti-Deficiency Act preempted the Budget Autonomy Act; and because any ambiguities in the Home Rule Act had to be resolved the District's favor. (See Id. at 16-37.) DeWitt did not appeal the Superior Court's decision.

         C. Procedural History

         Feldman filed the instant complaint on November 6, 2015, while the Council, Bowser, and DeWitt were still litigating the Budget Autonomy Act's legality in Superior Court. (See generally Compl.) Feldman alleges that “[t]he Budget Autonomy Act violates the Home Rule Act[, ]” and that, “[b]y complying with the Budget Autonomy Act, ” the District is “incur[ring] illegal, unlawful, and ultra vires obligations of local taxpayer funds[, ]” and “mak[ing] illegal, unlawful, and ultra vires expenditures of local taxpayer funds.” (Id. ¶¶ 41-42.) Feldman appears to allege that section 446 is the specific provision of the Home Rule Act that the Budget Autonomy Act violates (see Id. ¶¶ 17-19); pre-amendment, that section provided that “no amount may be obligated or expended by any officer or employee of the District of Columbia government unless such amount has been approved by Act of Congress, and then only according to such Act.” D.C. Code § 1-204.46 (2006). Feldman also argues (in her brief in opposition to Defendants' motions to dismiss) that “every dollar currently being spent is in violation of the Antideficiency Act[.]” (Pl.'s Opp'n to Defs.' Mots. to Dismiss (“Pl.'s Opp'n”), ECF No. 15, at 6.) The Anti-Deficiency Act prohibits, inter alia, “[a]n officer or employee . . . of the District of Columbia government” from ...


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