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Beck v. United States Government

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 9, 2018

JOHN ALVIN BECK, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TANYA S. CHUTKAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 16). For the reasons discussed below, the court grants the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Smithsonian Institution is an independent trust instrumentality of the United States. See 20 U.S.C. § 41. Its Board of Regents is the governing body, see 20 U.S.C. § 42(a), to which Secretary David J. Skorton reports, see 20 U.S.C. § 46. A special police force protects Smithsonian buildings and grounds, including museums on the National Mall. See 40 U.S.C. §§ 6301(1)(A), 6306. Smithsonian Directive 405 sets forth the policies and procedures by which the Smithsonian's Office of Protection Services (“OPS”) may bar a person from entering Smithsonian buildings and grounds for having engaged in prohibited conduct. (Mem. of P. & A. in Support of Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss (“Def.'s Mem.”), Ex. A (Smithsonian Directive 405, dated July 19, 2012) at 1-2.)

         On September 29, 2017, OPS issued Plaintiff a barring notice, which explained:

For over 10 years, you have engaged in a campaign to draw attention to what you have characterized as the systematic slaughter of innocent animals at Cornell University. Your campaign has included placing advertisements in local New York papers and erecting signage on your property. In addition, you sued Cornell for dismissing you from employment. Your campaign has included hostile accusations against Dr. Skorton, Cornell's former president. Since Secretary Skorton's appointment at the Smithsonian, you have sent correspondence to the Smithsonian multiple times accusing Dr. Skorton of crimes and violence. The tone of your letters has been hostile.
You have been observed at the Smithsonian on at least three occasions this summer and fall asking for the location of the Secretary's office, despite having no business to conduct with the Smithsonian. Most recently, on September 26, 2017, you were present at the Smithsonian castle and inquired about the location of the Secretary's office and his phone number. When asked the nature of your business with the Secretary, you raised your voice then told the officer to disregard your inquiry. You indicated that you had attended school with the Secretary, but refused to leave any contact information.
Because of your long-standing record of hostility towards Secretary Skorton, your repeated recent attempts to locate his office, and the confrontational and evasive behavior you displayed on Smithsonian grounds, you are hereby denied admission to [Smithsonian] buildings [and] grounds [on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.] through September 30, 2018.

(Compl., Ex. (Barring Notice) at 1-2.) The notice advised Plaintiff that if he failed to obey it, he would be arrested and charged with unlawful entry. (Id., Ex. at 1.)

         Plaintiff alleges that Secretary Skorton has “violated [his] constitutional rights by refusing and denying [him his] rights to visit national treasures on United States of America Government Property . . . under threat of arrest and incarceration.” (Id. at 3 (page numbers designated by ECF).) Plaintiff denies ever having been in Washington, D.C., and ever having any interest in Secretary Skorton. (See id. at 5.) He regards the “advertisements that [he] placed in local papers” and “signage [he has] lawfully erected on [his] property” as exercises of rights to freedom of the press and freedom of speech. (Id. at 3.[1]) Plaintiff asks this court “to give [him his] constitutional rights back and damages.” (Id. at 4; see Ans. to Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss at 5.)

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Dismissal Under Rule 12(b)(1)

         Defendants first move to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) on the ground that this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, see Gen. Motors Corp. v. EPA, 363 F.3d 442, 448 (D.C. Cir. 2004), and the law presumes that “a cause lies outside [the court's] limited jurisdiction” unless the plaintiff establishes otherwise, Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). In response to a defendant's motion to dismiss a complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the plaintiff must establish jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992); Shekoyan v. Sibley Int'l Corp., 217 F.Supp.2d 59, 63 (D.D.C. 2002). In evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), the court must “assume the truth of all material factual allegations in the complaint and ‘construe the complaint liberally, granting plaintiff the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged [.]'” 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)).

         “It is elementary that ‘the United States, as sovereign, is immune from suit save as it consents to be sued . . ., and the terms of its consent to be sued in any court define that court's jurisdiction to entertain the suit.'” United States v. Mitchell, 445 U.S. 535, 538 (1980) (quoting United States v. Sherwood, 312 U.S. 584, 586 (1941)). Sovereign immunity extends to government agencies and to their employees sued in their official capacities. See Meyer, 510 U.S. at 483-86; Clark v. Library of Congress, 750 F.2d 89, 103 (D.C. Cir. 1984) ...


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