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Sweigert v. Podesta

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 20, 2018

JOHN PODESTA, et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION RE DOCUMENT NOS. 20, 21, 23, 24, 33, 35, 41, 42, 47, 50


         Granting Defendants' Motions to Dismiss; Denying as Moot Plaintiff's Motion for Substituted Service on Defendant Imran Awan; Denying As Moot Plaintiff'sRequest for Oral Argument on Opposition to Podesta et al. Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint”; Denying As Moot Plaintiff's Motion for Substituted Service on Defendant Anthony Weiner; and Denying As Moot Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment for Defendant Glenn Simpson


         Pro se plaintiff George Webb Sweigert brings this putative class action against a host of individuals and entities purportedly associated with the Democratic National Party-including Haseeb Rana, the Democratic National Committee (“the DNC”), [1] John Podesta, the Podesta Group, Kim Fritts, Deborah Wasserman Schultz, Huma Abedin, and Imran Awan[2]-in connection with alleged actions taken by Defendants during the Democratic primaries to the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. See generally Compl., ECF No. 1; see Id. ¶¶ 4-19. In particular, Mr. Sweigert, an alleged supporter of Bernie Sanders, asserts that Defendants committed fraud and breach of fiduciary duty by, among other things, executing an undisclosed funding agreement with a not-for-profit associated with the Hillary Clinton campaign and by conducting a website-hacking conspiracy to promote Hillary Clinton's candidacy and to diminish the candidacy of Bernie Sanders. See Id. ¶ 42-43, 52. Defendants Haseeb Rana, the DNC, the Podesta Group, Deborah Wasserman Schultz, Huma Abedin, and Imran Awan each move to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6).

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants Defendants' motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 12(h)(3), this order applies to all Defendants, not just those who have responded, because no named Defendant bears a causal relation to Mr. Sweigert's alleged injury in fact. And the Court denies as moot four motions filed by Mr. Sweigert, one asking the Court to direct the United States Marshal to serve a Defendant who has now been served, a second requesting a hearing on one of the now-resolved motions to dismiss, a third requesting an order for substituted service on a Defendant, and a fourth seeking summary judgment on claims against one Defendant.


         In the 2016 Presidential election's Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton won the party's nomination over Bernie Sanders and other candidates. Mr. Sweigert, an alleged supporter of Bernie Sanders, claims that he contributed $30 to Bernie Sanders's Presidential campaign, [4]donating through ActBlue, a fundraising non-profit. Id. ¶ 2. Mr. Sweigert alleges that Defendants orchestrated a hacking and covert funding conspiracy designed to tip the Democratic primaries in favor of Hillary Clinton. Id. ¶¶ 43-45.

         First, Mr. Sweigert alleges that the DNC unlawfully favored Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries by signing a “Joint Funding Agreement, ” or “pay-to-play” scheme, without donors' knowledge, amounting to fraud. See Id. ¶¶ 47, 60. According to Mr. Sweigert's complaint, “[t]he DNC is the formal governing body for the United States Democratic party.” Id. ¶ 21. Its role is to “coordinat[e] strategy in support of Democratic Party candidates for local, state, and national” elections. Id. With respect to the Presidential election, “the DNC organizes the Democratic National Convention” in order to “nominate and confirm a candidate for President.” Id. ¶ 22. At the time of the 2016 Democratic primaries, Deborah Wasserman Schultz, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, served as the DNC's chairperson. Id. ¶ 23. In its charters and bylaws, Mr. Sweigert alleges, the DNC obliged itself to “financial fidelity and impartiality.” Id. ¶ 24.

         Plaintiff claims that in August 2015, the DNC executed an agreement with Hillary for America, a not-for-profit affiliated with the Clinton campaign, wherein the DNC ceded “financial control and substantial management oversight[, ] including selection and approval of personnel[, ] to Hillary For America.” Id. ¶ 27. Plaintiff alleges that the DNC never voluntarily disclosed this alleged agreement. Id. ¶ 47. Consequently, Plaintiff claims, donors continued to contribute without knowing that Hillary for America had “financial control and management right of refusal . . . over the DNC.” Id.

         Aside from the alleged funding agreement, Plaintiff claims that some of the Defendants conspired to orchestrate and, in fact, orchestrated a number of hacking operations against the DNC. See generally Id. ¶¶ 30, 43-65. In particular, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Glen Simpson (who is the CEO of Fusion GPS) and Imran Awan conspired to hire professional hackers to penetrate the DNC's computer network. Id. ¶¶ 30, 46. Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant Imran Awan “engineered a sophisticated email phishing attack against Bernie Sanders supporters” using a donation webpage that has a confusingly similar URL to that of the official donation site, and that Mr. Awan used the website to “rout[e] donations intended for Progressive candidates to bank accounts controlled by [] Wasserman Schultz and/or Imran Awan.” Id. ¶¶ 44-45. Furthermore, according to Plaintiff, some of the Defendants hacked key congressional communications and constituent management systems, such as iConstituent and InterAmerica. Id. ¶ 56. Specifically, Mr. Sweigert alleges that Defendants Deborah Wasserman Schultz, Imran Awan, Abid Awan, Hina Alvi, Rao Abbas, Haseeb Rana, Jamal Awan, and Omar Awan were involved in the hacking and that they accessed private communications through DNC servers. Id. Plaintiff further alleges that using this private information, ARMZ Uranium Company, which Defendant Podesta Group created, sold nuclear fuel and weapons to foreign countries, including Saudi Arabia, to fund Hillary for America. Id. ¶¶ 46, 59. According to Mr. Sweigert, in the process, Defendant Podesta Group acted as a foreign agent of the Saudi Arabian government but never disclosed this fact to the public. Id. ¶ 46. And Mr. Sweigert's complaint alleges that during the period from February 2016 to October 2016, the Podesta Group illegally transferred this information from iConstituent to Defendant Anthony Weiner's laptops. Id. ¶ 60.

         Plaintiff also claims that some Defendants were involved in an illicit scheme involving individuals or entities in Pakistan.[5] Id. ¶ 61. According to Mr. Sweigert, Defendant Imran Awan sent iPhones and iPads intended only for congressional use to Pakistan. Id. Mr. Sweigert further asserts that Defendants Imran Awan and Omar Awan created fake employee profiles in a U.S. House of Representatives Human Resources system. Id. ¶ 62. Defendants Imran Awan and Hina Alvi then allegedly sent payments from these fake employee profiles to individuals or entities in Pakistan. Id. ¶ 63. Furthermore, Mr. Sweigert alleges that Defendants Imran Awan, Hina Alvi, and Rao Abbas participated in “information bidding” in Pakistan, trading or selling electronic devices that contained trade secrets belonging to the United States. Id. ¶ 64.

         Based on these allegations, Mr. Sweigert filed suit in this Court claiming that Defendants committed fraud and breached fiduciary duties owed to Plaintiff and to members of the putative classes.[6] Defendants Haseeb Rana, the DNC, the Podesta Group, Deborah Wasserman Schultz, and Huma Abedin move to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). Defendants' motions are now ripe for decision.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) allows a defendant to move to dismiss a complaint, or any portion thereof, for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, and the law presumes that “a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction. . . .” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994); see also Gen. Motors Corp. v. EPA, 363 F.3d 442, 448 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (“As a court of limited jurisdiction, we begin, and end, with an examination of our jurisdiction.”). In view of this presumption, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the court has subject matter jurisdiction. Khadr v. United States, 529 F.3d 1112, 1115 (D.C. Cir. 2008). No. action on behalf of either party can confer subject matter jurisdiction on a federal court because subject matter jurisdiction is both a statutory requirement and an Article III constitutional requirement. See Akinseye v. District of Columbia, 339 F.3d 970, 971 (D.C. Cir. 2003).

         When reviewing a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1), a court must review the complaint liberally, granting the plaintiff the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged. Zaidan v. Trump, 317 F.Supp.3d 8, 16 (D.D.C. 2018) (quoting Barr v. Clinton, 370 F.3d 1196, 1199 (D.C. Cir. 2004)). However, “the Court need not accept factual inferences drawn by plaintiffs if those inferences are not supported by facts alleged in the complaint, nor must the Court accept plaintiffs' legal conclusions.” Speelman v. United States, 461 F.Supp.2d 71, 73 (D.D.C. 2006). A court has “broad discretion to consider relevant and competent evidence” to resolve factual issues raised by a Rule 12(b)(1) motion. Finca Santa Elena, Inc. v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng'rs, 873 F.Supp.2d 363, 368 (D.D.C. 2012) (citing 5B Charles Wright & Arthur Miller, Fed. Prac. & Pro., Civil § 1350 (3d Ed. 2004)); see also Al-Owhali v. Ashcroft, 279 F.Supp.2d 13, 21 (D.D.C. 2003) (explaining that consideration of documents outside of pleadings does not convert a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) into a motion for summary judgment).

         The D.C. Circuit has instructed that a motion to dismiss for lack of standing constitutes a motion under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure because “the defect of standing is a defect in subject matter jurisdiction.” Crow Creek Sioux Tribe v. Brownlee, 331 F.3d 912, 915-16 (D.C. Cir. 2003); Haase v. Sessions, 835 F.2d 902, 906 (D.C. Cir. 1987); see generally Valley Forge Christian Coll. v. Ams. United for Separation of Church and State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 475-76 (1982). Accordingly, a lack of standing denotes a lack of subject matter jurisdiction, which would support dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         Mr. Sweigert brings two claims against Defendants: one for fraud and the other for breach of fiduciary duty. Compl. ¶¶ 42-65. Defendants Haseeb Rana, the DNC, the Podesta Group, Deborah Wasserman Schultz, and Huma Abedin argue, among other things, that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because Mr. Sweigert lacks standing to pursue his claims. See Def. Rana's Mem. P&A Supp. Mot. Dismiss Pl.'s Compl. 3-6, ECF No. 20 (“Def. Rana's Mem.”); Def. DNC's Mem. P&A Supp. Mot. Dismiss Pl.'s Compl. 6-19, ECF No. 21-1 (“Def. DNC's Mem.”); Def. Podesta Group's Mem. P&A Supp. Mot. Dismiss Pl.'s Compl. 7-10, ECF No. 23 (“Def. Podesta Group's Mem.”); Def. Abedin's Mem. P&A Supp. Mot. Dismiss Pl.'s Compl. 7, ECF No. 33 (“Def. Abedin's Mem.”).

         To establish subject matter jurisdiction, a plaintiff must have standing, as governed by Article III of the Constitution. See U.S. Const. art. III, § 2. Plaintiffs bear the burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction. Vetcher v. Sessions, 316 F.Supp.3d 70, 75 (D.D.C. 2018) (citing Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992)). A party has standing to bring suit under Article III of the Constitution only when she has suffered an injury in fact-that is, an injury which is concrete, particularized, and actual or imminent-which is traceable to defendant's actions and redressable by the relief sought. U.S. Const. art. III § 2, cl. 1; Clapper v. Amnesty Int'l, USA, 568 U.S. 398 (2013); Lujan, 504 U.S. at 561; see also United States v. Richardson, 418 U.S. 166, 176-77 (1974). Allegations of a speculative or possible future injury do not satisfy the requirements of Article III. See Whitmore ...

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