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Center For Biological Diversity v. United States Department of State

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 12, 2019




         The Center for Biological Diversity takes exception to the State Department's laggard pace in complying with the United States' reporting obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. After the Government missed its January 1, 2018, deadline to file the two reports at issue in this case, CBD filed suit. The Court found that it lacked standing to press two of its counts and dismissed them without prejudice. Hoping to remedy this insufficiency, Plaintiff has filed a Second Amended Complaint. The Government now moves to dismiss two of the claims - essentially the same ones as before - again contending that CBD lacks standing to bring them and that it also has not stated a claim. Agreeing once again with Defendants on the former point, the Court will grant the Motion without reaching the latter issue.

         I. Background

         The facts relevant to this dispute were recounted nearly in their entirety in the Court's previous Opinion. See Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. Dep't of State, 2018 WL 5840515 (D.D.C. Nov. 8, 2018) (CBD I). Nevertheless, a brief rehearsal is helpful here, and the Court, as it must at this stage, treats the facts alleged as true.

         In the early nineties, the United States entered the UNFCCC, a multilateral agreement with the worthy goal of stabilizing greenhouse-gas concentrations. See ECF No. 31 (Second Amended Complaint), ¶ 18. The Convention establishes a secretariat to support the operation of the treaty and an annual Conference of the Parties through which signatories review and make decisions about implementation. See UNFCCC arts. 7.1, 7.2, 8. The UNFCCC also includes several provisions governing reporting requirements and exchange of information among the parties. Id. arts. 4, 12. CBD's claims here specifically concern two regular reports that parties submit through the secretariat: the “National Communication” and the “Biennial Report.” SAC, ¶ 2. Guidance for the content and timing of those submissions is not contained in the Convention itself, but rather in a series of decisions by the Conference of the Parties. See, e.g., Dec. 10/CP.13, ¶ 2 (“Annex I Parties” - including the United States - are requested “to submit to the secretariat a fifth national communication by 1 January 2010, in accordance with Article 12, paragraphs 1 and 2 of the Convention.”); Dec. 2/CP.17, ¶¶ 13-15 (“Parties shall submit a full national communication every four years” and a biennial report beginning January 1, 2014.).

         The United States has yet to submit either of the two reports. Understandably unhappy with the abdication of those duties, CBD filed suit in March 2018. Defendants originally moved to dismiss two of CBD's claims for relief - n a m e l y, A P A - and mandamus-based counts seeking to compel the Government to submit the information that was due January 1, 2018. See ECF No. 20 (Defendants' First Motion to Partially Dismiss). The Court agreed that Plaintiff had failed to demonstrate standing and - without reaching Defendants' second contention that CBD had not stated a claim - dismissed the two counts in question with leave to amend the Complaint.

         Accepting the invitation, CBD filed its Second Amended Complaint on December 7, 2018. Similar to the previous Complaint, it alleges two sets of claims. The first set - that is, the First and Second Claims for Relief - contains treaty-based claims seeking A PA - and mandamus-based relief to compel Defendants to submit the information that was due January 1, 2018. The second set - including the Third, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Claims for Relief - comprises Freedom of Information Act counts seeking records related to preparation of the reports and the Government's delays in submitting them. (A Fourth Claim for Relief appears to have been omitted by mistake.) Defendants now move to dismiss the First and Second Claims for Relief - viz., the non-FOIA counts - contending again that CBD lacks standing and has failed to state a claim. As before, the Court need only consider the standing issue.

         II. Legal Standard

         In evaluating Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, the Court must “treat the complaint's factual allegations as true . . . and must grant plaintiff ‘the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.'” Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979)) (internal citation omitted); see also Jerome Stevens Pharms., Inc. v. FDA, 402 F.3d 1249, 1253 (D.C. Cir. 2005). The Court need not accept as true, however, “a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation, ” nor an inference unsupported by the facts set forth in the Complaint. Trudeau v. Fed. Trade Comm'n, 456 F.3d 178, 193 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted)).

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), Plaintiff bears the burden of proving that the Court has subject-matter jurisdiction to hear its claims. See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992); US Ecology, Inc. v. U.S. Dep't of Interior, 231 F.3d 20, 24 (D.C. Cir. 2000). A court has an “affirmative obligation to ensure that it is acting within the scope of its jurisdictional authority.” Grand Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185 F.Supp.2d 9, 13 (D.D.C. 2001). For this reason, “‘the [p]laintiff's factual allegations in the complaint . . . will bear closer scrutiny in resolving a 12(b)(1) motion' than in resolving a 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim.” Id. at 13-14 (quoting 5A Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Fed. Practice & Procedure § 1350 (2d ed. 1987)) (alteration in original).

         III. Analysis

         Not every disagreement merits a lawsuit. Federal courts decide only “cases and controversies, ” a phrase given meaning by the doctrine of “standing.” See Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149, 154-55 (1990); U.S. Const. art. III. A party's standing “is an essential and unchanging part of the case-or-controversy requirement of Article III.” Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560. To have standing, a party must, at a constitutional minimum, meet the following criteria. First, the plaintiff “must have suffered an ‘injury in fact' - an invasion of a legally-protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized . . . and (b) ‘actual or imminent, not ‘conjectural' or ‘hypothetical.'” Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Second, “there must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of - the injury has to be ‘fairly . . . trace[able] to the challenged action of the defendant, and not . . . th[e] result [of] the independent action of some third party not before the court.'” Id. (alterations in original) (citation omitted). Third, “it must be ‘likely,' as opposed to merely ‘speculative,' that the injury will be ‘redressed by a favorable decision.'” Id. at 561 (citation omitted). A “deficiency on any one of the three prongs suffices to defeat standing.” US Ecology, Inc., 231 F.3d at 24.

         Here, Defendants argue that CBD has faltered at the first requirement: injury-in-fact. See ECF No. 32 (Def. Mot.) at 8. In the previous go-round, CBD asserted “two distinct injuries”: one informational and one organizational. See CBD I, 2018 WL 5840515, at *2. Now it alleges only an informational one. See ECF No. 38 (Pl. Mot. for Partial Summary Judgment) at 9 (“[T]he Center is only pursuing Article III standing based on informational injury.”). The Government asserts first that, as a threshold matter, Plaintiff - as an organization - cannot assert only an informational injury and must instead satisfy the two-pronged organizational-injury inquiry announced by the D.C. Circuit. See ECF No. 41 (Def. Reply) at 5. It next maintains that, even were only informational injury required, none is present here. See Def. Mot. at 9. The Court addresses these in turn, finding that the Government is right on the second point - namely, that CBD has not suffered an informational injury here. It need not, therefore, examine the second and third of the showings required for standing.

         A. Necessity of ...

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