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O'Donnell v. United States Agency for International Development

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 1, 2019



          TREVOR N. McFADDEN, U.S.D.J.

         Christopher O'Donnell sued the U.S. Agency for International Development (“USAID”) under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 701 et seq, alleging that it has unlawfully failed to release certain Country Development Cooperation Strategies (“Cooperation Strategies”). USAID has moved to dismiss Mr. O'Donnell's Complaint for lack of standing and for failure to state a claim. For the reasons given below, the Court will grant USAID's Motion to Dismiss.


         Cooperation Strategies detail USAID's priorities for international development projects. “Strategic planning in a country or region . . . is the process by which USAID defines its objectives for development to maximize the impart of [its] work.” Compl. Ex. 2 at 2, ECF No. 1-2.[1] And Cooperation Strategies communicate “development needs, constraints, and opportunities; specify[] a Mission's focused choice of objectives; and defin[e] associated resource priorities and planned implementation approaches.” Id. at 4. They “lay[] the groundwork for subsequent decision making, ” “bring[] all” staff “to a common understanding about program priorities, ” and “create[] a forum for interaction and buy-in, particularly with local stakeholders and partners.” Id. at 2-3. Once a Cooperation Strategy is approved, USAID staff in the country define in greater detail how they will operationalize the Cooperation Strategy. Id. at 3. Eventually, USAID identifies projects to implement the Cooperation Strategy and issues solicitations for bids for the projects. See Compl. ¶ 11, ECF No. 1

         Mr. O'Donnell argues that USAID must issue Cooperation Strategies for particular countries. See Id. ¶ 6. But USAID has failed to do so. See Id. ¶¶ 5, 13. That failure, he argues, harms small businesses like his, which are interested in responding to USAID's bid solicitations. See Id. ¶¶ 3, 5a, 11. Small businesses must travel and meet with USAID staff to discuss information that the Cooperation Strategies would otherwise include. Id. ¶ 11. Thus, Mr. O'Donnell argues that USAID has violated the APA and asks the Court to compel the agency to post Cooperation Strategies for certain countries to its website. See Id. ¶ 5d.

         USAID, however, maintains that Mr. O'Donnell lacks standing under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), and he fails to state a claim upon which relied can be granted, Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). See Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss at 1, ECF No. 8. Because Mr. O'Donnell is proceeding pro se, the Court advised him of his responsibility to respond to USAID's motion. See Order, ECF No. 9. He responded, but his opposition did not address USAID's substantive arguments. See Pl.'s Opp'n, ECF Nos. 10 and 10-1. Instead, he pointed out that USAID has updated some Cooperation Strategies on its website that he complained were missing or expired. See Id. at ECF No. 10-1 at 1.

         “It is well understood in this Circuit, that when a plaintiff files an opposition to a dispositive motion and addresses only certain arguments by the defendant, a court may treat those arguments that the plaintiff failed to address as conceded.” Hopkins v. Women's Div., Gen. Bd. of Glob. Ministries, 284 F.Supp.2d 15, 25 (D.D.C. 2003) (emphasis added). But because Mr. O'Donnell is proceeding pro se and responded to USAID's Motion to Dismiss, the Court will not treat USAID's arguments as conceded.

         Even so, Mr. O'Donnell has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The Court construes his filings liberally, see Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007), but even under a liberal reading, he has failed to point to any authority that requires the USAID to issue Cooperation Strategies on its public website.


         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) “presents a threshold challenge to the court's jurisdiction.” And it is the plaintiff's burden to establish jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. See Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992). When reviewing such a motion, the Court must “assume the truth of all material factual allegations in the complaint and construe the complaint liberally, granting the plaintiff the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.” Am. Nat. Ins. Co. v. FDIC, 642 F.3d 1137, 1139 (D.C. Cir. 2011).

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief “plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). In other words, a plaintiff must put forth “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The Court must treat the complaint's factual allegations as true, “even if doubtful in fact.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. But it need not accept as true legal conclusions set forth in a complaint. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.


         USAID claims that Mr. O'Donnell lacks standing. “[A] showing of standing is an essential and unchanging predicate to any exercise of a court's jurisdiction.” Fla. Audubon Soc'y v. Bentsen, 94 F.3d 658, 663 (D.C. Cir. 1996). And the irreducible constitutional minimum of standing consists of three elements: (1) an injury in fact, (2) fairly traceable to the challenged conduct, and (3) that is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision. Spokeo v. Robinson, 136 S.Ct. 1540, 1547 (2016). According to USAID, Mr. O'Donnell has not established either of the first two elements.

         But “[a]t the pleading stage, general factual allegations of injury resulting from the defendant's conduct may suffice.” Lujan, 504 U.S. at 561. What is more, Mr. O'Donnell is proceeding pro se. “A document filed pro se is to be liberally construed, and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to ...

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