United States District Court, District of Columbia
DONALD J. TRUMP, Plaintiff,
COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS, U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
N. McFADDEN, U.S.D.J.
case, President Donald J. Trump, in his personal capacity,
sued the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Ways
and Means (“the Committee”); New York Attorney
General Letitia James; and Commissioner of the New York State
Department of Taxation and Finance Michael R. Schmidt.
See Compl. at 1, ECF No. 1. His Complaint alleges
violations of (1) Article I of the United States Constitution
and House Rules; and (2) the First Amendment. Id. at
with the Complaint, President Trump also filed a Notice of
Related Case representing that this case “involves
common issues of fact” and “grows out of the same
event or transaction” with Committee on Ways and
Means, United States House of Representatives v. United
States Department of Treasury, et al., No. 19-cv-01974
(TNM), an earlier-filed case assigned to me. See ECF
No. 2. Under the Local Rules, this case was then also
assigned to me. See LCvR 40.5(c)(1) (“Where
the existence of a related case in this Court is noted at the
time . . . the complaint is filed, the Clerk shall assign the
new case to the judge to whom the oldest related case is
assigned.”). Defendants Letitia James and Michael R.
Schmidt (collectively “the State Defendants”)
filed an Objection to Plaintiff's Notice of Related Case,
ECF No. 12. For the reasons below, this case will be
transferred to the Calendar and Case Management Committee for
random reassignment. LCvR 40.5(c)(1).
all new cases filed in this courthouse are randomly assigned.
See LCvR 40.3(a). But Local Civil Rule 40.5 creates
an exception to for “related cases.” Tripp v.
Exec. Office of President, 196 F.R.D. 201, 202 (D.D.C.
2000). If there is a related case in this Court when a
plaintiff files his complaint, the Clerk of the Court assigns
the new case to the judge to whom the oldest related case is
assigned. LCvR 40.5(c)(1). Civil cases “are deemed
related when then the earliest is still pending on the merits
in the District Court and they (i) relate to common property,
or (ii) involve common issues of fact, or (iii) grow out of
the same event or transaction, or (iv) involve the validity
or infringement of the same patent.” LCvR 40.5(a)(3).
party requesting the related-case designation bears the
burden of showing that the cases are related under Local
Civil Rule 40.5. See Judicial Watch, Inc. v.
Rossotti, 2002 WL 31100839, at *1 (D.D.C. Aug. 2, 2002).
“The burden on the party claiming relation is heavy as
random assignment of cases is essential to the public's
confidence in an impartial judiciary.” Dakota Rural
Action v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 2019 WL 1440134, at
*1 (D.D.C. Apr. 1, 2019). And the judge to whom a case is
assigned resolves any objection to a related-case
designation. LCvR 40.5(c)(1).
Committee on Ways and Means, United States House of
Representatives v. United States Department of Treasury, et
al., which is still pending, the Committee has sued the
U.S. Department of the Treasury, the Internal Revenue
Service, Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, and IRS
Commissioner Charles P. Rettig “to seek relief from
Defendants' refusal to produce tax return information
concerning President Donald J. Trump in response to the
Committee's valid oversight requests.” Compl. at
1-2, ECF No. 1, No. 19-cv-01974 (TNM). The President
subsequently intervened as a defendant. ECF No. 14. The
President claims that the cases are related because the
President's claim here and his defense in the
earlier-filed case are identical: disclosure of the
President's tax returns, be it federal or state, lacks a
legitimate legislative purpose under Article I of the U.S.
Constitution. See Pl.'s Reply re Notice of
Related Case at 1, ECF No. 13.
President's claim of relation is not frivolous. Cases are
related if they share “common issues of fact” or
“grow out of the same event or transaction, ” but
the Rule offers no guidance about how much factual overlap is
needed, how similar the underlying facts must be, or what
constitutes an event. See LCvR 40.5(a)(3). In both
cases, the President intends to argue that the Committee
lacks a legitimate legislative purpose under Article I to
seek any of his tax returns. These cases also involve some of
the same parties: the President is the plaintiff here, and an
intervenor-defendant in the earlier-filed case, while the
Committee is the plaintiff in the earlier-filed case and a
defendant here. Colloquially, the cases are clearly related.
In short, there is plenty of reason for the President to
believe that these cases are related under the Local Rules.
Court disagrees. First, these cases involve different claims.
The focus of the earlier-filed case is a federal
statute that, the Committee argues, allows it to acquire the
President's federal tax returns from a
federal agency. Compl. at 1-4, ECF No. 1, No.
19-cv-01974 (TNM). Here, the President argues that the
Committee cannot invoke New York's Tax Returns Released
Under Specific Terms (“TRUST”) Act to request the
President's state tax returns from the state of New York.
Compl. at 22. He also claims that the TRUST Act violates the
First Amendment because the New York Legislature enacted it
to discriminate and retaliate against President Trump for his
speech and politics. Id. at 4. The President asks
the Court to declare it unconstitutional. Id. Such a
First Amendment challenge has nothing do with the
earlier-filed case. Resolution of this claim likely will
involve questions of the New York Legislature's purpose
and legal analysis of provisions of a state law: the TRUST
the earlier-filed case relates to a subpoena that the
Committee has already served on the Treasury. Compl. at
25-26, ECF No. 1, No. 19-cv-01974 (TNM). Here, the Committee
has not yet made any request to a New York official for the
President's state tax returns. This fact alone shows that
these cases will necessarily involve a different set of
President argues that these two cases are related because
“the key factual issues in both cases will turn on
purpose.” Pl.'s Reply at 3. While this
case relates to the purpose of the TRUST Act and the purpose
of the Committee's request for the state tax returns, the
earlier-filed case involves at most the purpose only behind
the Committee's request for the federal tax returns.
See Id. That is, the earlier-filed case will not
involve any inquiry into the purpose of the New York
Legislature in passing the TRUST Act or the Committee's
purpose in requesting the President's state tax returns,
if that happens.
still, it is not clear that this case will involve an inquiry
into the Committee's purposes at all. The Supreme Court
has made clear that “in determining the legitimacy of a
congressional act we do not look to the motives alleged to
have prompted it.” Eastland v. U.S.
Servicemen's Fund, 421 U.S. 491, 508 (1975). This is
important because “[i]n times of political passion,
dishonest or vindictive motives are readily attributed to
legislative conduct and as readily believed.”
Id. at 509. So while the President insists that both
cases will involve the Committee's purpose in seeking the
President's tax returns, I am not so sure.
rest of the President's arguments are unavailing as well.
The President argues that these cases both grow out of the
Committee's request for the President's federal tax
returns. Pl.'s Reply at 4. But the earlier-filed case
arises of the Committee's request for the federal tax
returns while this case arises from the passage of the TRUST
Act. True, both cases have some of the same parties. But
under the Local Rules, overlapping parties is not among the
bases for a related-case designation. See LCvR
40.5(a)(5); see also Dakota Rural Action, 2019 WL
1440134, at *3. The President also points out that both cases
also involve the same counsel. Pl.'s Reply at 2. While it
may be ...