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Trump v. Committee on Ways and Means

United States District Court, District of Columbia

November 11, 2019

DONALD J. TRUMP, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS, UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CARL J. NICHOLS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On July 8, 2019, New York's governor signed the Tax Returns Released Under Specific Terms Act (“TRUST Act”) into law. Am. Compl., Dkt. 30, ¶ 61; see also N.Y. Tax Law § 697(f-1), (f-2) (2019) (codifying the TRUST Act). The TRUST Act amends New York's tax laws to authorize the chairperson of one of three congressional committees, including the House Committee on Ways and Means, to request the New York state tax returns of the President of the United States, among other elected officials. Tax § 697(f-1). If that request is made in writing and certain requirements are met, the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance (“Commissioner”) is required to produce the records to the relevant committee. Id.

         To date, no committee chairperson has made such a request. On July 23, 2019, however, citing concerns that the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee might soon attempt to employ the TRUST Act to procure his New York returns, Donald J. Trump filed this action. See generally Compl., Dkt. 1. Mr. Trump alleges that any request made for his state tax returns would violate Article I of the U.S. Constitution and the Rules of the U.S. House of Representatives. Id. ¶¶ 69-72. And he alleges that the TRUST Act violates the First Amendment because it was enacted to discriminate and retaliate against his politics and speech. Id. ¶¶ 73-76.

         Mr. Trump also filed an Emergency Application for Relief Under the All Writs Act. Dkt. 6; see also 28 U.S.C. § 1651 (2018) (permitting courts to “issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions”). Mr. Trump's Emergency Application seeks to preserve the status quo by preventing the disclosure of his state tax returns while the Parties litigate the legality of a request for them, if and when such a request is made.

         Following briefing and argument on the Emergency Application, as well as submissions from the Parties regarding how the case should proceed, the Court largely adopted the New York Defendants' proposal that the Court “rule on [their personal jurisdiction and venue] defenses as a threshold matter in consideration for which the Commissioner [would] voluntarily agree to defer responding to any Committee request for a period of one week following the Court's ruling.” Joint Status Report, Dkt. 22, at 4. The Court thus ordered that (1) the New York Defendants could, on an expedited basis, move to dismiss the Complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue; (2) the New York Defendants would not transmit any of Mr. Trump's tax information that Chairman Neal might request while that motion is pending and for a period of one week from the day of the Court's decision on the motion; and (3) the New York Defendants would notify the Court if Chairman Neal made such a request during that same period. Order (Aug. 1, 2019), Dkt. 25, at 3-4. Thereafter, the New York Defendants moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue, and that motion is fully briefed. See generally N.Y. Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss Am. Compl. for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction & Improper Venue (“Mot.”), Dkt. 36; Pl.'s Mem. of P. & A. in Opp'n to N.Y. Defs.' Mot. (“Opp'n”), Dkt. 37; N.Y. Defs.' Reply Mem. of Law in Further Supp. of Their Mot. (“Reply”), Dkt. 39.

         For the reasons that follow, the Court concludes that it does not presently have jurisdiction over either New York Defendant. Mr. Trump bears the burden of establishing personal jurisdiction, but his allegations do not establish that the District of Columbia's long-arm statute is satisfied here with respect to either Defendant. Mr. Trump has also not demonstrated that jurisdictional discovery is warranted. Mr. Trump may renew his claims against the New York Defendants should future events trigger one or more provisions of the D.C. long-arm statute, and he may, of course, sue either New York Defendant in another forum (presumably in New York).

         I. Background

         New York law generally requires that state tax returns be held confidentially and permits their disclosure in only certain enumerated exceptions. See, e.g., Tax § 697(e) (secrecy requirement); id. § 697(f) (permitting disclosure to cooperate with certain U.S. and state proceedings). The TRUST Act adds another exception. It authorizes the chairpersons of the Committee on Ways and Means of the U.S. House of Representatives (“Committee”), the Committee on Finance of the U.S. Senate, and the Joint Committee on Taxation to request from the Commissioner “any current or prior year [state tax] reports or returns” of “the president of the United States, vice-president of the United States, member of the United States Congress representing New York state” or other public official enumerated in the statute. Id. § 697(f-1). Such a request must “certif[y] in writing”: (1) that the requested tax “reports or returns have been requested related to, and in furtherance of, a legitimate task of the Congress”; (2) that the requesting committee has “made a written request to the United States secretary of the treasury for related federal returns or return information, pursuant to 25 U.S.C. [§] 6103(f)”; and (3) that any inspection or submission to another committee or to the full U.S. House of Representatives or Senate be done “in a manner consistent with federal law.” Id. § 697(f-2). Assuming the request includes those certifications, the Commissioner must produce the requested returns with redactions for “any copy of a federal return (or portion thereof) attached to, or any information on a federal return that is reflected on, such report or return.” Id. § 697(f-1).

         On July 23, 2019, following media reports of increasing pressure on Chairman Neal to request Mr. Trump's state tax returns, see Compl. ¶¶ 6, 62-68, Mr. Trump filed this action against New York Attorney General Letitia James, Commissioner Michael R. Schmidt (collectively, “New York Defendants”), and the Committee. See generally Id. Mr. Trump asserts two claims. In Count I, he claims that a request under the TRUST Act would violate Article I of the U.S. Constitution and the Rules of the House because the request for his New York state tax returns would lack a legitimate legislative purpose. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 73-76. In Count II, Mr. Trump claims that the TRUST Act itself violates the First Amendment and that the Committee and New York Defendants would violate his First Amendment rights by employing it to produce his state tax returns to the Committee. Id. ¶¶ 77-81. Count II is the only claim asserted against the New York Defendants. Id.

         Mr. Trump also filed an Emergency Application for Relief Under the All Writs Act, asking the Court “to preserve the status quo” to prevent his claims from becoming ripe and then moot almost instantaneously without notice to him or the Court, thereby depriving the Court of jurisdiction. Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Pl.'s Emergency Appl. for Relief Under the All Writs Act, Dkt. 6-1, at 5-6. Following briefing and oral argument on the Emergency Application, the Court ordered the Parties to meet and confer in light of the Court's stated goals of (1) “ensuring that Mr. Trump's claims do not become moot before they can be litigated”; (2) “treading as lightly as possible, if at all, on separation of powers and Speech or Debate Clause concerns”; and (3) “adjudicating . . . this dispute only when it is actually ripe and has a fuller record than presently exists.” July 29, 2019 Hr'g Tr., Dkt. 23, at 53-54; see Min. Order (July 29, 2019).

         The Parties were unable to reach agreement and instead filed alternative proposals for how the case should proceed. The New York Defendants, for their part, proposed that the Commissioner would not respond to any request for Mr. Trump's tax returns while the Court considered and ruled on their forthcoming motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue. Joint Status Report, Dkt. 22, at 4. The Court largely adopted this proposal and, on August 1, 2019, ordered that (1) the New York Defendants could move to dismiss the Complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction over them and for improper venue on an expedited basis; (2) “during the pendency of the New York Defendants' Motion and for a period of one week from the Court's decision . . ., the New York Defendants shall not deliver to the Committee any information concerning Mr. Trump that may be requested by Chairman Neal under the TRUST Act”; and (3) the New York Defendants shall notify the Court if Chairman Neal made a request during that same one-week time period. Order (Aug. 1, 2019), Dkt. 25, at 3-4.

         After the New York Defendants filed their initial Motion to Dismiss, Mr. Trump filed an Amended Complaint that asserts the same two substantive claims as his original Complaint, but adds as defendants Chairman Neal and Andrew Grossman, the Committee's Chief Tax Counsel, and adds factual allegations related to the New York Defendants' connections to this forum. See generally Am. Compl. The New York Defendants renewed their Motion to Dismiss on August 29, 2019.

         II. Legal Standard

         A federal court has jurisdiction over a defendant “who is subject to the jurisdiction of a court of general jurisdiction in the state where the district court is located.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(k)(1)(A). Thus, if a District of Columbia court could exercise jurisdiction over the New York Defendants, then so can this Court. E.g., West v. Holder, 60 F.Supp.3d 190, 193 (D.D.C. 2014).

         There are two types of personal jurisdiction: “[1] general or all-purpose jurisdiction[] and [2] specific or case-linked jurisdiction.” Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 919 (2011). “For an individual, the paradigm forum for the exercise of general jurisdiction is the individual's domicile.” Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117, 137 (2014). Specific jurisdiction, on the other hand, “aris[es] out of or relate[s] to the defendant's contacts with the forum.” Id. at 127 (quoting Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414 n.8 (1984)).

         With respect to specific jurisdiction, the Court “must engage in a two-part inquiry: . . . first examine whether jurisdiction is applicable under the [D.C.] long-arm statute and then determine whether a finding of jurisdiction satisfies the constitutional requirements of due process.” GTE New Media Servs. Inc. v. BellSouth Corp., 199 F.3d 1343, 1347 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (citation omitted). The D.C. long-arm statute authorizes specific jurisdiction “over a person, who acts directly or by an agent, as to a claim for relief arising from” certain contacts that person may have with the forum. D.C. Code § 13-423(a) (2019). As relevant here, a defendant's contacts with the District of Columbia can establish specific jurisdiction if the claim arises from the defendant's:

(1) transacting any business in the District of Columbia; . . .
(3) causing tortious injury in the District of Columbia by an act or omission in the District of Columbia; [or]
(4) causing tortious injury in the District of Columbia by an act or omission outside the District of Columbia if he [i] regularly does or solicits business, [ii] engages in any other persistent course of conduct, or [iii] derives substantial revenue from goods ...

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