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Kupperman v. United States House of Representatives

United States District Court, District of Columbia

December 30, 2019

CHARLES M. KUPPERMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [DKT. NOS. 40, 41, 43]

          RICHARD J. LEON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Dr. Charles Kupperman ("Kupperman" or "Dr. Kupperman") brings this suit for a declaratory judgment against President Donald J. Trump ("the President") and the United States House of Representatives, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence ("HPSCI") Adam Schiff, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Eliot Engel, and Chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform Carolyn B. Maloney (collectively, "the House"). See Compl. [Dkt. #1]. Kupperman, who formerly served as the Deputy National Security Advisor and briefly as Acting National Security Advisor was subpoenaed by HPSCI on October 25, 2019 as part of its impeachment inquiry into the President. See Id. ¶¶ 1, 14. The President directed Dr. Kupperman not to comply with the subpoena because, as a close presidential advisor, he was absolutely immune from compelled Congressional testimony. See Id. ¶¶ 1, 18. On the same day Kupperman received the subpoena, he filed this suit seeking the Court's guidance as to which of these two opposing commands he must follow. See Id. ¶¶ 1-2, 14.

         This case was assigned to this Court on October 28, 2019, and I set a scheduling hearing for three days later. See Minute Order of Oct. 28, 2019. At that hearing, both the President and the House stated that they would seek dismissal. See Tr. of Oct. 31, 2019 Hr'g [Dkt. #15] at 15:18-20 (the House); id. at 20:11-12 (the President).[1] Emphasizing that the case was a matter of great consequence to the country, I set an aggressive briefing schedule combining both justiciability and merits arguments, with a hearing to follow shortly thereafter on December 10, 2019. See Id. at 24:22-25-10, 25:23-25; see also Minute Order of Nov. 4, 2019 [Dkt. #19] (clarifying schedule).

         During the five weeks leading up to the oral arguments, several other events transpired. First, on November 5, 2019, HPSCI withdrew its subpoena to Kupperman, and the House noticed the case as moot and moved to vacate the expedited briefing schedule on November 6, 2019. See House Defs.' Notice of Mootness & Mot. to Vacate ("House Notice of Mootness") [Dkt. #22]. I held a brief telephonic hearing that same day and directed the parties to incorporate any mootness arguments into the already-scheduled briefing. See Tr. of Nov. 6, 2019 Hr'g [Dkt. #23] at 6:14-24. Second, late in the evening on Friday, November 8, 2019, Acting White House Chief of Staff John Michael Mulvaney ("Mulvaney"), who had also been subpoenaed by HPSCI, moved to intervene. See Mot. to Intervene [Dkt. #26] at 3. I held another telephonic conference three days later on Monday, November 11, 2019, a federal holiday, to hear oral argument on the Mulvaney motion. See Minute Order of Nov. 9, 2019. At the end of that call, I indicated I would rule later that day but was not inclined to grant the motion. See Tr. of Nov. 11, 2019 Hr'g [Dkt. #38] at 23:23-25. Not surprisingly, Mulvaney withdrew his motion before I ruled. See Notice of Withdrawal [Dkt. #37]. Third, on November 25, 2019, my colleague released her opinion in Committee on the Judiciary v. McGahn, ordering the former White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn to testify pursuant to a House Judiciary Committee subpoena and rejecting the Executive branch's claim of immunity from compelled Congressional testimony. No. 19-cv-2379, Mem. Op. [Dkt. #46] at 6-7. Fourth, on December 3, 2019, HPSCI released a draft copy of its report concerning the impeachment inquiry. See The Trump-Ukraine Impeachment Inquiry Report ("Impeachment Rep."), H.R. Rep. No. 116-335 (2019).[2] Fifth, on December 10, 2019, hours before oral argument on the pending motions to dismiss, the House Judiciary Committee released draft articles of impeachment against the President. See H.R. Res. 755, 116th Cong. (2019).

         All told, the parties submitted over 350 pages of briefing before the December 10 hearing. Based on this briefing, oral argument, and the entire record herein, I conclude for the reasons discussed below that this case is moot. Therefore, I GRANT the defendants' motions and DISMISS the case.[3]

         BACKGROUND

         This case arises from the impeachment investigation into certain conduct by the President. In particular, the President spoke by phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25, 2019 regarding, among other things, United States military support to Ukraine and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden. See Impeachment Rep. at 12, 14. The following month, a whistleblower filed a complaint expressing concerns about the content of this call and whether it showed the President attempting to influence a foreign leader to investigate his political rival, former Vice President Biden, who was-and currently is-running for President in the 2020 election. See Id. at 26; Whistleblower Compl. at l.[4] Ultimately, on September 9, 2019, HPSCI, along with the House Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees, launched an investigation into the content and context of the call. See Impeachment Rep. at 25. On October 31, 2019, the House of Representatives adopted a resolution authorizing these same committees "to continue their ongoing investigations as part of the existing House of Representatives inquiry into whether sufficient grounds exist for the House of Representatives to impeach President Trump." H.R. Res. 660, 116th Cong. (2019). As part of its inquiry, HPSCI invited the testimony of a number of witnesses and subpoenaed others who declined to appear voluntarily. See generally Impeachment Rep. at 231-56 (cataloging witnesses).

         One of the witnesses whose testimony HPSCI sought was Dr. Kupperman. Kupperman served as the Deputy National Security Advisor from January 9, 2019 to September 20, 2019, and as Acting National Security Advisor for eleven days at the end of his tenure in the Executive branch. Compl. ¶ 13; Def President Donald J. Trump's Statement of Material Facts ("President's SOMF") [Dkt. #40-1] ¶¶ 1-2; House Defs.' Resp. to President's SOMF ("House SOMF") [Dkt. #47-1] ¶¶ 1-2- In his capacity as Deputy National Security Advisor, Kupperman also held the title Assistant to the President and served as the sole deputy to then-National Security Advisor John Bolton. President's SOMF ¶¶ 5, 6; House SOMF ¶¶ 5, 6. Kupperman advised the President regarding national security policy toward Ukraine and coordinated national security policy among the relevant Executive Branch agencies, including the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and the Office of Management and Budget. Compl. ¶ 13. According to HPSCI's Impeachment Report, Kupperman listened in on the President's July 25, 2019 telephone call with President Zelensky and was otherwise involved in issues relevant to the impeachment inquiry. Impeachment Rep. at 65, 72, 100.

         On October 16, 2019 HPSCI sent a letter to Kupperman seeking his appearance for a deposition on October 23, 2019. See Id. at 237. He did not appear, and the Committee issued a subpoena on October 25, 2019 directing him to sit for a deposition three days later. Compl. ¶ 14; President's SOMF ¶ 17; House SOMF ¶ 17. The same day that HPSCI issued its subpoena, the White House Counsel directed Kupperman not to appear for the scheduled deposition, asserting that Kupperman was absolutely immune from compelled Congressional testimony. Compl. ¶¶ 18, 19; President's SOMF ¶ 18; House SOMF ¶ 18. Kupperman did not appear at the October 28 deposition, President's SOMF ¶ 19; House SOMF ¶ 19, and instead filed this suit, see generally Compl.

         Both the House and the President moved to dismiss Kupperman's complaint on November 14, 2019. They argued the case was non-justiciable for a number of reasons, including that it was moot and that Kupperman lacked standing. The parties completed briefing on those motions on December 4, 2019, and I heard argument six days later on December 10, 2019.

         ANALYSIS

         It is a fundamental principle of our Constitutional system that the federal judicial power is not without limits. See Valley Forge Christian Coll. v. Americans United for Separation of Church & State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 471 (1982). Rather, Article III of the Constitution grants federal courts the authority to adjudicate only "Cases" and "Controversies" between adverse litigants. Raines v. Byrd, 521 U.S. 811, 818 (1997); Valley Forge, 454 U.S. at 471. This requirement is not empty formalism: It "ensures that the Federal Judiciary confines itself to its constitutionally limited role of adjudicating actual and concrete disputes," Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk, 569 U.S. 66, 71 (2013), rather than issuing advisory opinions on abstract legal issues, Los Angeles Cty. v. Davis, 440 U.S. 625, 633 (1979). Indeed, "[i]n our system of government, courts have no business deciding legal disputes or expounding on law in the absence of... a case or controversy." Already, LLC v. Nike, Inc., 568 U.S. 85, 90 (2013) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         "An actual controversy must be extant at all stages of review, not merely at the time the complaint is filed." Arizonans for Official English v. Arizona, 520 U.S. 43, 67 (1997) (internal quotation marks omitted). "A case becomes moot-and therefore no longer a 'Case' or 'Controversy' for Article III purposes-when the issues presented are no longer live or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome." Already, LLC, 568 U.S. at 91 (some internal quotation marks omitted). In other words, "[i]f an intervening circumstance deprives the plaintiff of a personal stake in the outcome of the lawsuit, at any point during litigation, the action can no longer proceed and must be dismissed as moot." Genesis Healthcare, 569 U.S. at 71-72 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         HPSCI has withdrawn Kupperman's subpoena. See House Notice of Mootness, Ex. A ("The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence . . . hereby withdraws its subpoena . . . ."). As a result, Kupperman no longer faces the "irreconcilable commands" of two coordinate branches of government, see Compl. at 2, and he accordingly lacks any personal stake in the outcome of ...


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