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Law School Case Brief

Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Wash. v. Trump - 939 F.3d 131 (2d Cir. 2019)


A suit brought in federal court is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Fed. R Civ. P. 12(b)(1) when the district court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate it. To the extent that a district court's dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction was based on the application of a rule of law, an appellate court construes the allegations of the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs and reviews the district court's ruling de novo, meaning that the appellate court's inquiry focuses on whether the rules of law were correctly applied. If the trial court dismissed on the basis of the complaint alone or the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record, the appellate court's standard is de novo review. 


Plaintiffs, a member-based organization of restaurants and restaurant workers, filed a complaint seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against Defendant Donald J. Trump, the President of the United States, alleging violations of the Domestic and Foreign Emoluments Clauses of the United States Constitution. The President moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), arguing that Plaintiffs did not have standing to sue. The district court granted the motion for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.


Did the district court err when it dismissed the suit for lack of matter jurisdiction?




There are three prongs to the standing inquiry under U.S. Const. art. III. In order to successfully allege standing to bring a suit in federal court, a complaint must plausibly allege the following: first, that the plaintiff has suffered an injury in fact, which the U.S. Supreme Court defines as an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized; and (b) actual or imminent, not merely conjectural or hypothetical; second, that there is a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of, which requires the injury to be fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant, and not the result of the independent action of some third party not before the court; and third, that it is likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision. These three components of the Article III case or controversy requirement are designed to ensure that the plaintiff has alleged such a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy as to warrant his invocation of federal court jurisdiction and to justify the exercise of the court's remedial powers on his behalf.

Plaintiffs alleged an injury in fact by asserting that in competing over the exact same customer base, the President's establishments secured an unlawful advantage from potential customers by enriching the President, in securing his favor in governmental decisions. The complaint pleaded a competitive injury of lost patronage directly traceable to the President's allegedly illegal conduct of inducing customers to patronize the President's establishments. As they alleged a plausible likelihood that the President's conduct caused their injuries, and that the injury was ongoing, the requested relief would redress the injury.

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