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Standing is part and parcel of Article III's limitation on the judicial power of the federal courts, which extends only to cases or controversies. Standing requires 1) the plaintiff to have suffered an injury in fact that is both (a) concrete and particularized and (b) actual or imminent, as opposed to conjectural or hypothetical; 2) the injury must be traceable to the defendants' actions; and 3) the injury must be redressable by a favorable decision of the court. On the other, the United States' exemption from suit is expressed in jurisdictional terms—that is, federal courts lack subject-matter jurisdiction over suits against the United States in the absence of a clear waiver of sovereign immunity. Statutes that waive sovereign immunity are strictly construed and any doubt or ambiguity is resolved in favor of immunity. And the political question doctrine excludes from judicial review those controversies which revolve around policy choices and value determinations constitutionally committed for resolution to the halls of Congress or the confines of the Executive Branch. When evaluating whether an issue involves a political question, courts consider a number of factors; the presence of one such factor is sufficient to find a political question.
Plaintiffs Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan and Bilal Abdul Kareem were journalists who specialize in reporting on terrorism and conflict in the Middle East. One of the plaintiffs learned that his name was included on a list of suspected terrorists and the other has been the victim or near victim of at least five aerial bombings while in Syria. Based on this information, plaintiffs believed that their names were on a list of individuals the United States had determined to be terrorists and may be killed, the list known as the Kill List. Plaintiffs then sued defendants President Donald J. Trump, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Secretary of the Department of Defense, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, the Attorney General, and the Director of National Intelligence, all in their official capacities, as well as the Department of Justice, DOD, DHS, and CIA. Plaintiffs alleged that these officials and agencies violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. § 551, et seq., by putting their names on the Kill List. Defendants moved to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, arguing that plaintiffs lack standing and raise a political question outside the jurisdiction of the courts. Defendants also moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.
Should the defendants’ motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction be granted?
The court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss in part, however, it was also denied in part. The court ruled that the plaintiff whose name was included on the list of suspected terrorists lacked standing to sue as the court held that it was not sufficient to allege plausibly that his name was on a U.S. Kill List, that conclusion was a mere speculation presented as a fact. That while it was possible that there was a correlation between the list, the Court found no allegations in the complaint that raised that possibility above mere speculation. Accordingly, the Court found that he failed to alleged a plausible injury-in-fact, thus, has no standing to sue. The other plaintiff, however, had adequately pled injury-in-fact, causation, and redressability which were he elements of standing. Further, the undeveloped facts and legal arguments presented by defendants were insufficient to prompt dismissal of this plaintiff’s complaint. As to the political question, the court evaluate each count to determine whether it presented a political question. As to count one- agency action was arbitrary and capricious, and an abuse of discretion was dismissed. As for the counts two and three- agency action was not in accord with law or statutory authority, raised a nonjusticiable political question and must be dismissed. Counts four, five, and six- defendants denied this plaintiff’s rights to due process and the opportunity to be heard and deprived him of his First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights. The court ruled that these were weighty matters of law and fact but constitutional questions were the bread and butter of the federal judiciary. Thus, the Court found that these three counts were justiciable. Lastly, defendant’s motion for failure to state a claim was likewise denied as the court ruled that plaintiff’s allegations may be wrong as a matter of fact but the complaint presented them in a plausible manner.