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Schonberg v. McConnell

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

November 20, 2013

STEVE SCHONBERG, Plaintiff,
v.
SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

THOMAS B. BUSSELL, Senior District Judge.

This matter is before the Court upon Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Docket No. 33). Plaintiff has filed his response (Docket No. 34), to which Defendants have replied (Docket No. 35). These matters are now ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Docket No. 33) is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Steve Schonberg seeks the Democratic Party's nomination for the United States Senate seat currently held by Senator Mitch McConnell, subject to the 2014 election. Plaintiff now brings this action against McConnell and Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. in their official capacities. Plaintiff's original suit challenged the constitutionality of Senate Rule 22, the cloture rule. He further challenged the constitutionality of Senate Rules 38.2 (prohibiting Members of Congress from converting campaign contributions for personal use), 40 (restricting the use of the franking privilege and Senate radio and television studios), and 41 (limiting the solicitation and receipt of campaign contributions by Senate staff). Plaintiff alleges that because these rules allow McConnell's employees to use their personal time to work on behalf of his campaign, McConnell enjoys an unfair advantage over Plaintiff.

Defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint for lack of jurisdiction. They argue that Plaintiff lacks standing; that the Speech or Debate Clause bars his claims; and that the complaint presents a non-justiciable political question. (Docket No. 33.) In his response, Plaintiff consented to the dismissal of his challenge of the cloture rule. (Docket No. 34 at 4.)

The Court must now consider Plaintiff's remaining challenges to Senate Rules 38.2, 40, and 41. For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and this action will be dismissed.

STANDARD

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that pleadings, including complaints, contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A complaint may be attacked for failure "to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court will presume that all the factual allegations in the complaint are true and will draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Total Benefits Planning Agency v. Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield, 552 F.3d 430, 434 (6th Cir. 2008) (citing Great Lakes Steel v. Deggendorf, 716 F.2d 1101, 1105 (6th Cir. 1983)). "The court need not, however, accept unwarranted factual inferences." Id. (citing Morgan v. Church's Fried Chicken, 829 F.2d 10, 12 (6th Cir. 1987)). Additionally, "[w]hen a court is presented with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, it may consider the Complaint and any exhibits attached thereto... and exhibits attached to the defendant's motion to dismiss so long as they are referred to in the Complaint and are central to the claims contained therein." Bassett v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 528 F.3d 426, 430 (6th Cir. 2008) (citing Amini v. Oberlin Coll., 259 F.3d 493, 502 (6th Cir. 2001)).

Even though a "complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations omitted). Instead, the plaintiff's "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact.)" Id. (citations omitted). A complaint should contain enough facts "to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. A claim becomes plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). If, from the well-pleaded facts, the court cannot "infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but has not show[n]' - that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Id. at 1950 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). "[O]nly a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id.

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff lacks constitutional standing to bring this case.

Article III requires a plaintiff to satisfy three elements to establish standing in federal courts: (1) the plaintiff must have suffered an injury in fact; (2) a causal connection must exist between the injury and the challenged conduct; and (3) it must be likely that a decision in the plaintiff's favor will redress the injury. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992).

In this case, Plaintiff has pointed to no concrete injury in fact caused by the rules in question that can be redressed by this Court. Plaintiff contends that Senate Rules 38.2, 40, and 41 violate the Fifth Amendment guarantee of equal protection by "provid[ing] Defendant McConnell with an overwhelming and unconstitutional election advantage over [P]laintiff." (Docket No. 23 at 4.) He further argues that McConnell "has received and will receive millions of dollars worth of free time' campaign activities on his behalf from up to 71 Senate employees, " while Plaintiff himself enjoys no such workforce. (Docket No. 23 at 31.)[1] In addition, Plaintiff alleges that McConnell's reliance on his employees to volunteer for his campaign widens the gap between McConnell's campaign coffers and his own. (Id. at 32.)

Whatever electoral disadvantage Plaintiff may experience, his harms do not constitute an injury in fact. "[A] plaintiff cannot assert injury to his viability as a candidate... simply on the basis of the advantage - real or imagined - of incumbency." Kardules v. City of Columbus, 95 F.3d 1335, 1353 (quoting Shakman v. Dunne, 829 F.2d 1387, 1398 (7th Cir. 1987)). Plaintiff points to no precedent construing a disparity in campaign resources an injury in fact. Rather, Supreme Court and Sixth Circuit authority preclude such a holding. In McConnell v. Fed. Election Comm'n, 540 U.S. 93, 107 (2003), the Supreme Court rejected Plaintiff's standing argument because "political free trade' does not necessarily require that all who participate in the political marketplace do so with exactly equal resources." Id. (citing Fed. Election Comm'n v. Massachusetts Citizens Or Life, Inc., 479 U.S. 238, 257 (1986)). Similarly, the Sixth Circuit determined that a plaintiff who alleged that "matching funds' based upon campaign contributions enthrone the haves' ...


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