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Beam v. Gonzales

March 7, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rebecca R. Pallmeyer United States District Judge

Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer


Plaintiffs Jack and Renee Beam (the "Beams") claim to have been targeted for investigation based on their political activities and, specifically, their support for John Edwards in the 2004 presidential election. The Beams allege that the United States Attorney General, the Chair of the Federal Election Commission (the "FEC" or "Commission"), and/or certain unknown Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") agents (together the "Defendants") raided the offices of a law firm with which Mr. Beam is affiliated, raided the homes of certain of the law firm's employees and associates, and seized those employees' and associates' financial records directly from their financial institutions. Plaintiffs have brought a five-count Amended Complaint seeking monetary damages, a writ of mandamus, a declaratory judgment, and other relief to remedy this allegedly wrongful conduct. Defendants move to dismiss. For the reasons explained below, the motion to dismiss is granted.


The allegations of Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint are presumed true and recounted in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs. The Beams are both Illinois residents. (Am. Compl. ¶ 1.) Mr. Beam is of counsel at the Detroit, Michigan law firm of Fieger, Fieger, Kenney & Johnson (the "Fieger law firm"), and Mrs. Beam is his wife. (Id. ¶¶ 8-9.) Geoffrey N. Fieger is the President of the Fieger law firm as well as a prominent Democrat and former Michigan gubernatorial candidate. (Id. ¶ 8.) On November 30, 2005, Defendant Alberto R. Gonzales, then the United States Attorney General, authorized a nighttime raid on the Fieger law firm's offices; he also authorized approximately 100 federal agents to simultaneously raid the homes of certain associates and employees of the Fieger law firm. (Id. ¶¶ 8-9.) Plaintiffs assert that these raids were conducted because the Fieger law firm's employees and associates--as well as the family members of those individuals--made contributions to presidential candidate John Edwards in connection with the 2004 election. (Id. ¶ 10.)

While at the homes of these associates and employees, the federal agents conducting the raid harassed the individuals by questioning them about which candidate they had voted for in the 2004 presidential election and about their financial support of John Edwards. (Am. Compl. ¶ 11.) The federal agents revealed that they had obtained access to the financial records of the employees and associates directly from their financial institutions and that they had obtained payroll records from the Fieger law firm's financial institution. (Id. ¶ 11.) The government agents never suggested to Plaintiffs or other Fieger law firm personnel that they had complied with federal statutory procedures in obtaining financial records. (Id. ¶¶ 12-13.)

On March 2, 2007, Plaintiffs filed an Application for Writ of Mandamus and Complaint in this court. (Docket Entry No. 1.) The Complaint named Gonzales and Robert Lenhard (then the FEC Chair), both in their official capacities. (Id.) On May 10, 2007, the Attorney General moved to dismiss Count I, which sought a declaratory judgment that the Attorney General and the FEC had violated the Federal Campaign Finance Act. (Docket Entry No. 22.)*fn2 On the same date, the FEC moved to dismiss all three counts of the Complaint: Count II invoked the Administrative Procedures Act ("APA"), while Count III sought a writ of mandamus requiring the FEC to comply with the Federal Campaign Finance Act. (Docket Entry No. 27.) On June 22, 2007, the court dismissed Count I, noting that many factual matters Plaintiffs emphasized in opposing the motion did not appear as allegations in the complaint. (Docket Entry No. 46.) The court reserved ruling on whether Counts II and III stated a claim for relief.

Plaintiffs filed a First Amended Complaint on June 29, 2007, this time asserting five counts against Gonzales, Lenhard, and certain unnamed FBI agents, all in their official and individual capacities. (Am. Compl.) In Count I, Plaintiffs allege violations of the Right to Financial Privacy Act ("RFPA"), 12 U.S.C. § 3401 et seq. In Count II, they allege retaliation for engaging in constitutionally protected activity. In Count III, Plaintiffs allege violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act ("FECA" or the "Act"), 2 U.S.C. § 431 et seq. In Count IV, they invoke the APA, 5 U.S.C. § 701 et seq. In Count V, Plaintiffs invoke the mandamus statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1361. To remedy the federal officers' alleged wrongdoing, Plaintiffs seek (a) a declaration that Defendants' conduct violates FECA, (b) a writ of mandamus compelling the FEC to comply with FECA, (c) monetary damages as authorized by law, and (d) any other relief the court deems appropriate. (Am. Compl. at 10-11.)

Both the FEC and the Attorney General moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint on August 23, 2007. First, they contend that the Amended Complaint should be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), because Plaintiffs lack standing and their claims are not ripe. (AG Mem. at 4-12.) The FEC and the Attorney General also argue that Plaintiffs failed to state a claim for relief, and therefore that the claims should be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). (AG Mem. at 12-19; FEC Mem. at 5-17.) The court begins, as it must, by analyzing whether it has subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' claims. For the reasons explained below, the court concludes it lacks jurisdiction to consider the merits of Plaintiffs' claims against the Attorney General, the FEC Chair, or the unnamed FBI agents.


I. Plaintiffs' Complaint

A. Pleading Requirements

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a complaint must provide a "short and plain statement of the claim" in order to give the defendant "fair notice of what the suit is about and the grounds on which it rests." Mosely v. Bd. of Educ. of City of Chicago, 434 F.3d 527, 533 (7th Cir. 2006). When determining whether it has subject matter jurisdiction, the court accepts the Amended Complaint's well-pleaded factual allegations as true and draws all reasonable inferences from those allegations in Plaintiffs' favor. Sprint Spectrum L.P. v. City of Carmel, 361 F.3d 998, 1001 (7th Cir. 2004). But a plaintiff's "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." In re McDonald's French Fries Litig., 503 F. Supp. 2d 953, 956 (N.D. Ill. 2007) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007)). Moreover, federal courts "presume that federal courts lack jurisdiction 'unless the contrary appears affirmatively from the record.'" Sprint, 361 F.3d at 1001 (quoting Renne v. Geary, 501 U.S. 312, 316 (1991) (internal quotations marks and citations omitted)). As a result, it is the Plaintiffs' "responsibility to clearly allege facts that invoke federal court jurisdiction." Id.; RWB Servs., LLC v. Rally Capital Servs., LLC, 502 F. Supp. 2d 787, 790 (N.D. Ill. 2007) ("The burden of proof on a 12(b)(1) issue is on the party asserting jurisdiction.") (citation omitted).

B. Supplemental Materials

Plaintiffs have attached certain supplementary documents to their Response, prompting the Attorney General to argue that these materials should not be considered on a motion to dismiss. (AG Reply at 3-4.) In particular, Plaintiffs have attached an August 2007 indictment of Fieger and Vernon Johnson, which arises from the investigation at issue in this case (Exhibit A); a May 2007 affidavit of Jill Simpson related to the investigation of one-time Alabama Governor Don Siegelman (Exhibit B); an October 2004 order of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama dismissing with prejudice the indictment against Siegelman and Paul Harmick (Exhibit C); a September 2007 New York Times article by Adam Nossiter regarding the prosecution of Siegelman (Exhibit D); a February 2007 article by Donald C. Shields and John F. Cragan regarding investigations conducted by George W. Bush's Department of Justice (Exhibit E); and a September 2007 article by Scott Horton in Harper's Magazine regarding politically-motivated investigations allegedly conducted by the Bush Justice Department (Exhibit F). The court may take judicial notice of matters in the public record, Palay v. United States, 349 F.3d 418, 425 n.5 (7th Cir. 2003), such as the indictment.Thus, the court will consider Exhibit A.

As for Exhibits B through F, whether the court can consider this evidence depends on the adequacy of the allegations in the Beams' Amended Complaint. When a court analyzes a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the court treats the Rule 12(b)(1) motion like any other motion to dismiss and assumes that the allegations of the complaint are true. United Phosphorus, Ltd. v. Angus Chem. Co., 322 F.3d 942, 946 (7th Cir. 2003) (en banc). If those allegations are adequate to establish subject matter jurisdiction, a party challenging the complaint may offer supporting affidavits and other materials for the court's consideration. Id. Here, the Defendants challenge both the sufficiency of the allegations in the complaint and the factual basis for the Beams' invocation of subject matter jurisdiction. United Phosphorus does not address whether the party seeking to invoke federal jurisdiction may provide documentary evidence to buttress the factual allegations of the complaint, but the court believes that the plaintiffs may do so in this case. See Capitol Leasing Co. v. FDIC, 999 F.2d 188, 191 (7th Cir. 1993) ("The district court may properly look beyond the jurisdictional allegations of the complaint and view whatever evidence has been submitted on the issue to determine whether in fact subject matter jurisdiction exists."). In Capitol Leasing, the court noted that a subject matter jurisdiction challenge must always be brought as a motion to dismiss rather than a motion for summary judgment, because a court may not consider the merits of an action if it lacks jurisdiction; thus, "jurisdiction is inappropriate for summary judgment." Id. In other words, a court could never evaluate documentary evidence when determining whether it has subject matter jurisdiction if it could not do so at the motion to dismiss stage. To the extent the documentary evidence is useful, the court will therefore consider it when analyzing the factual basis of the Beams' attempt to invoke federal jurisdiction.

That said, information regarding other allegedly wrongful investigations conducted by the Department of Justice cannot afford this court subject matter jurisdiction over the Beams' Amended Complaint. Thus, Exhibits B through F are not relevant to the jurisdictional inquiry. The court will, however, consider a September 2006 letter from then-FEC Chair Michael Toner to Jack Beam, which Plaintiffs attached to their Motion for Declaratory Judgment. Because both the Plaintiffs and Defendant ...

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