Williamson v. USA President Trump et al
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION. Signed by Judge L Scott Coogler on 10/11/2017. (PSM)
2017 Oct-11 PM 01:49
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
DONALD J. TRUMP,
President of the United States,
Memorandum of Opinion
The Court has received Plaintiff’s Complaint as well as her response to the
Court’s Order to show why Plaintiff’s claims should not be dismissed for failure to
state a claim upon which relief may be granted and for lack of standing. For the
reasons stated below, this action is due to be DISMISSED without PREJUDICE.
Plaintiff is a transgender veteran living in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She alleges
that the Presidential Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of
Homeland Security (the “memorandum”), dated August 25, 2017, violates her
rights to equal protection of law under the Constitution.
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Section 1(b) of the memorandum states President Donald J. Trump’s intent
to prohibit openly transgender individuals from accession into the United States
military and authorizes the discharge of such individuals. Section 2(b) further
directs the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Homeland Security to halt the
use of Department of Defense or Department of Homeland Security resources to
fund sex reassignment surgical procedures for military personnel. These sections
are to take effect on March 23, 2018. The memorandum further instructs the
Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, to
submit a plan to President Trump for implementing the transgender-hiring
prohibition by February 21, 2018.
II. PLAINTIFF’S ARGUMENTS
Plaintiff argues the memorandum violates the right to equal protection of the
law of all transgender military personnel. As a transgender veteran, Plaintiff does not
argue that she is part of the class of military personnel directly affected by the
memorandum. Instead, she states that the memorandum has indirectly resulted in
discrimination by third parties. Plaintiff’s pleadings claim that the memorandum
has “had an immediate chilling impact on the [P]laintiff’s ability to get work”
because it was “seen by the community and prospective potential employers of the
Plaintiff as justification to not consider her for employment and to mistreat her
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when she goes out to get food, go to church, and deal with other issues in the
community, or even to walk her dog.” (Doc. 4 at 2-3.) Nor does Plaintiff claim that
President Trump or the memorandum directly command her mistreatment, but
argues the symbolic weight attached to the President’s actions encourages private
“bias and bigotry toward Plaintiff,” id. at 2, and that “[p]otential employers feel
emboldened to not consider her [for a position].” Id. at 3. Plaintiff asks the Court
for a nationwide injunction preventing President Trump from implementing the
abovementioned sections of the memorandum.
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The Court must “inquire into whether it has subject matter jurisdiction at
the earliest possible stage in the proceedings.” Univ. of S. Alabama v. Am. Tobacco
Co., 168 F.3d 405, 410 (11th Cir. 1999). “[B]ecause the constitutional standing
doctrine stems directly from Article III’s ‘case or controversy’ requirement, this
issue implicates . . . subject matter jurisdiction, and accordingly must be addressed
as a threshold matter regardless of whether it is raised by the parties.” Duty Free
Americas, Inc. v. Estee Lauder Companies, Inc., 797 F.3d 1248, 1271 (11th Cir. 2015)
(quoting Nat’l Parks Conservation Ass’n v. Norton, 324 F.3d 1229, 1242 (11th Cir.
2003)). “‘Article III standing must be determined as of the time at which the
plaintiff’s complaint is filed,’ and ‘the standing inquiry requires careful judicial
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examination of a complaint’s allegations to ascertain whether the particular
plaintiff is entitled to an adjudication of the particular claims asserted.’” Hollywood
Mobile Estates Ltd. v. Seminole Tribe of Fla., 641 F.3d 1259, 1265 (11th Cir.2011)
(quoting Focus on the Family v. Pinellas Suncoast Transit Auth., 344 F.3d 1263, 1275
(11th Cir. 2003) and Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 752 (1984)). “[I]t is well settled
that a federal court is obligated to inquire into subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte
whenever it may be lacking.” Univ. of S. Alabama, 168 F.3d at 410. The party
invoking federal jurisdiction bears the burden of proving the essential elements of
standing, although “[a]t the pleading stage, general factual allegations of injury
resulting from the defendant’s conduct may suffice[.]” DiMaio v. Democratic Nat.
Comm., 520 F.3d 1299, 1301 (11th Cir. 2008) (quoting Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife,
504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992)).
Because Plaintiff’s action is due to be dismissed for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction, this Opinion does not reach whether the pro se Plaintiff has stated a
claim or whether the action is frivolous under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). See 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) (“Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that
may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court
determines that . . . the action is frivolous or malicious [or] . . . fails to state a claim
on which relief may be granted.”).
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The Court determines standing according to two differing strands of
analysis: the constitutional requirements under Article III and prudential
limitations on the exercise of otherwise constitutionally allowed claims. Elend v.
Basham, 471 F.3d 1199, 1205-06 (11th Cir. 2006). To establish standing under
Article III, a plaintiff must show (1) “an injury in fact,” (2) “a causal connection
between the injury and the conduct complained of,” and (3) that “it [is] likely, as
opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable
decision.” Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560–61 (internal quotation marks and citations
omitted). The injury in fact must be “concrete and particularized” and “actual or
imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.” Id. at 560 (internal quotation marks
and citations omitted). Also, the causal connection must 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.” Id. (internal quotation marks, citations, and
alterations omitted); see also Church v. City of Huntsville, 30 F.3d 1332, 1337 (11th
Cir. 1994) (“Because injunctions regulate future conduct, a party has standing to
seek injunctive relief only if the party alleges, and ultimately proves, a real and
immediate—as opposed to a merely conjectural or hypothetical—threat of future
injury.”). On the other hand, under prudential requirements, “a plaintiff cannot
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raise the claims of third parties; cannot claim standing based on a generalized
grievance; and must raise a claim within the zone of interest covered by a statutory
conferral of standing.” Elend, 471 F.3d at 1206 (citing Cone Corp. v. Fla. Dep’t of
Transp., 921 F.2d 1190, 1203–10 (11th Cir. 1991)).
Assuming “as true all material allegations contained in the complaint and
constru[ing] the complaint in a light most favorable to the complaining party,” id.
at 1208, Plaintiff has not stated “general factual allegations of injury” that fulfill
her burden at the pleading stage to show she has suffered a “concrete and
particularized” injury in fact. DiMaio, 520 F.3d at 1301. The Eleventh Circuit has
recognized that in the employment context “discrimination against a transgender
individual because of her gender-nonconformity is sex discrimination, whether it’s
described as being on the basis of sex or gender.” Glenn v. Brumby, 663 F.3d 1312,
1317 (11th Cir. 2011). While Plaintiff has stated that she has been discriminated
against by employers because she is transgender, she does not say with any
specificity who these employers are nor does she produce enough facts for the
Court to analyze her generalized claims of employment discrimination. There is
not enough information for the Court to determine whether any of Plaintiff’s
employers or potential employers caused her an injury-in-fact.
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Regardless of whether Plaintiff can show an injury by employers, Plaintiff
wholly fails to show how the Defendants’ actions have caused her injury or how an
injunction by this Court would remedy future injuries. Plaintiff’s pleadings lack any
evidence that the discrimination suffered was caused by the memorandum or by
President Trump’s tweets. Plaintiff’s allegations are that employers, not the
President, have caused an injury to Plaintiff through employment discrimination.
Although the memorandum does order that the accession of transgender persons in
the military eventually be ceased, it in no way directs the hiring practices of private
individuals or companies. In this case, “[t]he line of causation between the
[alleged] illegal conduct and injury” is simply “too attenuated.” Allen, 468 U.S. at
752. Thus the Court cannot conclude that Plaintiff has shown her injury suffered
was caused by any of the Defendants’ actions.
To the extent that Plaintiff claims that President Trump’s actions impacted
the rights of current transgender military personnel, a class to which Plaintiff as a
veteran does not belong, it fails because it raises the rights of third parties not
before the Court. Harris v. Evans, 20 F.3d 1118, 1121 (11th Cir. 1994) (general
prohibition against third-party standing). Nor do Plaintiff’s allegations fall into any
of the recognized exceptions for third party standing.
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Plaintiff does not have standing to sue any of the named Defendants. As
such, this action is due to be DISMISSED without PREJUDICE. An Order
consistent with this Memorandum of Opinion will be entered herewith.
DONE and ORDERED on October 11, 2017.
L. Scott Coogler
United States District Judge
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