LEGG v. WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION accompanying final order issued separately this day. Signed by Judge Tanya S. Chutkan on 6/9/17.(ah)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
RONALD L. LEGG,
AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY et al.,
Civil Action No. 16-cv-1023 (TSC)
In this action filed pro se, Plaintiff has sued WMATA and Assistant General
Counsel Emily Woodward Deutsch under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), 5
U.S.C. § 552, challenging the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s
(“WMATA”) denial of his request for records pertaining to a third-party individual.
Before the court is Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and Rule 12(b)(6) for failure
to state a claim upon which relief can be granted (ECF No. 8). Defendants contend that
jurisdiction is lacking because WMATA is not subject to the federal FOIA. Defendants
also contend that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim because he has neither perfected
his request with WMATA nor exhausted his administrative remedies under its Public
Access to Records Policy (“PARP”). For the reasons explained below, the court finds
that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s claims. Consequently, this case
will be dismissed without prejudice.
I. LEGAL STANDARD
“Federal district courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that
power authorized by Constitution and statute, which is not to be expanded by judicial
decree.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994) (internal
citations omitted). “Subject-matter jurisdiction can never be waived or forfeited”
because it “goes to the foundation of the court’s power to resolve a case.” Gonzalez v.
Thaler, –– U.S. ––, 132 S. Ct. 641, 648 (2012); Doe ex rel. Fein v. District of
Columbia, 93 F.3d 861, 871 (D.C. Cir. 1996). Before proceeding to the merits of a
claim, a court must satisfy itself that it has subject-matter jurisdiction to consider the
claim. See Brown v. Jewell, 134 F. Supp. 3d 170, 176 (D.D.C. 2015) (courts “‘have an
independent obligation to determine whether subject-matter jurisdiction exists, even in
the absence of a challenge from any party’”) (quoting Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 546
U.S. 500, 514 (2006)). When a defendant files a motion to dismiss a complaint for lack
of subject-matter jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing jurisdiction
by a preponderance of the evidence. See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555,
561 (1992); Shekoyan v. Sibley Int’l Corp., 217 F. Supp. 2d 59, 63 (D.D.C. 2002).
“FOIA provides a ‘statutory right of public access to documents and records’
held by federal government agencies.” Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in
Washington v. DOJ, 602 F. Supp. 2d 121, 123 (D.D.C. 2009) (quoting Pratt v.
Webster, 673 F.2d 408, 413 (D.C. Cir. 1982)). FOIA confers jurisdiction in the
district courts only “to enjoin the agency from withholding agency records and to
order the production of any agency records improperly withheld from the
complainant.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B); see McGehee v. CIA, 697 F.2d 1095, 1105
(D.C. Cir. 1983) (“[F]ederal jurisdiction is dependent upon a showing that an agency
has (1) improperly; (2) withheld; (3) agency records. Judicial authority to devise
remedies and enjoin agencies can only be invoked, under the jurisdictional grant
conferred by § 552, if the agency has contravened all three components of this
obligation.”) (quoting Kissinger v. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press,
445 U.S. 136, 150 (1980) (internal quotation marks omitted)).
FOIA defines an “agency” as any “establishment in the executive branch of the
Government[.]” Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Secret Serv., 726 F.3d 208, 224 (D.C.
Cir. 2013) (quoting 5 U.S.C. § 552(f)(1)). That definition includes “any executive
department, military department, Government corporation, Government controlled
corporation, or other establishment in the executive branch of the Government . . ., or
any independent regulatory agency[,]” 5 U.S.C. § 552(f)(1), all of which are further
defined in §§ 101-105 of Title 5. In contrast, “Virginia, Maryland, and the District of
Columbia [with Congress’ authorization] created WMATA, by interstate compact, to
plan, finance, develop, and operate a mass transit system to serve the Washington,
D.C. metropolitan area.” KiSKA Const. Corp.-U.S.A. v. Washington Metro. Area
Transit Auth., 167 F.3d 608, 609 (D.C. Cir. 1999). Although WMATA has a federal
component because of Congress’ oversight of matters pertaining to the District of
Columbia, see id., Plaintiff has not cited, and the court has not found, any authority
that includes WMATA in FOIA’s definition of an executive-branch agency.
Therefore, Plaintiff’s recourse lies, if at all, under the PARP. 1
Because Plaintiff has not exhausted his administrative remedies under WMATA’s PARP and obtained
a final decision, see Defs.’ Mem. at 2-4 (ECF No. 8-1), it is unclear from this record (and WMATA’s
For the foregoing reasons, Defendants’ motion to dismiss this case under Rule
12(b)(1) is granted. A separate order accompanies this memorandum opinion.
Date: June 9, 2017
Tanya S. Chutkan
TANYA S. CHUTKAN
United States District Judge
website) whether a dissatisfied requester may seek review of WMATA’s decision and, if so, where. The
dismissal of this case without prejudice has no preclusive effect on Plaintiff’s ability to pursue any
available remedies if he remains dissatisfied after completing the administrative process.
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