MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
JOYCE HENS GREEN, District Judge.
In its complaint, the plaintiff, Washington Legal Foundation ("WLF"), has alleged that the Federal Advisory Committee Act ("FACA"), 5 U.S.C.App. II, and the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552, apply to defendants. For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion to dismiss is granted.
WLF is a non-profit public interest law center incorporated under the laws of the District of Columbia. It contends that it "has engaged in activities designed to improve the judiciary and wishes to participate in the federal judicial selection process." Id. The defendants, members of the American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary ("ABA Standing Committee" or "Committee"), are an incorporated association established under the bylaws of the American Bar Association. The ABA Standing Committee consists of fourteen members; two members are selected from the Ninth Circuit, one member from each of the other eleven judicial circuits, and one member selected at large. The Committee is a private entity which does not receive funds or financial support from any government agency. Other defendants are the American Bar
Since 1948 the ABA Standing Committee has reviewed the professional qualifications of individuals "identified by the President, through the United States Department of Justice, as possible nominees" for a federal judgeship. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss at 5. See also Appendix B at 1, attached to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. The review process has traditionally involved confidential interviews with lawyers, judges, and professors in the nominee's community, close scrutiny of the nominee's legal writings, and talks between Committee members and the nominee over the nominee's qualifications. All details of the review process and the identity of those asked to discuss a nominee's qualifications are kept confidential by the ABA.
The use to which this review is put lies at the heart of this lawsuit.
The plaintiff contends that because the ABA Standing Committee's recommendations are utilized by the Department of Justice, the Committee constitutes an "advisory committee" as defined by FACA. As such, the plaintiff argues, the Committee is required (1) to "provide reasonable advance public notice of [its] meetings," (2) "open [its] meetings to the public," (3) "provide [the] plaintiff and the public [with] access to its [the Committee's] records," and (4) provide "a fairly balanced membership of the ... Standing Committee ... in terms of points of view represented and functions to be performed." Complaint ¶ 1.
Characterizing defendants as an advisory committee, WLF contends that the Committee's investigations "have been conducted and are continuing to be conducted in such a way as to penalize or discredit candidates who hold or profess conservative principles or ideology, and to delay or prevent their nomination by the President." Complaint ¶ 26. WLF further argues that it has requested reports and minutes of meetings conducted by the Committee in its capacity as an "advisory committee" to the Department of Justice, see id. ¶ 36, and has been denied that information, id. ¶ 39; and that it has requested and has been denied permission to "participate in the [ABA's] judicial selection process ... to ensure the fairness of the proceedings." Complaint ¶¶ 35, 39. The plaintiff asserts that because the defendant ABA Standing Committee constitutes an advisory committee within the meaning of FACA, WLF is now entitled to injunctive relief enjoining defendants from conducting any further meetings or otherwise evaluating any candidates for judicial office until they comply with all the provisions of the FACA by (1) providing reasonable advance public notice of all future meetings; (2) opening their meetings to the public; (3) recomposing the membership of the Committee so that it is fairly balanced in terms of points of view represented; (4) filing an advisory committee charter with the Director of the Office of Management and Budget and Department of Justice; (5) designating a federal officer or employee to attend and call for or approve of all meetings of the Committee; (6) keeping detailed minutes of each
In response to the plaintiff's contentions the defendants have filed two motions to dismiss. In the first they argue that the Standing Committee is not an entity capable of being sued, and that the Committee's individual members do not fall within the scope of FACA. By agreement of the parties, resolution of that motion has been appropriately deferred pending determination of the second motion to dismiss. It is the latter motion that is now before the Court.
The defendants assert essentially three arguments in support of their position. First, they argue that the plaintiff lacks standing to raise "key allegations" in its complaint. Motion to Dismiss at 10. Specifically, the defendants contend that the plaintiff's alleged interest in a "more balanced" ABA Standing Committee and a "more balanced federal judiciary" is too "speculative" and "attenuated" to confer standing under § 5 of FACA. Motion to Dismiss at 13, 14. Second, the defendants argue that the plaintiff's construction of FACA sweeps far too broadly. The defendants take the position that FACA does not apply to them because (1) the Act does not create a cause of action against a private organization, (2) the defendants do not constitute an "advisory committee" within the meaning of FACA, and (3) the documents sought are unavailable under certain FOIA exemptions incorporated into FACA. Third and finally, the defendants raise two constitutional arguments in support of dismissal: that application of FACA in this instance violates both the separation of powers doctrine and the defendants' first amendment rights of speech and association because it interferes with the President's appointment power and requires the Court to "determine by judicial decree the persons with whom members of the Committee may associate [and] ... what the Committee [shall] say." Motion to Dismiss at 23.
There can be but little question that the defendants have raised serious questions about the constitutionality of the plaintiff's proposed application of FACA. In those instances where a "serious doubt of constitutionality" has been raised concerning a statute, a court must "first ascertain whether a construction of the statute is fairly possible by which the question may be avoided." International Ass'n of Machinists v. Street, 367 U.S. 740, 749-50, 81 S.Ct. 1784, 1789-90, 6 L.Ed.2d 1141 (1961).
The analysis begins, therefore, by addressing the defendants' standing and statutory construction arguments. Resolution of these threshold issues may obviate the need for determination of the defendants' constitutional contentions.
Section 5(b) of FACA states in pertinent part that:
The defendants contend that the plaintiff lacks standing to assert a claim under section 5(b) because "[w]hatever interest [the] plaintiff has in the `composition of the federal judiciary' — as well as [in] the balance and objectivity of [the] defendants' factfinding and evaluation processes — ... is an interest that is shared by every resident of this country." Motion to Dismiss at 13.
Motion to Dismiss at 14 n. 1.
The standing argument raised by the defendants has recently been rejected by this Circuit. In Physician's Education Network, Inc. v. HEW, 653 F.2d 621, 622-23 (D.C.Cir.1981), the Court strongly suggested that a plaintiff denied actual representation on an advisory committee would have standing under section 5(b) of FACA. The Court of Appeals did not distinguish between requirements for standing under section 5 and requirements for standing under section 10 of the Act.
The plaintiff here has pleaded sufficient injury to confer standing under section 10. See Complaint, ¶¶ 35-40. Yet it is also clear that the plaintiff has asserted that the Standing Committee is consulting on a regular basis with liberal public interest groups to the exclusion of conservative public interest organizations. See id. ¶ 25. Arguing that the "informational" injury that it has suffered is causally related to an imbalanced membership, Id. ¶¶ 3(b), 26, 65, 66, 67, WLF in effect contends that the Section 5(b) violation has contributed to the exclusion of WLF from the ABA's judicial selection process. In short, the harm alleged from the section 5(b) violation is no less direct than that asserted under the section 10 claim. Holding both claims to the same standard, as this court must under Anti-Hunger Coalition, it is not possible to conclude that the plaintiff lacks standing for purposes of one claim, but not for the other. To the extent that WLF has charged that it has been "directly affected" by the lack of balance on the ABA Standing Committee, it is entitled to assert a section 5(b) violation. There is no reason to believe that the relief sought by the plaintiff — recomposing the membership to include more conservative members, or allowing WLF to attend meetings — would not resolve the imbalance alleged.
B. Applicability of FACA
Having established that the plaintiff has standing to assert the claims alleged under FACA, the question remains whether WLF's cause of action is authorized by the statute it invokes.
The Federal Advisory Committee Act sets out a "comprehensive scheme" designed "to control the creation and operation of advisory committees" within the executive branch. Center for Auto Safety v. Cox, 580 F.2d 689, 692 (D.C.Cir.1978). The central purpose of the Act is to "control the advisory committee process and to open to public scrutiny the manner in which government agencies obtain advice from private individuals and groups." HLI Lordship Indus., Inc. v. Committee for
5 U.S.C.App. 2 § 3(2) (emphasis added). The plaintiff has alleged that the ABA Standing Committee is a "preferred" source of advice to the President and the Department of Justice, see 41 C.F.R. § 101-6.1004(h)(2) (only committees that are "preferred" sources of advice are covered by FACA), and that the Committee provides advice on "issues" before the Department of Justice, see 41 C.F.R. § 101-6.1003 (advisory committee "utilized" by government defined as one from which government obtains advice on a specific "issue or policy") (emphasis added). While the Committee does not disclose the content of its report, plaintiff alleges that the final recommendation is a form of information or advice that is passed on to the executive branch. Accepting all these factual allegations as true, as the Court must for purposes of the pending motion, see Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957), it is not possible to find at this early stage in the proceedings that the Committee does not satisfy the requirements of 5 U.S.C.App. 2 § 3(2)(C) and 41 C.F.R. §§ 101-6.1003, 101-6.1004. Thus, for the purpose of deciding the motion to dismiss, the Court must assume that the ABA Standing Committee is an "advisory committee" within the meaning of FACA.
The more important question concerns whether the Act can be used by a private party as the basis for a cause of action against another private party. The defendants argue that no court has ever held that a "pre-existing" private group, like the ABA Standing Committee, can be sued by another private group under FACA.
The case law in this Circuit supports the defendants' position. In Center for Auto Safety, 580 F.2d 689, a private party brought suit against a governmental official (the Federal Highway Administration) to establish a private hired party's status as an "advisory committee" to the Federal Highway Administration. In holding that the third party was an advisory committee within the meaning of FACA, the Court of Appeals noted that FACA did not regulate the putative advisory committee; to the contrary, the Court reasoned, the Act regulated the government's use of the third party as an advisory committee. Id. at 693.
The distinction drawn by the Court is of critical importance. If the Act regulates the government's use of the advisory committee and not the committee itself, it follows that the proper defendant in a suit brought to enforce the Act is the government, not the advisory committee "utilized" by the government. It is the government that has allegedly breached the requirements of the Act in its use of an advisory group, not the committee. Phrased differently, it is the government's involvement with the committee that triggers the Act, not actions of the committee taken independently of the government. The Act is designed to ensure that the government enforces certain procedures, and that the government takes certain precautions when it uses a pre-existing group
This point is best illustrated by the language of the Act itself. Section 8(b) of the Act specifies that the "head of each agency which has an advisory committee shall designate an Advisory Committee Management Officer who shall ... assemble and maintain the reports, records, and other papers of any [advisory] committee during its existence...." The provision also states that the Advisory Committee Management Officer shall carry out public information obligations "with respect to such reports, records, and other papers" under 5 U.S.C. § 552. 5 U.S.C.App. 2 § 8(b). Section 8(b) essentially places control of documents, papers, and reports used by the Committee to communicate its advice or recommendations in the control of the government. By requiring government, as opposed to committee, control of documents, it would appear that the drafters of FACA envisioned that an aggrieved party seeking recourse under the Act would "bring suit for injunction" against the government. See FACA Sourcebook, Cong.Rec.S. 2064 at 150 (remarks of Sen. Percy, suggesting that a party's only recourse under FACA would be to bring a suit for injunction.)
A similar argument can be made based on sections 7, 8, and 13 of the Act. Each of these sections sets forth actions that must be taken by government officials. Enforcement of these sections would necessarily require an injunctive order against a government official, not the Committee. Indeed, even establishment of the advisory committee in the first instance under section 9 requires specific action by a federal official. Accord Food Chemical News, Inc. v. Davis, 378 F.Supp. 1048, 1051 (D.D. C.1974) (where government utilizes advisory committee, government must charter and establish the committee in compliance with FACA).
The defendants' interpretation of FACA is further buttressed by an important pragmatic consideration: Were suit permitted directly against a pre-existing private group utilized by the government for advice, FACA would effectively become a vehicle for forcing private organizations to turn over files or open meetings to other private parties. Clearly, FACA was not enacted with this purpose in mind. As discussed above, the Act is designed to regulate the government's use of a private group in its capacity as an advisory committee. Thus, documents disclosed to the government as the basis for advice may fall within the purview of the statute. Nothing in the Act, however, suggests that either the government or a private party can exercise control over all aspects of a pre-existing group's activities, or that such a group subjects itself to full disclosure of all its records and meetings simply by agreeing to serve as an advisory committee.
The very fact that section 8(b) of the Act mandates the selection of an Advisory Committee Management Officer to "exercise control and supervision" over the committee and to "assemble and maintain" documents generated and disclosed by the committee in its capacity as an advisory
While plaintiff is correct in arguing that the courts have recognized a private right of action under the Act, in no case has a court permitted a private party to assert a cause of action against a private, pre-existing group that has not been established, appointed, and financed by the government.
Having "ascertain[ed] ... [that] a construction of [FACA] is fairly possible by which the constitutional question[s] may be avoided," International Ass'n of Machinists, 367 U.S. at 749-50, 81 S.Ct. at 1789-90, the constitutional questions raised by the defendants need not be addressed.
Accordingly, the defendants' motion to dismiss is, this 26th day of November, 1986, hereby granted.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
"(a)(1) Each advisory committee meeting shall be open to the public.
"(2) Except when the President determines otherwise for reasons of national security, timely notice of each such meeting shall be published in the Federal Register, and the Administrator shall prescribe regulations to provide for other types of public notice to insure that all interested persons are notified of such meeting prior thereto.
"(3) Interested persons shall be permitted to attend, appear before, or file statements with any advisory committee, subject to such reasonable rules or regulations as the Administrator may prescribe.
"(b) Subject to section 552 of title 5, United States Code, the records, reports, transcripts, minutes, appendixes, working papers, drafts, studies, agenda, or other documents which were made available to or prepared for or by each advisory committee shall be available for public inspection and copying at a single location in the offices of the advisory committee or the agency to which the advisory committee reports until the advisory committee ceases to exist.
"(e) There shall be designated an officer or employee of the Federal Government to chair or attend each meeting of each advisory committee. The officer or employee so designated is authorized, whenever he determines it to be in the public interest, to adjourn any such meeting. No advisory committee shall conduct any meeting in the absence of that officer or employee.
"(f) Advisory committees shall not hold any meetings except at the call of, or with the advance approval of, a designated officer or employee of the Federal Government, and in the case of advisory committees (other than Presidential advisory committees), with an agenda approved by such officer or employee."