Wednesday, April 11, 2018
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly (D.D.C.) ruled yesterday that an attorney appearing pro se lacked standing to sue President Trump for alleged deficiencies in his financial disclosure report that he was required to file as a candidate. The ruling ends this challenge.
The case, Lovitky v. Trump, arose when attorney Jeffrey Lovitky obtained a copy of then-candidate Trump's financial disclosure report from the Office of Government Ethics and discovered what he believed to be deficiencies in the reporting. Lovitky sued, arguing that the report included President Trump's personal debts and business debts, and that this "commingl[ing]" of personal and non-personal liabilities "mak[es] it impossible to identify which of the liabilities listed on the financial disclosure report were the liabilities of the President, in violation of [federal law]." Lovitky sought mandamus relief that would "direct the President to amend his financial disclosure report . . . for the purpose of specifically identifying any debts he owed during the [relevant] reporting period." Lovitky also sought declaratory relief.
The court ruled that Lovitky lacked standing to sue, because his requested relief wouldn't redress his claimed injuries. (The court didn't address whether he had a sufficient injury for standing purposes, because he lacked redressability.) As to mandamus, the court surveyed circuit law allowing mandamus against the president as to a ministerial duty, but, quoting the D.C. Circuit, noted that "[i]t is not entirely clear . . . whether, and to what extent, these decisions remain good law after [the Supreme Court's plurality opinion in Franklin v. Massachusetts]." Ultimately, the court said that because of this ambiguity it "would hesitate to issue mandamus even if Defendant's duty to specifically disclose personal liabilities were ministerial, but because the Court has found that it is a discretionary duty, the Court cannot do so."
As to declaratory relief, the court noted that it, too, wasn't obviously available against the president post Franklin. Regardless, the court said that because mandamus wasn't available, and because the Declaratory Judgment Act doesn't create an independent basis for jurisdiction, declaratory relief had no jurisdictional hook, and the court therefore lacked jurisdiction.