Court Opinions: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion for Dec. 13

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.

O’Rourke, et al. v. Dominion Voting Systems, et al. 

Plaintiffs Kevin O’Rourke, Nathaniel Carter, Lori Cutunilli, Larry Cook, Alvin Criswell, Kesha Crenshaw, Neil Yarbrough and Amie Trapp sought to pursue a civil-rights class action alleging defendants Dominion Voting Systems, Facebook (now known as Meta Platforms, Inc.), the Center for Tech and Civic Life, Gretchen Whitmer (individually), Jocelyn Benson (individually), Tom Wolf (Individually) and Kathy Boockvar (individually) violated the constitutional rights of every person registered to vote in the November 2020 election for President of the U.S. They based their standing on their status as registered voters. 

For relief, they sought “a declaratory judgment, a permanent injunction enjoining Defendants from continuing to burden the rights of Plaintiffs and all similarly situated registered voters, and ‘nominal’ damages of $1,000 per registered voter, totaling approximately $160 billion.” 

Dominion, Facebook and CTCL moved to dismiss on various grounds, including that the plaintiffs lacked standing because they sought to assert only non-justiciable, generalized grievances. The plaintiffs opposed the motions to dismiss, but then moved for leave to file an amended complaint that would add new plaintiffs and new claims, including claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Dominion, Facebook and CTCL opposed the motion to amend.

Other defendants included the governors and secretaries of state of Michigan and Pennsylvania, named in their individual capacities. These four defendants moved to dismiss, alleging not only the plaintiffs lacked standing but the District of Colorado lacked personal jurisdiction over them. And they opposed the plaintiffs’ motion to amend, as they were named as defendants in the proposed amended complaint. But before the district court decided the defendants’ various motions to dismiss, the plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their claims against the Michigan and Pennsylvania defendants.

After hearing from Dominion, Facebook and CTCL, the district court pressed the plaintiff’s attorneys, Gary Fielder and Ernest Walker, on the question of their clients’ standing, specifically whether they could show any particularized injury.

Ultimately, in light of the voluntary dismissal, the district court denied the Michigan and Pennsylvania defendants’ motions to dismiss as moot. As to Dominion, Facebook and CTCL, the district court held the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate standing to pursue their claims because they had not plausibly pleaded particularized injury, but instead sought to pursue only generalized grievances. It further held that granting leave to amend would be futile because the proposed amended complaint also failed to plausibly plead sufficient particularized injury to overcome the generalized grievance doctrine. The district court thus granted the defendants’ motions to dismiss, denied the plaintiffs’ motion to amend and dismissed the action for lack of Article III jurisdiction.

Dominion, Facebook and CTCL along with the Michigan and Pennsylvania defendants then moved for an award of their attorney’s fees. After briefing and oral argument before the district court, Fielder and Walker moved for an evidentiary hearing. Noting the motions already had been submitted, the district court denied the request as untimely. 

The district court granted all the defendants’ motions for sanctions and ordered Fielder and Walker to pay the defendants’ fees incurred for preparing and arguing their motions to dismiss and their oppositions to the plaintiffs’ motion to amend. The district court subsequently denied Fielder and Walker’s Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) motion (except to correct a prior statement that the Michigan defendants had sought sanctions under Rule 11). 

The sanctions awards totaled $186,922.50: $62,930 to Dominion, $50,000 to Facebook, $62,930 to CTCL, $4,900 to the Michigan defendants and $6,162.50 to the Pennsylvania defendants.

In the meantime, the plaintiffs appealed from the dismissal of their action. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal for lack of standing, holding the district court correctly applied the generalized grievance doctrine. The appeals court also upheld the denial of the motion to amend on grounds of futility. The U.S. Supreme Court denied the plaintiffs’ petition for a writ of certiorari. 

Fielder and Walker appealed the sanctions order but the 10th Circuit affirmed the sanctions.

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