Courts: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion from May 27

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.        

After the Nov. 3, 2020 election for President of the United States, eight registered voters from several states filed a class action complaint in the District of Colorado alleging that Dominion Voting Systems Inc., Facebook Inc., Center For Tech And Civic Life, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan had influenced or interfered with the election in violation of various constitutional provisions. 

Relying on their status as registered voters for standing, the plaintiffs alleged the defendants’ conduct “hurt[] every registered voter in the country, no matter whose side the voter is on,” “damaged the [p]laintiffs, but more broadly, every registered voter in America, all of whom have an interest in free and fair elections to determine the President of the United States of America,” and “violated the rights of [p]laintiffs and all registered voters in the United States.” 

They requested a declaratory judgment, a permanent injunction enjoining the defendants “from continuing to burden the rights of the [p]laintiffs and all similarly situated registered voters” and “nominal” damages of $1,000 per registered voter, totaling approximately $160 billion. Dominion Voting Systems, Facebook — now known as Meta Platforms, Inc. — and Center for Tech and Civic Life moved to dismiss.

The plaintiffs then moved for leave to file an amended complaint. After hearing oral arguments on the motions, the district court dismissed the suit for lack of Article III standing. The court held that the plaintiffs asserted a nonjusticiable generalized grievance, because “by their own admission, [p]laintiffs’ claimed injuries are no different than the supposed injuries experienced by all registered voters.” 

“Plaintiffs allege no particularized injury traceable to the conduct of [d]efendants, other than their general interest in seeing elections conducted fairly and their votes fairly counted,” the district court explained in its order. The court also denied the plaintiffs’ motion to amend, holding that their proposed amended complaint failed to remedy the lack of standing. 

The plaintiffs appealed the district court’s dismissal. 

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed de novo a decision regarding a plaintiff’s Article III standing. To show standing a plaintiff must show an injury in fact that has a causal connection to the defendants’ actions and that is likely to be redressed by a favorable decision.

To establish injury in fact, the 10th Circuit explained, the plaintiffs must show they suffered “an invasion of a legally protected interest” that is “concrete and particularized” and “actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.” The court opinion notes that “[p]articularized” “mean[s] that the injury must affect the plaintiff in a personal and individual way.” In light of the requirement that injury be particularized, the Supreme Court has rejected standing based only on “a generalized grievance shared in substantially equal measure by all or a large class of citizens.”

The plaintiffs assert the defendants’ conduct with regard to the 2020 Presidential election violated the constitutional rights of every registered voter in the U.S. The 10th Circuit ruled that is a generalized grievance.

The court ruled that “no matter how strongly plaintiffs believe that [d]efendants violated voters’ rights in the 2020 election, they lack standing to pursue this litigation unless they identify an injury to themselves that is distinct or different from the alleged injury to other registered voters.” The court went on to note that “Article III requires more than a desire to vindicate value interests. It requires an injury in fact that distinguishes a person with a direct stake in the outcome of a litigation — even though small — from a person with a mere interest in the problem.” The plaintiffs stated generally that they each suffered a “particularized injury,” the court found, and they recognized that they “must demonstrate a personal stake in the outcome.” Yet, the court ruled, their appellate briefs failed to identify any injury to any named plaintiff that is in any way different than the alleged injuries to every registered voter in the U.S. The 10th Circuit found the plaintiffs hadn’t established the district court erred in dismissing the action for lack of standing. 

The 10th Circuit then generally reviewed the denial of leave to amend for abuse of discretion. The proposed amended complaint sought to add 152 additional plaintiffs, bringing the total number of plaintiffs to 160 from 38 states. It further sought to certify a class of all registered voters in the U.S., alleging that the class “consist[s] of millions of registered voters that make up the people of the United States of America, and whose rights and interests have been directly burdened.”

But, the court reasoned, the plaintiffs failed to show that any of the proposed additional plaintiffs had any injuries that were distinct or different from the injuries allegedly suffered by every registered voter in the U.S. The 10th Circuit found the proposed amended complaint failed to establish any plaintiff had Article III standing, and the district court did not err in concluding that allowing amendment would be futile.

The 10th Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment.

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