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ATLEE v. LAIRD

March 28, 1972

John S. ATLEE et al.,
v.
Melvin LAIRD, Individually and as Secretary of the Department of Defense


Joseph S. Lord, III, Chief Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: LORD, III

The plaintiffs in this suit allege that the prosecution of the war in Southeast Asia by this government violates various provisions of the United States Constitution, Treaties of the United States, and doctrines of international law. They seek a permanent injunction against the expenditure of funds for this war which have been authorized and appropriated by Acts of Congress. The defendant in this case is Melvin Laird, Secretary of the United States Department of Defense. The United States government, through the office of the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, has been granted leave to intervene. Originally, Richard M. Nixon, President of the United States, was a defendant, but on January 20, 1972, the government's motion to dismiss him as a party defendant was granted. Atlee v. Nixon, D.C., 336 F. Supp. 790. The court has jurisdiction of the case under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

 Plaintiffs have asked that a three-judge court be convened to hear this action. Since the plaintiffs seek an injunction restraining the expenditure of funds authorized and appropriated by Acts of Congress on the ground that such expenditures are repugnant to the United States Constitution, this is clearly a case which requires a three-judge district court under the terms of 28 U.S.C. § 2282. See Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 88 S. Ct. 1942, 20 L. Ed. 2d 947 (1968).

 The government, however, has filed a motion to dismiss the suit with this court, offering several separate grounds in support of its motion. My initial determination must be whether I, as a single district judge, have the power to dismiss this suit on the grounds alleged by the government, rather than request the convening of a three-judge district court.

 In Ex parte Poresky, 290 U.S. 30, 54 S. Ct. 3, 78 L. Ed. 152 (1933) (per curiam), the Court held that a single judge could dismiss the action rather than request that a three-judge court be convened where there was neither diversity jurisdiction, nor federal question jurisdiction because the federal question involved was clearly insubstantial. "* * * [The] provision requiring the presence of a court of three judges necessarily assumes that the District Court has jurisdiction." Poresky, supra, 290 U.S. at 31, 54 S. Ct. at 4.

 The three-judge statute was later amended, and 28 U.S.C. § 2284(5) now provides that "[a] single judge shall not * * * dismiss the action, or enter a summary and final judgment." Despite the language of this provision, the decision in Ex parte Poresky is still good law. The provision has been interpreted to be a limitation on a single district judge's power only after a three-judge court has been properly called. The decisions have uniformly held that the single district judge to whom an action is originally presented may refuse to request a three-judge court and dismiss the action if he concludes that the general requisites of federal jurisdiction are not present. E.g., Port of New York Authority v. United States, 451 F.2d 783 (C.A. 2, 1971); Eastern States Petroleum Corporation v. Rogers, 108 U.S. App. D.C. 63, 280 F.2d 611 (1960); Jacobs v. Tawes, 250 F.2d 611 (C.A. 4, 1957); Hickmann v. Wujick, 333 F. Supp. 1221 (E.D.N.Y. 1971); Suskin v. Nixon, 304 F. Supp. 71 (N.D. Ill. 1969).

 It is equally clear that a single judge must request the convening of a three-judge court if jurisdiction is present. A single judge may not decide that abstention is proper while a state court passes on the constitutional issue involved, and on that basis refuse to convene a three-judge district court. Idlewild Bon Voyage Liquor Corp v. Epstein, 370 U.S. 713, 82 S. Ct. 1294, 8 L. Ed. 2d 794 (1962) (per curiam); Abele v. Markle, 452 F.2d 1121 (C.A. 2, 1971); Landry v. Daley, 280 F. Supp. 929 (N.D. Ill. 1967).

 
"When an application for a statutory three-judge court is addressed to a district court, the court's inquiry is appropriately limited to determining whether the constitutional question raised is substantial, whether the complaint at least formally alleges a basis for equitable relief, and whether the case presented otherwise comes within the requirements of the three-judge statute." Idlewild, supra, 370 U.S. at 715, 82 S. Ct. at 1296.

 Just as abstention is not proper, the single district judge may not refuse to request a three-judge court because he concludes that the case is better suited for declaratory relief rather than the injunctive relief which was also requested by the plaintiff. National Mobilization Committee to End War in Viet Nam v. Foran, 411 F.2d 934 (C.A. 7, 1969).

 It thus becomes necessary for me to determine which of the government's proposed grounds for dismissal of this suit involve jurisdictional questions which this court may consider. *fn1" The government has advanced four reasons for dismissal: (1) the suit is identical to other cases filed against the same defendants in other federal courts; (2) the complaint presents a nonjusticiable political question; (3) the action in effect is an unconsented suit against the United States; and (4) the plaintiffs lack standing to maintain this action. I have concluded that my power to rule on the government's motion extends only to the latter two grounds urged for dismissal.

 It is first argued that this suit should be dismissed because numerous similar actions with sometimes identical complaints have been filed against the same defendants in various federal courts across the country. The government contends that a dismissal here would foster judicial economy and avoid the vexatious results of permitting multiple lawsuits. We note that the government has failed to show a single other suit challenging expenditures for the war which has been brought by the plaintiffs in this suit. The fact that counsel representing the plaintiffs in these various anti-war actions are the same would not seem to permit the inference that the plaintiffs in this suit are only "nominal," and that behind them lurk the same "real parties in interest" who have actually brought this and all the other similar actions. In any event, I will not rule on this ground for dismissal because it does not present a jurisdictional issue, but one which is addressed to a court's discretion. See Eastern States Petroleum & Chemical Corporation v. Walker, 177 F. Supp. 328, 334 (S.D. Tex. 1959). Of course, if a three-judge court is convened, the government may renew its motion, directing it to that court's power to dismiss for any proper reason, jurisdictional or otherwise.

 As an alternative basis for dismissal, the government takes the position that the conduct of foreign policy, and particularly the manner and extent of financial assistance to foreign nations is committed to the discretion of Congress and lies outside the power and competency of the judiciary. It is contended that what the plaintiffs seek to litigate here is a nonjusticiable political question and therefore the court lacks jurisdiction over the subject matter.

 Actually, this argument confuses two separate grounds for denying relief. Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 66 S. Ct. 773, 90 L. Ed. 939 (1946), made clear that a court must entertain a suit where the complaint is so drawn as to seek recovery directly under the Constitution or the laws of the United States. Such a suit may be dismissed for want of jurisdiction only if the alleged claim under the Constitution or federal statute is sham, made solely for the purpose of obtaining jurisdiction, or is insubstantial and frivolous. "Jurisdiction * * * is not defeated * * * by the possibility that the averments might fail to state a cause of action on which petitioners could actually recover." Bell v. Hood, supra, 327 U.S. at 682, 66 S. Ct. at 776.

 At the heart of plaintiffs' constitutional claims is the contention that the war in Southeast Asia is being waged in violation of Art. I, Sec. 8, Cl. 11 which provides that "[the] Congress shall have Power * * * To declare War * * *." The plaintiffs allege that the Constitution requires a Congressional declaration of war or an equivalent act of Congressional authorization for the military activities being waged in Southeast Asia, and that in fact Congressional action which has been taken *fn2" does not fulfill this requirement. This claim is not so insubstantial and devoid of ...


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