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Taylor v. City of Flagstaff

United States District Court, D. Arizona

October 9, 2019

Jack D Taylor, Plaintiff,
City of Flagstaff, et al., Defendant.



         Pending before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendant City of Flagstaff (the “City”), pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). (Doc. 14.) For the following reasons, the City's Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of standing is granted; Plaintiff will be given leave to amend.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Jack D. Taylor is a resident of Flagstaff, Arizona. (Doc. 1, at 10, 16.) Plaintiff alleges that, for more than a decade, the City “has held a menorah lighting ceremony in the City hall.”[2] (Doc. 1, at 11.) The menorah lighting ceremony is a “Flagstaff Hanukkah tradition” called “The Grand Menorah Lighting at City Hall.” (Doc. 1, at 28.) The Grand Menorah Lighting at City Hall involves the display of a menorah in the City Hall lobby. (Doc. 1, at 14, 23, 28.) In 2017, the City's mayor attended the Grand Menorah Lighting at City Hall and participated by lighting the menorah. (Doc. 1, at 23.) In 2018, the City's vice-mayor elect attended the Grand Menorah Lighting at City Hall and participated by lighting the menorah and giving a short speech “in honor of [the] Flagstaff Hanukkah tradition.” (Doc. 1, at 27, 28.) In 2017 and 2018, a local newspaper in Flagstaff published articles about the Grand Menorah Lighting at City Hall, which included photographs of the City's mayor and mayor-elect participating in the menorah lighting ceremony with a rabbi. (Doc. 1, at 23, 27-28.)

         In December 2016, motivated by his desire to stop what he believed was a constitutional violation by the City, Plaintiff contacted a national non-profit organization- whose purpose is to “protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church”-to solicit assistance in preventing the next Grand Menorah Lighting at City Hall. (Doc. 1, at 11, 14, 15.) In November 2017, Plaintiff wrote letters to the mayor, the vice-mayor, and to City councilmembers, expressing that “he has been very disturbed” by the Grand Menorah Lighting at City Hall and is “concerned [that] such a ceremony…is certainly unconstitutional.” (Doc. 1, at 11, 14-22.)

         Plaintiff, pro se, filed the Complaint in Coconino Superior Court on May 20, 2019, alleging that the City's decision “to hold a religious ceremony for any religious group or person” violates the Establishment Clause and the Arizona Constitution. (Doc. 1, at 9, 11.) In the Complaint, Plaintiff seeks an injunction against the City, enjoining the City from holding any religious ceremonies in City Hall, including the 2019 Grand Menorah Lighting at City Hall. (Doc. 1, at 12.) The City removed the action to this Court on June 13, 2019. (Doc. 1, at 1.)

         The City filed its Motion to Dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6) on June 26, 2019, arguing that Plaintiff lacks standing, that this matter is not yet ripe for adjudication, and that Plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. (Doc. 14.) Plaintiff filed a two-sentence Response, asserting that he “disagrees with the Defendant's motion [and relies] on the Complaint [he] previously filed.” (Doc. 19, at 1.) The City filed a Reply in Support of its Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 20, at 1-2.)


         A. Rule 12(b)(1)

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) authorizes a court to dismiss claims over which it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). A Rule 12(b)(1) challenge may be either facial or factual. White v. Lee, 227 F.3d 1214, 1242 (9th Cir. 2000). When a defendant argues that the claims in the complaint, even if true, are insufficient to establish subject-matter jurisdiction, the challenge is a facial one. Safe Air for Everyone v. Meyer, 373 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 2004). In a facial challenge to subject-matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1), courts must accept all material allegations in the complaint as true and construe the complaint in favor of the plaintiff. White, 227 F.3d at 1242; Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501 (1975); Maya v. Centex Corp., 658 F.3d 1060, 1068 (9th Cir. 2011). By contrast, in a factual attack to subject-matter jurisdiction, the challenger disputes the truth of the allegations that, by themselves, would otherwise invoke federal jurisdiction. Safe Air for Everyone, 373 F.3d at 1039. Courts may look beyond the complaint only when a defendant brings a factual attack against jurisdiction. White, 227 F.3d at 1242.

         B. Standing

         Article III of the Constitution vests the Federal Judiciary with “Power” to resolve “Cases” or “Controversies, ” not questions. U.S. Const. Art. III, § 2, cl. 1; Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn, 563 U.S. 125, 132 (2011). Standing is a component of the “case-or-controversy” requirement and serves to ensure that the plaintiff is “a proper party to invoke judicial resolution of the dispute.” Warth, 422 U.S. at 518. A complaint that fails to allege facts sufficient to establish standing requires dismissal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). Maya, 658 F.3d at 1067.

         To have standing for injunctive relief under Article III, a plaintiff must show that “he is under threat of suffering ‘injury in fact' that is concrete and particularized; the threat must be actual and imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical; it must be fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant; and it must be likely that a favorable judicial decision will prevent or redress the injury.” Summers v. Earth Island Institute, 555 U.S. 488, 493 (2009). “‘[A] plaintiff must demonstrate standing for each claim he seeks to press' and ‘for each form of relief that is sought.'” Maya, 658 F.3d at 1068-69 (citing Davis v. Fed. Elec. Comm'n, 554 U.S. 724, 734 (2008) (internal citations omitted).

         The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, made binding to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” U.S. Const. amend. I; Capitol Square Review and Advisory Bd. v. Pinette, 515 U.S. 753, 757 (1995). Standing to challenge government action under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment requires more than an assertion that the Establishment Clause has been violated. Caldwell v. Caldwell, 545 F.3d 1126, 1131 (9th Cir. 2008). To establish the “injury in fact” requirement under the Establishment Clause, the plaintiff must identify a personal injury suffered as a consequence of the alleged constitutional error, such as avoidance of the display alleged to violate the Constitution, or “frequent and regular” or “unwelcome” contact with an allegedly offensive religious (or anti-religious) practice. Id. at 1131-32 (citing Buono v. Norton, 371 F.3d 543, 547 (9th Cir. 2004) (plaintiff's inhibition from freely using federal preserve constituted an “injury in fact” for purposes of standing under the Establishment Clause)); see also Caldwell, 545 F.3d at 1133-34 (Fletcher, J., concurring) (plaintiff lacked standing because she did not allege how she was “directly affected” by the website's allegedly offensive content or that she was inhibited from freely using the rest of the website); Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 485-86 (1982) (plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the transfer of government property in a state where no plaintiff resided, and where the plaintiffs learned about the transfer through a news release); Vasquez v. Los Angeles Cnty., 487 F.3d 1246, 1249, 1251 (9th Cir. 2007) (plaintiff had standing to challenge a government seal because plaintiff was a member of the community and was forced into frequent, direct and unwelcome contact with it); American Jewish Congress v. Cty. of Beverly Hills, 90 F.3d 379, 382 (9th Cir. 1996) (plaintiff had standing under the Establishment Clause to challenge the City's permitting scheme, ...

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