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Thursday, April 17, 2014

9th Circuit affirms dismissal of lawsuit vs federalization

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has upheld the federal court’s dismissal of a local businessman’s lawsuit to stop the implementation of the federalization law in the CNMI.

The Ninth Circuit judges affirmed U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona’s order that dismissed Joaquin Q. Atalig’s lawsuit and denied his request to amend his complaint on the basis that the proposed amendments were futile.

The Ninth Circuit judges found that there’s nothing in Atalig’s complaint that would establish that he has been personally aggrieved by the Consolidated Natural Resources Act, which applied U.S. immigration law to the CNMI.

Nor would the amended complaint cure the defects that the district court identified, the judges said.

“The district court rightly denied the request to amend,” they said.

Atalig, through counsel Joseph E. Horey, filed the lawsuit against President Obama, then Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and several other Cabinet members.

Atalig wants the federal court to declare the CNRA (federalization law) to be unenforceable and that its implementation and enforcement is valid and lawful only with the consent of the people of the CNM.

The U.S. Department of Justice, as counsel for Obama and co-defendants, moved to dismiss the case. DOJ argued, among other things, that Atalig cannot relitigate claims that the CNMI government had already litigated and lost years ago.

The Fitial administration brought the first lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 2008. The district court subsequently dismissed the CNMI’s challenge to the CNRA.

In July 2012, Manglona granted the DOJ’s motion to dismiss, but on the alternative grounds of lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Manglona said Atalig lacks standing because his complaint “is a generalized grievance insufficient to show an injury in fact.” The judge said Atalig fails to allege any injury peculiar to himself.

Manglona also denied Atalig’s motion to amend his complaint.

Atalig appealed to the Ninth Circuit.

In upholding Manglona’s ruling, the Ninth Circuit judges said a federal court has an obligation to assure itself of jurisdiction before proceeding to the merits by, in addition to other things, inquiring into whether the plaintiff has standing to sue under Article III of the Constitution.

The judges said alleging a “generalized grievance” is insufficient.

The judges said the allegations in Atalig’s complaint and proposed amended complaint do not establish that he suffered any injury.

Atalig argued that he was injured because under the CNRA he cannot affect immigration policy through his vote.

Atalig also argued that the amended complaint would have demonstrated injury because it alleged that he employs a foreign national on whose behalf he applied for a visa and that he has an interest in voting on immigration policy in the CNMI.

The judges said these alleged injuries do not establish particularized injury in fact.

“The CNRA affects Atalig and the rest of the CNMI voting population in the same way,” the judges said

The judges said Atalig’s injuries are “precisely the kind of undifferentiated, generalized grievance[s] about the conduct of government that we have refused to countenance in the past.”

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