American Bar Association
Media Alerts
Media Alerts - Elliott J. Schuchardt v. President of the United States - Third Circuit
Decrease font size
Increase font size
October 7, 2016
  Elliott J. Schuchardt v. President of the United States - Third Circuit
Headline: Lawyer has standing to challenge National Security Administration program he claimed collected full user communication content from several large U.S. internet providers

Area of Law: National Security

Issue(s) Presented: Does an individual have standing to challenge surveillance authorized under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act?

Brief Summary: Elliott Schuchardt is an attorney who uses email services provided by Google and Yahoo as well as other services on the world wide web. In 2013, confidential documents were leaked that showed the National Security Administration operated an electronic surveillance program called PRISM. The program purportedly collected directly from the servers the full content of user communications exchanged using services provided by several large U.S. companies. The Third Circuit reversed the District Court's ruling that Schuchardt lacked standing under Article III to challenge the surveillance. The Third Circuit found that Schuchardt's allegations stated a particularized injury and that the allegations plead in his second amended complaint were entitled to a presumption of truth.

Extended Summary: The former secretary of the National Security Administration (NSA), Eric Snowden, leaked classified documents to journalists writing for the Washington Post and the Guardian. The documents noted the existence of an electronic surveillance program operated under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act called PRISM. The program collected from U.S. company servers, including but not limited to, Google, Yahoo, and Apple full user communications content. The Appellant, Elliott Schuchardt, filed a complaint in District Court alleging the Government violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures of property by storing his confidential communications.

The Government filed successive motions to dismiss and Schuchardt in response amended his complaint twice. In his second amendment, he alleged that because the Government was intercepting, monitoring, and storing the content of all or substantially all of the email sent by American citizens, his own online communications had been seized in the dragnet. However, the District Court granted the Government's motion to dismiss the second amended complaint. The Court reasoned that Schuchardt lacked standing under Article III and had identified no facts supporting an inference that his own communications had been targeted, seized, or stored. Schuchardt appealed.

The Third Circuit noted that the lower court's analysis focused solely on the plaintiff's second amended complaint, which is a facial and not a factual attack on jurisdiction. In a facial attack, all of the allegations and documents referenced in the complaint are reviewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. In its review of the lower court's order, the Third Circuit accepted all of Schuchardt's plausible allegations as true and drew all reasonable inferences in his favor.

A plaintiff seeking to invoke federal jurisdiction, must have suffered an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized, and (b) actual or imminent. In addition, there must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of. Moreover, it must be likely that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision. In this case, Schuchardt's standing turned on whether his allegations were sufficiently particularized and whether his well-pleaded allegations were entitled to a presumption of truth. A particularized injury is one that affects a plaintiff in a personal and individual way. The collection of all or substantially all of the email sent by American citizens by means of the large internet providers allegedly encompasses Schuchardt's personal communications and data influenced by his personal circumstances. This includes information such as bank account numbers and passwords for financial data, and in the case of Schuchardt privileged and confidential communications with clients of his law firm. The Third Circuit held that Schuchardt's allegations stated a particularized injury under Article III.

The presumption of truth attaches only to those allegations for which there is sufficient factual matter to render them plausible on their face. The Third Circuit has cautioned that the plausibility standard does not impose a heightened pleading requirement and plaintiffs need not plead specific facts. Schuchardt relied on media reports and other publicly-available information to state his claim that the Government was intercepting, monitoring, and storing the content of all or substantially all of the email sent by American citizens. The Government raised three arguments challenging the sufficiency of Schuchardt's allegations. In addressing each of the arguments in turn, the Third Circuit stated that the Government's reliance on two prior cases was misplaced as one involved only prospective injury, and the other involved the summary judgment standard, not dismissal. In addition, Schuchardt's pleaded factual matter supports the inference that PRISM collects all or substantially all of the email sent. Finally, the Government's arguments disagreeing with the factual premises of the plaintiff's claims cannot be considered in a facial jurisdictional challenge. Thus, the Third Circuit held that Schuchardt's second amended complaint sufficiently pleaded his standing to sue for a violation of his Fourth Amendment right.

The full opinion can be found at http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/153491p.pdf

Panel: Smith, Hardiman, and Nygaard, Circuit Judges

Argument Date: May 17, 2016

Date of Issued Opinion: October 05, 2016

Docket Number: No. 15-3491

Decided: Vacated and Remanded

Case Alert Author: Geminesse Dorsey

Counsel: Elliott J. Schuchardt, Esquire, Counsel for Appellant; Andrew G. Crocker, Esquire, Counsel for Amicus Appellant; Benjamin C. Mizer, Esquire, David J. Hickton, Esquire, H. Thomas Byron III, Esquire, and Henry C. Whitaker, Esquire, Counsel for Appellee.

Author of Opinion: Circuit Judge Hardiman

Circuit: Third Circuit

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Prof. Susan L. DeJarnatt

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 10/07/2016 12:22 PM     3rd Circuit  

FuseTalk Enterprise Edition - © 1999-2018 FuseTalk Inc. All rights reserved.

Discussion Board Usage Agreement

Back to Top