CAROL WILDING, STANLEY RIFKEN, SHARON CRAWFORD, WILLIAM SCOTT FRANZ, DAVID PULASKI, MARY JASMINE WELCH, JOSE ALBERTO GONZALEZ, JANE ELLEN PLATTNER, KIM MARIE HOULE, et al., Plaintiffs - Appellants,
DNC SERVICES CORPORATION, DEBORAH WASSERMAN SCHULTZ, Defendants - Appellees.
from the United States District Court for the Southern
District of Florida D.C. Docket No. 0:16-cv-61511-WJZ
JORDAN, GRANT and HULL, Circuit Judges.
JORDAN, Circuit Judge.
classic treatise on the United States and its political
system, Alexis de Tocqueville famously remarked that
"[t]here is almost no political question in the United
States that is not resolved sooner or later into a judicial
question." Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America,
Vol. I, at 257 (U. Chicago Press 2000) . This case,
which pits a political party against some of its supporters,
confirms de Tocqueville's reputation as an astute
observer of American life.
plaintiffs in this putative class action are donors to the
Democratic National Committee, donors to the 2016
presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders, and voters
affiliated with the Democratic Party in various states. The
defendants are the DNC and its former chairwoman (and current
U.S. Representative) Deborah Wasserman Schultz. The
plaintiffs essentially allege that during the 2016 Democratic
presidential primaries the DNC and Ms. Wasserman Schultz
improperly tipped the scales in favor of former Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton, who was challenging Senator Sanders
for the Democratic presidential nomination.
their complaint against the DNC and Ms. Wasserman Schultz,
the plaintiffs asserted a number of common-law and statutory
claims, including fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and
unjust enrichment. The district court dismissed all of their
claims for lack of Article III standing, see Wilding v.
DNC Services Corp., 2017 WL 6345492 (S.D. Fla. 2017),
and the plaintiffs appealed.
out the facts as alleged in the operative complaint, and
accept them as true for purposes of our discussion. See
Wood v. Moss, 572 U.S. 744, 755 n.5 (2014).
Democratic Party charter states that its chair "shall
exercise impartiality and evenhandedness as between the
Presidential candidates and campaigns," and is
"responsible for ensuring" that the DNC's
national officers and staff also "maintain impartiality
and evenhandedness during the Democratic Party Presidential
nominating process." First Amended Complaint at ¶
September of 2015 through May of 2016, Ms. Wasserman Schultz
and Holly Shulman, the DNC's spokesperson, made public
statements promising that the DNC would conduct a neutral and
impartial primary process. First, on September 3, 2015, Ms.
Wasserman Schultz was quoted in a Politico article
as saying that she was committed to running a "neutral
primary process." Second, in Daily Beast and
Daily Mail Online articles appearing in September
and October of 2015, Ms. Shulman was quoted as saying that
the DNC "runs an impartial primary process[.]"
Third, in May of 2016, Ms. Wasserman Schultz told CNN and the
Associated Press that she and the DNC remained neutral in the
primary process. See id. at ¶ 160(a)-(d).
statements of impartiality, according to the complaint, were
false. The DNC was allegedly "biased in favor of one
candidate-[Secretary] Clinton [ ]-from the beginning and
throughout the process. The DNC devoted its considerable
resources to supporting [Secretary] Clinton above any of the
other Democratic candidates." Id. at ¶
161. And "[t]hrough its public claims of being neutral
and impartial, the DNC actively concealed its bias from its
own donors as well as donors to the campaigns of [Secretary]
Clinton's rivals, including [Senator] Sanders[.]"
of 2016, someone using the name "Guccifer 2.0"
published a number of DNC documents on a publicly accessible
website. See id. at ¶ 165. The DNC claimed that
those documents had been obtained by Russian government
hackers who had penetrated its computer network. See
id. at ¶¶ 163-64. Among the documents was a
two-page memorandum (marked "confidential" and
dated May 26, 2015) written to the DNC regarding the 2016
Republican presidential candidates. See id. at
¶ 166. This memorandum stated that the DNC's goals
in the coming months were to "frame the Republican field
and the eventual nominee early and to provide a contrast
between the GOP field and HRC [Secretary Clinton]."
Id. at ¶¶ 166-67. The memorandum also
suggested a strategy to "muddy the waters around ethics,
transparency, and campaign finance attacks on [Senator
Clinton]." Id. at ¶ 167. At the time this
memorandum was purportedly written, the field for the
Democratic presidential nomination included Secretary Clinton
and Senator Sanders (who had announced his candidacy in April
of 2015), and there was "widespread speculation"
that a number of others (e.g., Senator Elizabeth Warren)
would soon enter the race. Id. at ¶ 168.
memorandum, the plaintiffs claim, was not the only document
showing the DNC's favoritism towards Secretary Clinton.
Other documents obtained by hackers included research
apparently prepared by DNC staff and Secretary Clinton's
campaign staff relating to Secretary Clinton's
vulnerabilities, potential attacks, and policy positions, as
well as "opposition research on the other Democratic
candidates." Id. at ¶ 170. In sum, the
complaint alleges that, "in spite of" the
Democratic Party's charter and multiple public
statements, the "DNC devoted its resources to propelling
[Secretary] Clinton's candidacy ahead of all of her
rivals, even if it meant working directly against the
interests of Democratic Party members, including [Senator]
Sanders' supporters." Id. at ¶ 171.
number of the named plaintiffs made donations to the DNC in
2015 and 2016. Some of these plaintiffs donated money after
at least some of the statements of impartiality made by Ms.
Wasserman Schultz and Ms. Shulman and before the hacked
documents were published in June of 2016. For example, Emma
Young made donations to the DNC in December of 2015 and
January of 2016, and Phyllis Criddle made donations to the
DNC in May of 2016. See id. at ¶¶ 105,
109. All of the plaintiffs who donated money to the DNC or
the Sanders campaign expressly alleged that they relied on
the defendants' false statements and omissions "to
their injury." Id. at ¶¶ 188, 195.
Sanders endorsed Secretary Clinton as the Democratic
Party's presidential nominee on July 12, 2016. This
allegation is not in the complaint, but we take judicial
notice of this undisputed historical and political fact under
Federal Rule of Evidence 201(b) (providing that a court
"may judicially notice a fact that is not subject to
reasonable debate"). See Shahar v. Bowers, 120
F.3d 211, 214 (11th Cir. 1997) (en banc) (explaining that a
court can judicially notice "matters of political
history, such as who was president in 1958").
plaintiffs filed suit against the DNC and Ms. Wasserman
Schultz, invoking jurisdiction under the Class Action
Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d). They asserted six
state-law claims on behalf of three proposed classes: donors
to the DNC (the DNC donor class); donors to the Sanders
campaign (the Sanders donor class); and voters who registered
as Democrats (the Democratic voter class). Both of the
proposed donor classes alleged fraud (Count I), negligent
misrepresentation (Count II), and violations of the District
of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA), D.C.
Code § 28-3904, which prohibits various unfair or
deceptive trade practices (Count III). The proposed DNC donor
class also alleged unjust enrichment (Count IV) and
negligence (Count VI), the latter based on the DNC's
alleged failure to provide donors with a secure computer
system and network for the storing of their personal and
financial information. And the proposed voter class
separately alleged breach of fiduciary duty (Count V). The
plaintiffs sought various forms of relief, including
compensatory and punitive damages, attorney's fees and
costs, and a judgment declaring illegal and enjoining the
defendants' alleged violations of the Democratic Party
and Ms. Wasserman Schultz moved to dismiss the claims,
arguing both that the plaintiffs lacked Article III standing
and that they failed to state claims for relief. See
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) & (6). The district court
dismissed all six claims. It concluded that the plaintiffs
had not satisfied the injury-in-fact element of Article III
standing as to their negligence claim, the causation element
as to their fraud, negligent ...