United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit
VICTOR K. WILLIAMS, APPELLANT
JACOB J. LEW, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SECRETARY OF THE U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT AND UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY, APPELLEES
February 17, 2016
from the United States District Court for the District of
Columbia. (No. 1:14-cv-00183).
G. Florence argued the cause for appellant. On the briefs was
Victor Williams, Pro se. Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, Edward
F. Roche, and Jonathan Ference-Burke entered appearances.
R. Silfen, Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, argued the
cause for appellees. With her on the brief were Benjamin C.
Mizer, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, and Mark
B. Stern, Attorney.
TATEL and GRIFFITH, Circuit Judges, and SENTELLE, Senior
Senior Circuit Judge
Victor Williams, as a holder of U.S. public debt, challenges
the constitutionality of the Debt Limit Statute, 31 U.S.C.
§ 3101. Williams alleges on appeal violations of the
Fourteenth Amendment Public Debt Clause, U.S. Const. amend.
XIV, § 4, and the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause,
U.S. Const. amend. V. He seeks relief declaring the Debt
Limit Statute unconstitutional and enjoining the Secretary
from enforcing the statute. Because Williams fails to allege
plausible factual allegations to establish the constitutional
minimum requirements for Article III standing, either in the
first amended complaint filed with the district court or in
his proposed amended complaint filed with this Court under 28
U.S.C. § 1653, we affirm the decision of the district
court dismissing Williams's claims for lack of standing.
We also affirm the district court's order denying
Williams's motion to amend his first amended complaint
and deny Williams's motion to amend his complaint on
case is an outgrowth of the continuing debate surrounding the
statutory limit on U.S. debt. The Debt Limit Statute, 31
U.S.C. § 3101(b), imposes an upper limit on " [t]he
face amount of obligations issued under this chapter and the
face amount of obligations whose principal and interest are
guaranteed by the United States Government." The United
States first instituted a ceiling on the federal debt in 1917
to accompany the United States' entrance into World War
I. See D. Andrew Austin, Cong. Research Serv.,
The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases 2-3
see also Act of Sept. 24, 1917, Pub. L. No. 65-43,
40 Stat. 288 (codified as amended at 31 U.S.C. § 3101).
The original purpose of the Debt Limit Statute was to
increase the Treasury Department's flexibility to manage
the government's financial obligations. See
Austin, supra, at 3; see also Josh Hazan,
Unconstitutional Debt Ceilings, 103 Geo. L.J. Online
29, 30-32 (2014). Yet both in 2011 and in 2013, congressional
budgeting disputes threatened default on U.S. obligations as
outstanding debt broached the debt ceiling. See
Hazan, supra, at 29-30. Following the 2011 impasse,
" U.S. government debt was downgraded, the stock market
fell, measures of volatility jumped, and credit risk spreads
widened noticeably . . . ." U.S. Dep't of the
Treasury, The Potential Macroeconomic Effect of Debt
Ceiling Brinksmanship 1 (2013),
. Likewise, the 2013 dispute " further eroded confidence
in the United States government, and wounded the already
fragile economy." Chad DeVeaux, The Fourth Zone of
Presidential Power: Analyzing the Debt-Ceiling Standoffs
Through the Prism of Youngstown Steel, 47 Conn. L. Rev.
395, 407 (2014). In the wake of these political impasses,
Congress presently has suspended the Debt Limit Statute
through March 15, 2017. See Bipartisan Budget Act of
2015, Pub. L. No. 114-74, § 901(a), 129 Stat. 584, 620.
holds various Treasury-issued public debt instruments,
including " savings bonds and Treasury bills, notes,
bonds, and TIPS [Treasury Inflation Indexed Securities] of
various durations (4-weeks, 13-weeks, 26-weeks, 52-week[s],
3-years, 5-years, 7-years, [and] 30-years)." J.A. 20
¶ 39. Seeking a judicial solution to what he views as
the perpetual " political conflict regarding the
inevitable need to raise the debt limit," J.A. 6 ¶
2, on February 7, 2014, Williams filed suit, challenging the
constitutionality of the Debt Limit Statute, against the U.S.
Department of the Treasury and the Secretary of the U.S.
Treasury (collectively, the " Treasury Department"
). Before the Treasury Department lodged a responsive
pleading or Rule 12(b) motion, Williams filed a first amended
complaint as-of-right on March 5, 2014. Cf.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1). The first amended complaint sought a
judgment declaring the Debt Limit Statute unconstitutional
and a permanent injunction prohibiting the Treasury
Department from " relying upon, invoking, or
enforcing" the statute. J.A. 34.
asserted three alleged constitutional infirmities in the Debt
Limit Statute before the district court. First, he claimed
that the statute violates the Public Debt Clause, U.S. Const.
amend. XIV, § 4, which states, in relevant part:
The validity of the public debt of the United States,
authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of
pensions and bounties for services in suppressing
insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.
See J.A. 21 ¶ 42(A); see also Amended
Complaint Filed on Appeal Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1653 ¶
¶ 65(A), 66, Williams v. Lew, No. 15-5065 (D.C.
Cir. May 14, 2015) [hereinafter Pr. Am. Compl.]. Second,
Williams alleged a violation of the Fifth Amendment's Due
Process Clause based on the Treasury Department's "
arbitrary enforcement" of the Debt Limit Statute. J.A.
21 ¶ 42(A); see also Pr. Am. Compl. ¶
¶ 65(A), 66. Finally, Williams made a
separation-of-powers argument that the Debt Limit Statute
" prevent[s] the Executive from carrying out sworn
Article II § 3 duties to 'take Care that the Laws be
faithfully executed.'" J.A. 21 ¶ 42(B); see
also Pr. Am. Compl. ¶ 65(B).
Treasury Department moved to dismiss Williams's first
amended complaint under Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of standing.
Williams then moved under Rule 15(a)(2) for leave to file a
second amended complaint, in part " to clarify his
claims [and to] further explain and develop the basis for his
standing . . . ." J.A. 96. The district court denied
Williams's motion to amend without explanation via minute
order on May 18, 2014. On January 6, 2015, the district court
granted the Treasury Department's motion to dismiss,
concluding that Williams lacked standing to pursue his claims
in federal court. Williams now appeals from the district
court's denial of his motion to amend and from the order
dismissing his claims for lack of standing. Williams also
moves this Court for leave to amend his complaint under 28
U.S.C. § ...