A Washington federal appeals court on Friday upheld the dismissal of a lawyer’s suit challenging the sufficiency of then-candidate Donald Trump’s financial disclosure reports.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit panel, led by Judge Stephen Williams, said it had no power under federal law to compel now-President Trump to amend the financial disclosures he filed as a candidate in 2016. Washington-based lawyer Jeffrey Lovitky, representing himself, sued Trump in 2017 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Lovitky’s case tested the power of federal courts to act under the “mandamus act,” which gives authority to judges “to compel an officer or employee of the United States … to perform a duty owed to the plaintiff.”
But the mandamus act “applies only to duties that flow from a defendant’s public office. And, because the alleged duty here—directed at candidates for public office—lacks that defining characteristic, the district court had no jurisdiction under that Act over Lovitky’s claims,” Williams, joined by judges David Tatel and Thomas Griffith, wrote in their unanimous ruling Friday.
Lovitky had alleged that Trump’s financial disclosure violated the Ethics in Government Act by including both personal and business liabilities. Lovitky’s complaint said federal law “requires disclosure of only those liabilities for which candidates are themselves liable … or for which the spouse or dependent child of the candidate are liable.”
Lovitky challenged a Trump financial disclosure filed in May 2016. “Trump’s obligation to provide a ‘full and complete statement’ of liabilities arose out of his status as a candidate for the office of President, as he had not yet been elected,” the D.C. Circuit said.
The appeals panel said in its ruling that “detachment of the duty from the office of the defendant would lead to serious incongruities.”
“Acceptance of Lovitky’s theory would thus, in principle, mean that a public official could be compelled to perform the personal financial disclosure duties of his predecessor (and who knows what other duties)—an exceedingly odd result,” Williams wrote.
U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly concluded last year that Lovitky lacked standing to bring his claims.
“The D.C. Circuit has made abundantly clear that it is not inclined to break ground in granting mandamus-type relief against the president,” Kollar-Kotelly wrote. “That court has observed that it has ‘never attempted to exercise power to order the president to perform a ministerial duty.’”
Read the D.C. Circuit ruling in Lovitky v. Trump: