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Yaman v. United States Dep't of State

May 5, 2010

LINDA YAMAN, ON BEHALF OF HERSELF AND MINORS KY AND EY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF STATE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

Linda Yaman, a dual citizen of the United States and Turkey, applied for United States passports for her two minor daughters, also dual American and Turkish citizens. After an extended administrative process, the State Department held a hearing to review Ms. Yaman's passport applications. Following the hearing, the hearing officer prepared written findings of fact and issued a recommendation on the applications to the State Department's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Passport Services. After reviewing and considering the findings and recommendation, the Deputy Assistant Secretary granted the girls limited passport rights. Weighing whether to appeal the Deputy Assistant Secretary's decision, Ms. Yaman asked for the hearing officer's written findings and recommendation, but the State Department denied her request. Ms. Yaman then filed a complaint, seeking to compel the State Department to disclose the hearing officer's written report. The State Department has now moved to dismiss Ms. Yaman's complaint. For the reasons detailed below, the Court will grant the State Department's motion to dismiss.*fn1

BACKGROUND

Between January 2003 and December 2004, Ms. Yaman lived in Turkey with her now ex-husband and two minor daughters, EY and KY. Compl. ¶ 12. Ms. Yaman grew suspicious that her husband was sexually abusing at least one of their daughters, and began divorce proceedings in Turkish Family Court. Compl. ¶ 12. In March 2006, the Turkish Family Court granted Mr. Yaman, a Turkish national, full custody of the two children. Compl. ¶ 13. Mr. Yaman did not exercise his custody rights, however, and EY and KY continued to live with their mother. Compl. ¶ 14. In August 2007, after Turkish courts denied Ms. Yaman's final appeal of the custody order, Ms. Yaman fled Turkey for an undisclosed European location with her two daughters. Compl. ¶ 15.

Mr. Yaman maintains physical possession of KY and EY's original U.S. passports, and refuses to provide them to Ms. Yaman. Compl. ¶ 16. He also refuses to consent to the issuance of new passports to the two girls. Compl. ¶ 16.

In May 2009, Ms. Yaman applied for U. S. passports for her daughters, and sought a waiver of the requirement that both parents must consent to the issuance of a child's passport. Compl. ¶¶ 17-18. The State Department denied the applications. Compl. ¶ 19. Ms. Yaman took an administrative appeal, Compl. ¶ 19, and the State Department held a hearing, over which a State Department hearing officer presided, Compl. ¶¶ 20-22. Following this hearing, the hearing officer prepared findings of fact and a recommendation on the girls' passport applications.

Compl. ¶ 23. He did not disclose the findings and recommendation to Ms. Yaman.

On March 15, 2010, the State Department's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Passport Services issued the Department's final decision on the girls' passport applications. Compl. ¶ 25. This decision partially reversed the Department's earlier denial of the girls' applications, and granted "no fee direct return limited validity passports to the United States for EY and KY." Compl. ¶ 26. To obtain these passports, Ms. Yaman was directed to appear in person at a U.S. Consulate by April 29, 2010. Compl. ¶ 27. The girls' passports would expire five days after they were picked up. Compl. ¶ 27. Ms. Yaman's daughters accepted the conditional passports, and are now living in the United States. Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss and Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. ("Def.'s Mot.") [Docket Entry 10], Decl. of Brenda Sprague ¶ 6.

Following the Deputy Assistant Secretary's final decision, Ms. Yaman asked the State Department hearing officer to provide her with a copy of his findings and recommendation. Compl. ¶ 30. The Hearing Officer denied this request, as well as Ms. Yaman's motion for reconsideration. Compl. ¶¶ 31, 33. The Deputy Assistant Secretary also denied Ms. Yaman's request. Compl. ¶¶ 34-35. Ms. Yaman then filed this action, seeking to obtain a copy of the hearing officer's written findings and recommendation. Compl., Prayer ¶ a.*fn2

STANDARD OF REVIEW

All that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require of a complaint is that it contain "'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)); accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam). Although "detailed factual allegations" are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, to provide the "grounds" of "entitle[ment] to relief," a plaintiff must furnish "more than labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56; see also Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570); accord Atherton v. Dist. of Columbia Office of the Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681 (D.C. Cir. 2009). A complaint is plausible on its face "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. This amounts to a "two-pronged approach" under which a court first identifies the factual allegations entitled to an assumption of truth and then determines "whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id. at 1950-51.

The notice pleading rules are not meant to impose a great burden on a plaintiff. See Dura Pharm., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347 (2005); see also Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512-13 (2002). When the sufficiency of a complaint is challenged by a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the plaintiff's factual allegations must be presumed true and should be liberally construed in his or her favor. See Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993); Phillips v. Bureau of Prisons, 591 F.2d 966, 968 (D.C. Cir. 1979); see also Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56). The plaintiff must be given every favorable inference that may be drawn from the allegations of fact. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000). However, "the court need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiffs if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint." Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). Nor does the court accept "a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation," or "naked assertions [of unlawful misconduct] devoid of further factual enhancement." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949-50 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Aktieselskabet AF 21. November 2001 v. Fame Jeans Inc., 525 F.3d 8, 17 n.4 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (the court has "never accepted legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations").

Ms. Yaman's suit arises under the Administrative Procedures Act ("APA"). Under the APA, a court must "hold unlawful and set aside agency action, findings, and conclusions" that are "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law," 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A), in excess of statutory authority, id. § 706(2)(C), or "without observance of procedures required by law," id. § 706(2)(D). A court must also "compel agency action unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed." Id. § 706(1). The court's scope of review, however, is narrow. See Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass'n of U.S., Inc. v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 463 U.S. 29, 43 (1983). The court is to presume that the agency's action is ...


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