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Zion Clarke, Ricardo Defour, Kevon Demerieux, anderson Straker, Wayne Pierre v. Eric Holder

March 23, 2011


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


On April 13, 2005, Balram Maharaj, a naturalized U.S. citizen, died while being held for ransom in Trinidad. Petitioners in the present case are seven of the defendants who were charged and convicted under 18 U.S.C. § 1203 of conspiracy and hostage taking resulting in death based on those events. They have long sought to have the indictment dismissed, and their convictions invalidated, based on their belief that Maharaj did not meet the qualifications for naturalization, and hence should not have been recognized as a U.S. citizen. See United States v. Clarke, --- F. Supp. 2d ---, 2011 WL 710603, at * 38 (D.D.C. Mar. 2, 2011). To this end, on March 23, 2009, they submitted a formal request to the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia to institute proceedings to revoke the U.S. citizenship of Balram Maharaj pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1451(a), including a proffer of evidence allegedly showing that Maharaj concealed material facts and made fraudulent misrepresentations during his naturalization proceedings. Soon thereafter, they filed this action seeking a writ of mandamus directing the United States Attorney to institute a § 1451(a) revocation proceeding and cancel Maharaj's certificate of naturalization. See Pet. for Writ of Mandamus, Ex. A, at 2-9.

Respondents have moved to dismiss this action pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), on the grounds that petitioners lack standing to bring this action and that, in any event, they have failed to meet the threshold requirements for relief in the nature of mandamus.*fn1

Shortly after the motion was filed, petitioners asked to stay this case in order to allocate their time and resources to the criminal trial. Now that the criminal trial has concluded and the post-conviction motions for judgment of acquittal and for new trial have been resolved, this matter is ready for decision. For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant respondents' motion to dismiss.

I. Standing

The issue of standing involves both constitutional limitations on federal court jurisdiction arising from the Article III "case or controversy" requirement and prudential limitations on its exercise where a party is not covered by the statute's "zone of interest." National Ass'n of Home Builders v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng'rs, 417 F.3d 1272, 1287 (D.C. Cir. 2005). Respondents move to dismiss this action on the ground that petitioners lack "prudential standing" under the denaturalization statute, 8 U.S.C. § 1451, because they do not fall within the "zone of interest" covered by that statute. Before addressing prudential standing, however, the Court must determine whether petitioners have Article III standing.

It is well-settled that there are three minimum elements necessary to establish standing: First, the plaintiff must have suffered an "injury in fact" -- an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized, and (b) "actual or imminent, not 'conjectural' or 'hypothetical.'" Second, there must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of -- the injury has to be "fairly . . . trace[able] to the challenged action of the defendant, and not . . . th[e] result [of] the independent action of some third party not before the court.

Third, it must be "likely," as opposed to merely "speculative," that the injury will be "redressed by a favorable decision."

Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992) (citations and footnote omitted)); accord Center for Law and Educ. v. Dep't of Educ., 396 F.3d 1152, 1157 (D.C. Cir. 2005).

Petitioners contend that they have standing because they have suffered injury in the form of their convictions under the hostage taking statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1203, which was applied to them because the victim held the status of a naturalized U.S. citizen, and that the respondents have caused this injury by wrongfully failing to initiate revocation of naturalization proceedings. See Pet'r's Opp'n at 3, 6. They then make the conclusory assertion that "a Court order directing the [d]efendants to initiate revocation of naturalization proceedings . . . will remedy the injury." Id. at 4. However, the third element of standing -- redressability -- is lacking here because, even if petitioners prevailed on their mandamus petition, the outcome of the requested revocation proceeding would remain unknown. Under 8 U.S.C. § 1451(a), a district court -- not the United States Attorney -- makes the decision whether to revoke a certificate of naturalization. Furthermore, the government "carries a heavy burden of proof in a proceeding to divest a naturalized citizen of citizenship" -- that is, the evidence must be "'clear, unequivocal, and convincing,' and 'must not leave the issue in doubt.'" Fedorenko v. United States, 449 U.S. 490, 505 (1981) (quoting Schneiderman v. United States, 320 U.S. 118, 125 (1943)). It is wholly speculative whether a United States Attorney could meet this high burden of proof, and whether a district court in a § 1451(a) proceeding ultimately would issue an order revoking the certificate of naturalization, especially in light of evidentiary problems that may arise so long after Maharaj's death and his inability to defend himself. In light of the speculative nature of the outcome of a § 1451(a) proceeding, petitioner's injury -- their hostage taking convictions -- is not redressable by an order directing respondents to initiate such a revocation proceeding.*fn2

Even if petitioners could demonstrate that they have Article III standing, they may pursue this case only if they also have prudential standing. Under the doctrine of prudential standing, petitioners must satisfy "the requirement that [their] complaint fall within the zone of interests protected by the law invoked." Elk Grove Unified School Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U.S. 1, 12 (2004). "Under the zone-of-interest test, '[t]he essential inquiry is whether Congress intended for a particular class of plaintiffs to be relied upon to challenge agency disregard of the law.'" Idaho Pub. Util. Comm'n v. Interstate Commerce Comm'n, 35 F.3d 585, 591 (D.C. Cir. 1994) (quoting Clarke v. Sec. Indus. Ass'n, 479 U.S. 388, 399 (1987)). "The test is not meant to be especially demanding." Id. "The zone-of-interest test . . . is intended to 'exclude only those whose interests are so marginally related to or inconsistent with the purposes implicit in the statute that it cannot reasonably be assumed that Congress intended to permit the suit.'" Muir v. Navy Federal Credit Union, 529 F.3d 1100, 1106-07 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (quoting Clarke v. Sec. Indus. Ass'n, 479 U.S. at 399).

Respondents argue that petitioners fail to meet the zone-of-interest test because nothing in the statute suggests that Congress intended to create rights in third parties to pursue -- or force the prosecution of -- denaturalization actions. See Resp'ts' Mem. at 10-11. Respondents further contend that the statute should not be read to create such rights in third parties in light of case law holding that private citizens generally lack a cognizable interest in the investigation or prosecution of another. Id. at 8-9.

Although the zone-of-interest test is not demanding, petitioners have failed to satisfy it. Indeed, they make no claim whatsoever that they fall within the "zone of interest" protected by § 1451. Nonetheless, the Court has conducted an independent review of the statute and case law and determined that they do not come within the zone of interest. First, the plain language of § 1451(a) -- the primary subsection at issue -- contains no indicia that third parties to the original naturalization proceeding are within the zone of interest:

It shall be the duty of the United States attorneys for the respective districts, upon affidavit showing good cause therefor, to institute proceedings in any district court of the United States in the judicial district in which the naturalized citizen may reside at the time of bringing suit, for the purpose of revoking and setting aside the order admitting such person to citizenship and canceling the certificate of naturalization on the ground that such order and certificate of naturalization were illegally procured or were procured by concealment of a material fact or by willful misrepresentation, and such revocation and setting aside of the order ...

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