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Tuaua v. United States

United States District Court, District Circuit

June 26, 2013

LENEUOTI FIAFIA TUAUA, et al., Plaintiffs,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.


RICHARD J. LEON, District Judge.

Plaintiffs are five non-citizen U.S. nationals born in American Samoa and the Samoan Federation of America, a nonprofit organization serving the Samoan community in Los Angeles. Compl. ¶¶ 10-15, [1] They seek declaratory and injunctive relief against defendants, the United States and the related parties that execute its citizenship laws. Id. ¶¶ 16-19.[2] They assert that the Fourteenth Amendment's Citizenship Clause extends to American Samoa and that people born in American Samoa are therefore U.S. citizens at birth. Id. at 25-26. Plaintiffs also argue that Immigration and Naturalization Act § 308(1) is unconstitutional because it provides that American Samoans are noncitizen U.S. nationals. See id. at 26. Further, they ask the Court to hold that a State Department policy and practice are unconstitutional and invalid under the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"). See Compl. at 26. Underlying all of these claims is the same legal argument: the Citizenship Clause applies to American Samoa, so contrary law and policy must be invalidated. The United States and related parties move to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b) for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. See Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss ("Defs.' Mem.") [Dkt. #9] at 1. Because plaintiffs have failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the Court GRANTS defendants' Motion to Dismiss.


American Samoa is located on the eastern islands of an archipelago in the South Pacific. Compl. ¶ 3. The United States claimed this territory in a 1900 treaty with Great Britain and Germany, 31 Stat. 1878, and Samoan leaders formally ceded sovereignty to the United States in 1900 and 1904, 45 Stat. 1253. American Samoa was administered by the Secretary of the Navy until 1951, when President Truman transferred administrative responsibility to American Samoa's current supervisor, the Secretary of the Interior. Exec. Order No. 10, 264, 16 Fed. Reg. 6, 417 (July 3, 1951).

Over the past half-century, American Samoa has strengthened its ties to the United States. The Constitution of American Samoa was approved by the Secretary of the Interior in 1967 and provides for an elected bicameral legislature, an appointed governor, and an independent judiciary. Compl. ¶ 27. In 1977, the Secretary permitted the governor to be selected by popular vote. Id. One year later, Congress voted to give American Samoa a nonvoting delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives. Id. [3] American Samoans have served in the U.S. military since 1900 and, most recently, in the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Id. ¶ 31. In signing the 1978 legislation granting American Samoa a delegate in Congress, President Carter acknowledged the islands' contributions to American sports and culture and their role as "a permanent part of American political life." Jimmy Carter, Presidential Statement on Signing H.R. 13702 into Law (Oct. 31, 1978), cited in Pls.' Mem. of P. & A. in Opp'n to Gov't's Mot. Dismiss ("Pls.' Opp'n") [Dkt. #18] at 5 n.7.

At the same time, however, American Samoa has endeavored to preserve its traditional way of life known as fa'a Samoa. Indeed, its constitution protects the Samoan tradition of communal ownership of ancestral lands by large, extended families:

It shall be the policy of the Government of American Samoa to protect persons of Samoan ancestry against alienation of their lands and the destruction of the Samoan way of life and language, contrary to their best interests. Such legislation as may be necessary may be enacted to protect the lands, customs, culture, and traditional Samoan family organization of persons of Samoan ancestry, and to encourage business enterprises by such persons. No change in the law respecting the alienation or transfer of land or any interest therein, shall be effective unless the same be approved by two successive legislatures by a two-thirds vote of the entire membership of each house and by the Governor.

Rev. Const. of Am. Samoa art. I, § 3; see also Craddick v. Territorial Registrar, 1 Am. Samoa 2d 11, 12 (1980); Amicus Br. at 4-5. American Samoans take pride in their unique political and cultural practices, and they celebrate its history free from conquest or involuntary annexation by foreign powers. Amicus Br. at 3.

Federal law classifies American Samoa as an "outlying possession" of the United States. Immigration and Naturalization Act ("INA") § 101(a)(29), 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(29). As such, people born in American Samoa are U.S. nationals but not U.S. citizens at birth. INA § 308(1), 8 U.S.C. § 1408(1). The State Department's Foreign Affairs Manual ("FAM") accordingly categorizes American Samoa as an unincorporated territory and states that "the citizenship provisions of the Constitution do not apply to persons born there." 7 FAM § 1125.1(b). In accordance with INA and FAM, the State Department stamps the passports of people born in American Samoa with "Endorsement Code 09, " which declares that the holder of the passport is a U.S. national but not a U.S. citizen. See Compl. ¶ 7; Defs.' Mem. at 6-7. American Samoans have been permitted to become naturalized U.S. citizens since 1952, but plaintiffs describe that process as "lengthy, costly, and burdensome." Compl. ¶¶ 47-48. American Samoans must relocate to another part of the United States to begin the naturalization process, and the citizenship application requires a $680 fee, a moral character assessment, fingerprinting, and an English and civics examination. Pls.' Opp'n at 11.

All of the individual plaintiffs were issued passports by the State Department bearing Endorsement Code 09. See id. ¶¶ 10-14. Plaintiffs allege a variety of harms that have befallen them due to their non-citizen national status. Several plaintiffs, despite long careers in the military or law enforcement, remain unable to vote or to work in jobs that require citizenship status. Id. ¶ 10(c), 11(c)-(e), 14(c)-(d). Other harms include: ineligibility for federal work-study programs in college, id. ¶ 11(c); ineligibility for firearm permits, id. ¶ 11(e); and inability to obtain travel and immigration visas, id. ¶ 12(e), 13(d-e).


Pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, defendants have moved to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) and for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). See Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss Pls.' Compl. ("Defs.' Mot.") [Dkt. #9] at 1. For a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), "the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the factual predicates of jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence." Erby v. United States, 424 F.Supp.2d 180, 182 (D.D.C. 2006) (citing, inter alia, Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992)). "[P]laintiff's factual allegations in the complaint... will bear closer scrutiny in resolving a 12(b)(1) motion than in resolving a 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim." US. ex rel. Digital Healthcare, Inc. v. Affiliated Computer, 778 F.Supp.2d 37, 43 (D.D.C. 2011) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests whether the plaintiff has pleaded facts sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level, " assuming that the facts alleged are true. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). "While a complaint should not be dismissed unless the court determines that the allegations do not support relief on any legal theory, the complaint nonetheless must set forth sufficient information to suggest that there is some recognized legal theory upon which relief may be granted." District of Columbia v. Air Fla., Inc., 750 F.2d 1077, 1078 (D.C. Cir. 1984).

In considering motions under both Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6), a court must construe the complaint in a light favorable to the plaintiff and must accept as true plaintiff's reasonable factual inferences. See Howard v. Fenty, 580 F.Supp.2d 86, 89-90 (D.D.C. 2008); Smith v. United States, 475 F.Supp.2d 1, 7 (D.D.C. 2006) ...

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