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Robinson v. Huerta

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

August 24, 2015

RUSSELL E. ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL P. HUERTA, ADMINISTRATOR, FEDERAL AVAIATION ADMINISTRATION, Defendant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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          RUSSELL E. ROBINSON, Plaintiff, Pro se, Miami Gardens, FL.

         For MICHAEL HUERTA, U.S. DOT, Federal Aviation Administration Administrator, Defendant: Carl Ezekiel Ross, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Washington, DC.

         Re Document No.: 10

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         MEMORANDUM OPINION

         RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge.

         Granting Defendant's Motion to Dismiss

         In August 2005, pro se Plaintiff Russell Robinson (" Mr. Robinson" ) was convicted by a jury of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, conspiracy to import cocaine, and conspiracy to launder money. The Federal Aviation Administration (" FAA" ) subsequently determined

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that Mr. Robinson had served as an airman or been aboard an aircraft to facilitate the offenses of conviction, and on March 3, 2008, it issued an order revoking his commercial pilot, mechanic, and ground instructor certificates pursuant to 49 U.S.C. § § 44709 and 44710. An administrative law judge (" ALJ" ) with the National Transportation Safety Board (" NTSB" ) affirmed the revocations in September 2008, and Mr. Robinson filed the instant action in March 2014, arguing that the FAA and NTSB's lifetime revocation of his certificates was unlawful. Now before the Court is the FAA's motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim for relief. Upon consideration of the parties' submissions, the Court will grant the FAA's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         On April 11, 2003, Mr. Robinson was indicted for participating in a multi-defendant drug and money laundering conspiracy in the U.S. Virgin Islands. See Indictment, Def.'s Ex. A at 39-58, ECF No. 10-1.[1] A superseding indictment returned on September 30, 2004, charged that Mr. Robinson, " a private pilot, would transport . . . co-conspirators to various destinations in the Caribbean for the purpose of delivering the illegal proceeds of the drug sales so that it could be laundered and/or picking up drugs or arranging drug shipments into the Virgin Islands." Superseding Indictment, Def.'s Ex. A at 3, ECF No. 10-1. After a jury trial, Mr. Robinson was convicted of conspiring to possess with intent to distribute cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841, conspiring to import cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 963, and money laundering conspiracy in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h). Compl. at 4, ECF No. 1; Judgment, Def.'s Ex. A at 34, ECF No. 10-1.

         As a consequence of Mr. Robinson's convictions, on March 3, 2008, the FAA issued an Order of Revocation, which revoked Mr. Robinson's Commercial Pilot Certificate, Mechanic Certificate, and Ground Instructor Certificate. FAA Order, Pl.'s Ex. 2 at 14-15, ECF No. 1. The order explained that pursuant to 49 U.S.C. § 44710, the circumstances of Mr. Robinson's convictions--that he served as an airman or was aboard a U.S. civil aircraft to facilitate the offenses of conviction--" mandate the revocation of any and all airman certificates and ground instructor certificates held by you . . . ." Id. at 15. The order further stated that " the Administrator has determined that safety in air commerce or air transportation and the public interest require the revocation . . ." Id. at 14.

         Mr. Robinson appealed the FAA's March 2008 order to the NTSB's Office of Administrative Law Judges, and an ALJ affirmed the revocation on September 11, 2008. See Compl. at 4; ALJ Order, Def.'s Ex. C, ECF No. 10-3. Mr. Robinson then appealed the ALJ's September 2008 affirmance to the NTSB, but on October 31, 2008, the NTSB dismissed the appeal, finding that Mr. Robinson had withdrawn it. NTSB Order of Dismissal, Oct. 31, 2008, Def.'s Ex. D, ECF No. 10-4. Mr. Robinson petitioned for reconsideration of the September 2008 order on November 14, 2012, and the petition was denied as an untimely appeal on May 2, 2013. NTSB Order, May 2, 2013, Def.'s Ex. B at 1-2, ECF No. 10-2; see also Compl. at 4.

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          On March 20, 2014, Mr. Robinson filed the instant action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief " that requires FAA to remedy constitutional and statutory violations as a result of its application of 49 U.S.C. § 44710 to Plaintiff . . . ." Compl. at 2. In his complaint, Mr. Robinson alleges that the FAA's March 2008 order of revocation " mischaracterized the facts alleged at trial," and that the lifetime revocation of his certificates violated his rights under the Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Id. at 4-5, 9. More specifically, Mr. Robinson claims that the actions of the FAA and NTSB have violated his " Constitutionally protected interests in travelling (privately in General Aviation Aircraft) by air," his " Constitutional Right to Contract so as to earn a sufficient and adequate lawful[] living," his " public right of transit through navigable airspace" pursuant to 49 U.S.C. § 40103(a)(2), and his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Id. at 5-10. He further asserts that " the provisions of 49 U.S.C. § 44710 et seq. are Unconstitutional on its face, as it pertains to its lifetime revocation of Robinson's certificates," and he asks that the Court issue a declaratory judgment finding that the application of § 44710 to Mr. Robinson's certificates is cruel and unusual in violation of the Eighth Amendment, and that the Court order the FAA and NTSB " to withdraw their revocation order(s)" and permit him to exercise his right to travel by air and to perform repair work. Id. at 9-10. Mr. Robinson also asks that the Court take judicial notice of all trial and sentencing transcripts, " which will clearly demonstrate that there is no evidence, none whatsoever, that Robinson transported any Drugs, or acted as a pilot in command or was aboard an aircraft in any capacity that transported drugs." Compl. at 9.

         The FAA now moves to dismiss Mr. Robinson's complaint in its entirety, arguing that this Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over Mr. Robinson's claims and that his constitutional claims fail as a matter of law.[2] Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 10.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Rule 12(b)(1) Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject-Matter Jurisdiction

         " Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction," and the law presumes that " a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction . . . ." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377, 114 S.Ct. 1673, 128 L.Ed.2d 391 (1994); see also Gen. Motors Corp. v. EPA, 363 F.3d 442, 448, 361 U.S. App.D.C. 6 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (" As a court of limited jurisdiction, we begin, and end, with an examination of our jurisdiction." ).

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On a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the court's jurisdiction through adequate factual allegations. See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992).

         Because subject matter jurisdiction focuses on the Court's power to hear a claim, the Court must give the plaintiff's factual allegations " closer scrutiny" when deciding a Rule 12(b)(1) motion than it would when resolving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim. See Grand Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185 F.Supp.2d 9, 13 (D.D.C. 2001). Thus, courts are not limited to considering the allegations contained in the complaint, and can consult extra-pleading materials when " determining the threshold jurisdictional issue." See Wilderness Soc'y v. Griles, 824 F.2d 4, 16 n.10, 262 U.S. App.D.C. 277 (D.C. Cir. 1987).

         B. Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint 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 the claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007) (per curiam). " A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) does not test a plaintiff's likelihood of success on the merits; rather, it tests whether a plaintiff properly has stated a claim." Johnson v. Sullivan, 748 F.Supp.2d 1, 8 (D.D.C. 2010). " When ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint." Atherton v. D.C. Office of the Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681, 386 U.S. App.D.C. 144 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (quoting Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94).

         Nevertheless, " [t]o 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, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell A. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). This means that a plaintiff's factual allegations " must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56 (citations omitted). " Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements," are therefore insufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A court need not accept a plaintiff's legal conclusions as true, see id., nor must a court presume the veracity of the legal conclusions that are couched as factual allegations. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         A pro se complaint is held to " less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94 (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976)). But even pro se litigants " must plead factual matter that permits the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct." Jones v. Horne, 634 F.3d 588, 596, 394 U.S. App.D.C. 261 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Moreover, " [a] pro se complaint, like any other, must present a claim upon which relief can be granted by the court." Crisafi v. Holland, 655 F.2d 1305, 1308, 211 U.S. App.D.C. 75 (D.C. Cir. 1981).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         The FAA first argues that this Court lacks jurisdiction over Mr. Robinson's claims challenging the revocation of his

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certifications under 49 U.S.C. § 44710. Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. to Dismiss at 13-16, ECF No. 10. It maintains that jurisdiction over such matters lies exclusively in the U.S. Courts of Appeals, and that in any case, the 60-day window for obtaining judicial review of the revocations has long-since expired. Id. 49 U.S.C. § 44710(d)(3) provides that " [a]n individual substantially affected by an order of the Board under this subsection . . . may obtain judicial review of the order under section 46110 of this title." Section 46110, in turn, provides that:

[A] person disclosing a substantial interest in an order issued by the Secretary of Transportation . . . [or] the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration . . . may apply for review of the order by filing a petition for review in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit or in the court of appeals of the United States for the circuit in which the person resides or has its principal place of business. The petition must be filed not later than 60 days after the order is issued. The court may allow the petition to be filed after the 60th day only if there are reasonable grounds for not filing by the 60th day.

49 U.S.C. § 46110(a). The FAA therefore concludes that Mr. Robinson's claims challenging the revocations cannot be considered by this Court, and that " jurisdiction over this matter properly lies, if at all, with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia." Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss at 13.

         Mr. Robinson disputes the FAA's argument, asserting first that the " instant matter can in fact be considered Nunc Pro Tunc," because his 2008 appeal to the NTSB was " mischaracterized and dismissed unilaterally." Pl.'s Opp'n at 1-2, ECF No. 11. He also argues that " this Court has subject matter jurisdiction to interpret the application of 49 U.S.C. section 44710, and its Constitutionality on a whole." Id. at 2-3. In support of his assertion of subject-matter jurisdiction, Mr. Robinson points to Reno v. Catholic Social Services, Inc., 509 U.S. 43, 55-56, 113 S.Ct. 2485, 125 L.Ed.2d 38 (1993), which held that a similar statutory provision that prevents district courts from hearing an individual's challenge to an agency's decision does not prevent district courts from ...


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