United States District Court, District of Columbia
Amit P. Mehta United States District Judge
Plaintiffs Yuanxing Liu and Nan Huang are a married couple who currently reside in East Brunswick, New Jersey. They filed suit in this court against the heads of the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, alleging that Defendants unlawfully rescinded their status as lawful permanent residents; improperly denied Plaintiff Liu’s application for a replacement Permanent Resident Card; and improperly denied Plaintiff Huang’s application for naturalization. Defendants moved to dismiss on several grounds, including lack of subject matter jurisdiction and improper venue. Because 8 U.S.C. § 1421(c)-the statute that permits judicial review of a decision to deny naturalization-contains a specific venue provision that requires such claims to be brought in the judicial district where the applicant resides, this matter shall be transferred in its entirety to the District of New Jersey. Although Plaintiffs’ other claims could be heard in this district, the court finds that allowing all claims to be heard together-rather than splitting them between two venues-will better serve the interest of preserving judicial and party resources.
A. Factual Background
In 1999, Plaintiff Liu filed an I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status on behalf of himself and his wife, Plaintiff Huang, with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”), a component of the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”). Compl., Exhibits, ECF No. 3, at 6-9. In 2004, USCIS informed both Liu and Huang that their petitions had been approved, and they each received a Permanent Resident Card effective June 8, 2004. Id. at 11-12, 24-25.
On September 8, 2011, Liu filed an Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card-for himself only-with USCIS. Id. at 14-16. Eighteen months later, on May 15, 2013, USCIS denied Liu’s application on the ground that, according to USCIS’ records, he was not, in fact, a lawful permanent resident. Id. USCIS explained that Liu’s I-485 Application “was unlawfully approved by former USCIS employee Robert Schofield who engaged in criminal conduct by approving” Liu’s application, “without requiring [a] proper USCIS fee and without an underlying petition approved on [his] behalf.” Id. at 14. USCIS notified Liu that he had 30 days to submit a “written rebuttal to the adverse information.” Id. at 16.
Meanwhile, Plaintiff Huang had filed an Application for Naturalization, which was received by USCIS on June 24, 2009. Id. at 22. Over four years later, on January 15, 2014, USCIS denied her application on same ground that it had denied Liu’s application for a replacement Permanent Resident Card-she was not, according to USCIS’ records, a lawful permanent resident. Id. at 22-23. USCIS explained that, although it had located her I-485 Application to Adjust Status, it could not verify that Huang’s application had been properly received and paid for. Id. USCIS informed Huang that if she wished to contest the denial, she could submit a request for a hearing within 30 days; otherwise, the decision would become final. Id. at 22.
B. Procedural History
On September 5, 2014, Plaintiffs brought a claim for declaratory and injunctive relief against Defendants-former Attorney General Eric Holder (who has since been replaced by Loretta Lynch) and Jeh Johnson, Secretary of DHS-in their official capacities. Compl. ¶¶ 21-22. Plaintiffs sought the following forms of relief: (1) a declaration by this court that they are in fact lawful permanent residents or, alternatively, that Defendants unlawfully rescinded their lawful permanent resident status without proper process; (2) an order requiring DHS to reopen Liu’s application to replace his Permanent Resident Card; (3) an order requiring DHS to reopen Huang’s naturalization application; and (4) reasonable attorney’s fees and costs. Id. ¶ 34.
According to Plaintiffs, this court has jurisdiction under the general federal question jurisdiction statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1331, because their claims arise under various federal statutes: (1) the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1101 et seq.; (2) the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201; and (3) the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 701 et seq. Id. ¶¶ 23-24. Defendants moved to dismiss all of Plaintiffs’ claims primarily for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss, ECF 9, at 7-12 [hereinafter Defs.’ Mot.], but also asserted that “this action should have been filed in the District of New Jersey, ” id. at 11. Plaintiffs counter that the court has subject matter jurisdiction as to all of their claims and that venue is proper in the District of Columbia. See generally Pls.’ Opp’n.
“[A] federal court has leeway to choose among threshold grounds for denying audience to a case on the merits.” Sinochem Int’l Co. v. Malay. Int’l Shipping Corp., 549 U.S. 422, 431 (2007) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). This court therefore is within its discretion to rule on Defendants’ assertion of improper venue before addressing their challenge to subject matter jurisdiction. Aftab v. Gonzalez, 597 F.Supp.2d 76, 79 (D.D.C. 2009) (“Adjudicative efficiency favors resolving the venue issue before addressing whether subject matter jurisdiction exists.”); see also Brodt v. Cnty. of Harford, 10 F.Supp. 3d 198, 200 (D.D.C. 2014) (citing cases).
Where, as here, the defendant is an officer or employee of the United States or any agency thereof acting in his official capacity, the ...