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Entines v. United States

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 5, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.


CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER United States District Judge

The Reverend Prisco Entines was born in the Philippines in 1943, a time when the islands were governed specially as a U.S. territory. The statutory framework in place classified him first as a non-citizen national of the United States, and later as an alien when the Philippines became a self-governing nation-state. Entines has since become a naturalized U.S. citizen. But he contends that this exercise was legally unnecessary, because he has in fact been a citizen since birth under the Fourteenth Amendment's Citizenship Clause. Alternatively, Entines argues that he inherited U.S. citizenship through his Philippine-born father, who swore an oath of allegiance to the United States and took up arms on its behalf during World War II.

The government has moved to dismiss Entines's complaint. Because the D.C. Circuit recently ruled out the possibility of birthright citizenship for Philippine natives born during that nation's territorial period, and because outward expressions of allegiance such as military service cannot create an extra-statutory entitlement to U.S. citizenship, the Court must grant the government's motion.

I. Background

At the end of the Spanish-American War, Spain formally agreed to cede the Philippine Islands to the United States. See Treaty of Peace Between the United States and the Kingdom of Spain, art. III, Dec. 10, 1898, 30 Stat. 1754 (“Treaty of Paris”). The transfer became effective upon the exchange of ratifications on April 11, 1899. Cabebe v. Acheson, 183 F.2d 795, 798 (9th Cir. 1950). Except for those Philippine inhabitants who elected to retain their pre-war Spanish allegiance, all residents of the Philippine Islands would be “held to have renounced [that allegiance] and to have adopted the nationality of the territory in which they may reside.” Treaty of Paris, art. IX, 30 Stat. at 1759. The treaty also specified that “[t]he civil rights and political status of the native inhabitants of the territories hereby ceded to the United States shall be determined by the Congress.” Id.

Congress clarified the political status of Philippine inhabitants in the Philippine Organic Act of 1902, deeming those who had resided in the Philippines since April 11, 1899-as well as their children-to be “citizens of the Philippine Islands . . . entitled to the protection of the United States.” Act of July 1, 1902, ch. 1369, 32 Stat. 691, 692. But that statute also provided that the U.S. Constitution and laws did not apply to the Philippines.[1] Id.; see also Hooven & Allison Co. v. Evatt, 324 U.S. 652, 678 (1945) (explaining that the Philippine Islands were then “territories belonging to, but not a part of, the Union of states under the Constitution”). On July 4, 1946, the United States formally “recognize[d] the independence of the Philippines as a separate and self-governing nation.” Independence of the Philippines, Proclamation No. 2695, 11 Fed. Reg. 7517 (July 4, 1946). President Truman’s proclamation thus ended the Philippines’ forty-seven-year status as an American territory. Inhabitants of the Philippines were thereby “divested of their status as United States nationals.” Licudine v. Winter, 603 F.Supp.2d 129, 135 (D.D.C. 2009). So from 1899 until 1946, Congress never classified Philippine natives as U.S. citizens. This treatment is consistent with the current statutory framework for determining territorial inhabitants’ nationality at birth. See 8 U.S.C. § 1408(1) (“[T]he following shall be nationals, but not citizens, of the United States at birth: . . . [a] person born in an outlying possession of the United States.”).

Plaintiff Prisco Entines was born in the Philippines in 1943, three years before it became an independent nation. Compl. ¶ 12.[2] His parents were born there in 1905 and 1907, also during the U.S. territorial period. Id. ¶ 1. Entines’s father, Private First Class Enrique Entines, enlisted in the U.S.-organized Philippine Constabulary in 1927 and served continuously for nearly two decades. Id. He swore an oath of allegiance to the U.S. Constitution and flag upon induction into the U.S. Armed Forces in the Far East. Id. Entines’s father died in the line of duty in 1945. Id. U.S. law reclassified Entines as an alien when the United States relinquished control over the Philippines in 1946. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in December 1992, Pl.’s Surreply Opp’n Defs.’ Mot. Dismiss (“Surreply”) 2, and now resides in California.

Entines filed his Complaint on April 3, 2013. He asks this Court to issue a declaratory judgment stating that the U.S. Constitution entitles him to birthright citizenship, for either of two independent reasons. First, he contends that Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution “automatically conferred instant, native-born U.S. citizenship on U.S. National[] Filipinos” born between 1899 and 1946. Compl. ¶ 7. Under this reasoning, both Entines and his parents would have been lifelong U.S. citizens under principles of jus soli (“right of the soil”). A duplicative count clarifies the thrust of Entines’s argument: that the Philippine Organic Act was unconstitutional insofar as it classified persons born in the Philippines between 1899 and 1946 as U.S. nationals rather than U.S. citizens. Compl. ¶¶ 30-31. Alternatively, Entines argues, soldiers in his father’s position “acquired U.S. native-born citizenship at the moment they submitted themselves to the supreme authority of the U.S. President as Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces.” Id. ¶ 19. On this view, Entines derivatively obtained his father’s “inherently war-earned” citizenship status at the time of birth. Id. ¶ 35.

Entines alleges that this erroneous classification deprived him and his family of quantifiable monetary benefits. Specifically, if the law had regarded his father as a U.S. citizen from at least the moment when he swore his oath of allegiance, both “the surviving widow [and] her orphaned children” would have been entitled to “Veterans, Social Security concurrent benefits, rights and other privileges.” Id. ¶ 2; see also Pl.’s Surreply 8-10 (alleging precise or estimated sums that Entines and his family ought to have received in the form of wartime dependents’ allowances, Death Indemnity Compensation benefits, Social Security survivors’ benefits, funeral and burial expenses, educational benefits, and life-insurance benefits).

The government has moved to dismiss Entines’s Complaint. It argues both that Entines lacks standing to bring this suit, and that the case is moot, because he is already a U.S. citizen. Since the relief he seeks is a declaration of entitlement to lifelong citizenship, the government urges, his alleged injury is not redressable. Mot. Dismiss 8. The government also contends that Entines’s merits argument is foreclosed by precedents from this and other jurisdictions. Id. at 9- 15. On November 11, 2013, the Court issued an order staying all proceedings in this case pending a final decision from the D.C. Circuit in a similar case. That decision has since been issued in the case captioned Tuaua v. United States, 788 F.3d 300 (D.C. Cir. 2015). Tuaua held that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Citizenship Clause does not guarantee birthright citizenship to persons born in the island territory of American Samoa. Id. at 302. In a recent status report, the government argues that even if Entines had standing to pursue the relief he seeks, the D.C. Circuit’s Tuaua decision “would control this Court’s analysis of whether Plaintiff is a birthright citizen under the Fourteenth Amendment.” Joint Status Rep., Jan. 15, 2016, ECF No. 17. The plaintiffs in Tuaua filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court on February 1, 2016, but they have not moved to stay the D.C. Circuit’s mandate in the interim.

II. Standard of Review

On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim, a court must assess whether the complaint alleges sufficient facts that, accepted as true, state an entitlement to relief that is “plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is facially plausible when it “allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A complaint’s factual allegations must be construed “in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Hammel v. Marsh USA Inc., 79 F.Supp.3d 234, 238 (D.D.C. 2015). Yet “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Harris v. Dist. of Columbia Water & Sewer Auth., 791 F.3d 65, 68 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (internal quotations omitted). A complaint that presents merely “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Nonetheless, at the motion-to-dismiss stage, pro se filings are held to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Cutler v. U.S. Dep’t of Health & Human Servs., 797 F.3d 1173, 1179 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)).

III. Analysis

A. Standing and ...

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