United States District Court, District of Columbia
RICHARD J. LEON United States District Judge
Plaintiffs, Randy and Evgenia Quaid ("the Quaids" or "plaintiffs"), brought this case against defendants John F. Kerry, in his capacity as Secretary of State, and the United States Department of State. Plaintiffs contend that by revoking their passports, defendants illegally deprived them of their rights to identify as United States citizens and to possess documentation of their citizenship. Presently before the Court is defendants' motion to dismiss this action pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), arguing both that the Court lacks jurisdiction and that plaintiffs failed to state a cognizable claim of deprivation of any constitutional right or privilege. Upon consideration of the parties' pleadings and the relevant law, the Court GRANTS defendants' motion.
The Secretary of State ("Secretary") and his designees at the United States Department of State ("State Department") have the authority to grant and issue passports to United States citizens. 22 U.S.C. § 211a. Pursuant to this authority, the Secretary identified in regulations the circumstances in which passports may be denied or revoked. See generally 22 C.F.R. § 51.60-.62. Of relevance here are subsections 51.60(b)(9) and 51.62(a)(1), which provide that the State Department may revoke or limit a passport when it "determines or is informed by competent authority that" the bearer is "the subject of an outstanding state or local warrant of arrest for a felony." Id. §§ 51.60(b)(9), 51.62(a)(1).
The Quaids are United States citizens. Compl.¶ 8 [Dkt. #1]. On or around December 12, 2013, while plaintiffs were in Canada, the State Department revoked their passports on the grounds that plaintiffs were subjects of felony arrest warrants issued by a county court in Santa Barbara, California. Compl. ¶¶ 10-11;
Pls.' Mem. 3-4 [Dkt. #10]. The State Department later confiscated plaintiffs' passports.Compl. ¶ 13;
Pls.' Mem. 8-9. Plaintiffs do not contest that they were indeed the subjects of felony arrest warrants at the time, and, therefore, they do not dispute the grounds for the revocation.Instead, plaintiffs claim the revocation was unconstitutional because the Fourteenth Amendment secures the absolute right of United States citizens to possess their passports as proof of their citizenship. Compl. ¶¶ 13, 16, 24. They argue that without a passport, an American citizen is deprived of his or her privilege to "demand the care and protection of the Federal government over his life, liberty, and property when on the high seas or within the jurisdiction of a foreign government, " a privilege secured by the Fourteenth Amendment's Privileges and Immunities Clause.
Pls.' Mem. 6 (quoting Slaughter-House Cases, 83 U.S. 36, 79 (1872)). They further claim revoking a passport violates a citizen's right to remain a citizen under the Fourteenth Amendment's Citizenship Clause. Compl. ¶¶ 22-23. Plaintiffs ask the Court, inter alia, to declare defendants' actions unconstitutional and to enjoin defendants to return their passports. Compl. ¶ 29(a), (c).
Defendants assert that sovereign immunity protects them from this suit, and they move for dismissal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). Defs.' Mem. 3 [Dkt. #9]. "Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Therefore, "[i]t is to be presumed that a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction, " and "the burden of establishing the contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction." Id.
"Absent a waiver, sovereign immunity shields the Federal Government and its agencies from suit." FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475 (1994); see also Z St., Inc. v. Koskinen, 44 F.Supp.3d 48, 63 (D.D.C. 2014) ("The sovereign immunity doctrine applies equally to the government itself and to a federal official sued in his official capacity."). "Sovereign immunity is jurisdictional in nature, " Meyer, 510 U.S. at 475, and the United States's consent to be sued is therefore a "prerequisite for jurisdiction, " United States v. Mitchell, 463 U.S. 206, 212 (1983). Faced with a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), "[t]he plaintiff bears the burden of establishing both the court's statutory jurisdiction and the government's waiver of its sovereign immunity." Am. Road & Transp. Builders Ass 'n V. EPA, 865 F.Supp.2d 72, 80 (D.D.C. 2012). "A waiver of the Federal Government's sovereign immunity must be unequivocally expressed in statutory text, and will not be implied." Lane v. Pena, 518 U.S. 187, 192 (1996) (internal citations omitted).
Plaintiffs allege violations of the Constitution, and "[t]ypically this Court would have jurisdiction over such claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, which grants district courts 'jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.'" Xia v. Kerry, 73 F.Supp.3d 33, 38 (D.D.C. 2014). However, defendants are a federal agency and a cabinet secretary sued in his official capacity, and the United States's sovereign immunity protects them from suit unless plaintiffs establish the government has waived immunity. See Pittman v. Lappin, 662 F.Supp.2d 58, 60 (D.D.C. 2009) ("An official capacity suit against a federal official is one against the agency itself and, as such, one against the United States of America.") (citing Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159(1985)).
Plaintiffs assert the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA") supplies a basis for the Court's jurisdiction. Compl. ¶ 6 (citing 5 U.S.C. §§ 701-08). Section 702 of the APA states:
An action in a court of the United States seeking relief other than money damages and stating a claim that an agency or an officer or employee thereof acted or failed to act in an official capacity or under color of legal authority shall not be dismissed nor relief therein be denied on the ground that it is against the United States or that the United States is an indispensable party.
5 U.S.C. § 702. As plaintiffs argue and defendants concede, Pls.' Mem. 2-3, Defs.' Mem. 5 n.4, this section constitutes an explicit waiver of the federal government's immunity "with respect to suits for nonmonetary damages that allege wrongful action by an agency or its officers or employees." ZSt., AA F.Supp.3d at 63; see also Cohen v. United States, 650 F.3d 717, 723 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (construing Section 702 and finding "there is no doubt Congress lifted the bar of sovereign immunity in actions not seeking money damages"). This is such a suit, and defendants are not entitled to immunity "to the extent that plaintiffs seek only injunctive and declaratory relief" Xia, 73 F.Supp.3d at 39.
Defendants contend that, despite its reliance on the APA for purposes of jurisdiction, the complaint only raises claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and not APA claims. Defs.' Mem. 4; Defs.' Reply 1-2 [Dkt. #13]. Defendants reason that there is no express waiver of sovereign immunity in Section 1983 itself "that would render a federal agency such as the State Department subject to liability" and that they therefore retain immunity from this suit. Defs.' Mem. 4. But, "[t]he APA's waiver of sovereign immunity applies to any suit whether under the APA or not." Chamber of Commerce of U.S. v. Reich,
74F.3d 1322, 1328 (D.C. Cir. 1996); see also Clark v. Library of Cong., 750 F.2d 89, 102 (D.C. Cir. 1984) ("[T]he 1976 amendments to § 702 of the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 702, eliminated the sovereign immunity defense in virtually all actions for nonmonetary relief against a U.S. agency or officer acting in an official capacity."). Subject to exceptions not applicable here,  the question of whether APA Section 702's waiver applies to a claim turns on ...