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Aishat v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 12, 2018

AYMAN AISHAT, Plaintiff,


          JAMES E. BOASBERG United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Ayman Aishat has been a legal permanent resident of the United States since 1989 and applied for citizenship in 2000. He has spent the two decades since waiting for a resolution. Tired of living in limbo, Aishat recently filed this suit, asking the Court to compel Defendant U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to resolve his naturalization application in a timely fashion. The agency counters by moving to dismiss one count of his Complaint for failure to state a claim and then seeking to transfer the remainder to the Eastern District of Texas. Persuaded on both grounds, the Court will grant Defendants' Motion and send this case to the Lone Star State.

         I. Background

         According to the Complaint, which the Court must presume true at this stage, Aishat is a citizen of Jordan and first entered this country on a student visa in 1989. See Compl., ¶¶ 3, 18. He later received a green card through his employer and currently works as a wireless-network engineer. Id., ¶ 18. Plaintiff has also married a U.S. citizen with whom he has three U.S.-citizen children. Id., ¶ 19. On June 6, 2000, he too sought citizenship, filing his N-400 naturalization application with USCIS. Id., ¶ 20. Over the ensuing 18 years, his application has encountered several snares. After interviewing Aishat at the USCIS Dallas Field Office on January 23, 2001, the agency took no action on his application for the next seven years. Id., ¶¶ 20, 21. On March 6, 2008, the Dallas Office scheduled another interview with Plaintiff. Id., ¶ 21. Three more years passed before USCIS denied his naturalization application, id., ¶ 22, claiming he had failed to disclose his past affiliation with an organization known as the Holy Land Foundation (which the Treasury Department lists as a fundraising arm for “a terrorist organization, ” Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya). See MTD, Exh. A (N-400 Denial) at 2-4.

         On May 31, 2011, Aishat filed an N-336 naturalization appeal and has since repeatedly requested that the agency provide any adverse evidence used to deny his original application. See Compl., ¶ 23. USCIS ignored those requests. Id. Instead, it scheduled another interview at the Dallas Office in November of that year and then issued a request for more information related to his application. Id., ¶¶ 24, 25. Specifically, it sought “a list of organizations of which Plaintiff had ever been a member of or affiliated with.” Id., ¶ 25. Aishat timely complied with all requests by February 2012. Id.

         USCIS stayed silent for the next five years, id., ¶ 26, and Plaintiff, understandably fed up with the delay, filed suit in this Court, naming as Defendants: the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; USCIS; Kirstjen Nielsen, the Secretary of Homeland Security; L. Francis Cissna, the Director of USCIS; William Bierman, the Director of the Dallas Field Office; and Tracy Tarango, Acting Director of USCIS District 33. His Complaint includes four counts: (1) a mandamus claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1361, asking the Court to compel Defendants to promptly adjudicate his N-336 naturalization appeal; (2) allegations that USCIS's “unreasonably delayed” action violated the Administrative Procedure Act; (3) allegations that the delay violated the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA); and (4) a request for a declaratory judgment under 28 U.S.C. § 2201.

         Seemingly spurred by the lawsuit, USCIS issued a notice asking Aishat to provide his “biometrics” (including fingerprinting) at the Dallas Field Office on December 28, 2017, before scheduling yet another interview at the same location on January 25, 2018. See MTD, Exhs. B, C. At the same time, it also moved to dismiss Count III of the Complaint and then transfer the remaining counts to the Eastern District of Texas. After setting out the applicable legal standards, the Court addresses each of Defendants' contentions.

         II. Legal Standard

         A. Rule 12(b)(6)

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of an action where a complaint fails “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” In evaluating a motion to dismiss, the Court must “treat the complaint's factual allegations as true . . . and must grant [P]laintiff ‘the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.'” Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979)) (citation omitted); see also Jerome Stevens Pharms., Inc. v. FDA, 402 F.3d 1249, 1250 (D.C. Cir. 2005). The pleading rules are “not meant to impose a great burden upon a plaintiff, ” Dura Pharm., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347 (2005), and she must thus be given every favorable inference that may be drawn from the allegations of fact. Sparrow, 216 F.3d at 1113.

         Although “detailed factual allegations” are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, id. at 555, “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 (2009) (citation omitted). The Court need not accept as true, then, “a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation, ” nor an inference unsupported by the facts set forth in the Complaint. Trudeau v. Fed. Trade Comm'n, 456 F.3d 178, 193 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted)). For a plaintiff to survive a 12(b)(6) motion even if “recovery is very remote and unlikely, ” the facts alleged in the complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007) (citing Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)).

         B. § 1404 Transfer of Venue

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b), venue will lie in any district where (1) the defendant resides, (2) a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred, or (3) if there is no other district where suit may be brought, where the defendant is subject to personal jurisdiction. Even if a case is properly venued, however, it need not necessarily remain there. A district court may, “for the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interests of justice . . .[, ] transfer [it] . . . to any other district . . . where it might have been brought.” 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). District courts have “discretion . . . to adjudicate motions for transfer according to an ‘individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness.'” Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988) (quoting Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 622 (1964)).

         III. Analysis

         Plaintiff's suit revolves around the USCIS Dallas Field Office's delay in processing his naturalization application. Defendants, contending that this Dallas-centric action belongs in the Eastern District of Texas, ask this Court to transfer it there. Before it does so, however, they also seek dismissal of Count III, which alleges that the agency's delay violated the INA. While the D.C. Circuit has counseled that “normally, ” a court should “be inclined to transfer the entire case, ” it need not “follow that path when briefing and argument in [the] court have convinced [it] that [a plaintiff] has stated no claim” against the defendant. See Cameron v. Thornburgh, 983 F.2d 253, 258 n.5 (D.C. Cir. 1993). Such is the case here, as the Government presents a straightforward case for dismissal of one count. The Court thus begins its analysis there before addressing Defendants' Motion to Transfer.

         A. Dismissal Under Rule 12(b)(6)

         Under Count III, Plaintiff alleges that “[b]y refusing to adjudicate [his] N-336 naturalization appeal, Defendants are depriving [him] of his statutory right under the INA to seek judicial review of the denial of his N-400 naturalization application.” Compl., ¶ 40. By way of background, an applicant for naturalization initiates the process by submitting USCIS's Form N-400. See 8 U.S.C. § 1446. When, as here, the agency issues an adverse decision, the applicant can appeal it by requesting a hearing before an immigration officer within 30 days of denial. See 8 U.S.C. § 1447(a). Upon receipt of the administrative appeal (also known as the N-336 Form), the agency must schedule a review hearing within “180 days ...

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