United States District Court, District of Columbia
E. BOASBERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Alfonso Jimenez Joseph died last year in the custody of U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, prompting his family to
probe ICE for records that might shed light on the
circumstances surrounding his death. Plaintiff Gilberto
Rodriguez Chaverra, the administrator of Jimenez's
estate, first employed the Freedom of Information Act
process. After coming up empty, he next made his request
directly to the specific detention center - outside of the
procedures afforded by FOIA - but fared no better. Chaverra
then filed this suit against ICE, two other governmental
entities, and one individual. In addition to FOIA claims,
Plaintiff includes a cause of action under the Administrative
Procedure Act and a Petition for Writ of Mandamus. These
latter two counts are the subject of this litigation's
first volley. Defendants seek to dismiss them both, leaving
the FOIA counts for another day. Because the law is clear
that Plaintiff's opportunity to seek redress through FOIA
is an adequate remedy, the Court will grant Defendants'
15, 2017, while detained in ICE custody at the Stewart
Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, Jimenez died in an
apparent suicide. See ECF No. 1 (Compl.) at 2-3.
According to the Complaint, Defendant had identified Jimenez
as a suicide risk when he first arrived at the facility but
nevertheless failed to afford him the necessary mental-health
care and intervention. Id. at 2. Instead, Plaintiff
says, ICE placed Jimenez in solitary confinement.
Id. This unfortunate treatment spurred Jimenez's
family - led by Chaverra - to seek more information about the
circumstances of his death. Id.
began his quest for information through FOIA. He filed a
request with ICE seeking “all records, including
medical, pertaining to” Jimenez. Id. at 8. In
its final response, ICE withheld all responsive records in
full under Exemption 7(A), which protects certain documents
compiled for law-enforcement purposes during the pendency of
proceedings. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(A). In
the event Exemption 7(A)'s protection expires -
i.e., the proceedings conclude - ICE reserved the
right to assert Exemptions 6, 7(C), 7(D), 7(E), and 7(F).
See Compl., Exh. D (ICE FOIA Response) at 1.
Chaverra's appeal to the agency of this determination
proved unsuccessful. Id, Exh. G (ICE FOIA Appeal
Response) at 1.
next bypassed FOIA's procedures and directly contacted
the ICE Health Services Corps at the Stewart Detention
Center, from whom he requested the same medical records.
Id at 12. This avenue, too, ended in a roadblock:
ICE informed Chaverra that it would entertain a request for
Jimenez's medical records only via FOIA. Id So
Chaverra reverted once again to that process. He filed a
number of additional requests seeking a broad range of
documents from a variety of governmental entities.
Id at 9-12. The Court will save the specifics of
these requests for another occasion, when FOIA will take
center stage. For now, it suffices to say that
Plaintiff's efforts again bore no fruit, ultimately
prompting this suit.
filed a seven-count Complaint against ICE, two other offices
of the Department of Homeland Security, and Dr. Stewart D.
Smith, the administrator who oversees the ICE Health Services
Corps. FOIA serves as the cause of action for his first five
counts. There, Plaintiff challenges the agencies'
withholding of various documents, including Jimenez's
medical records from his time in ICE detention, and alleges
that Defendants did not adequately respond to Plaintiff's
subsequent FOIA requests. In Count VI, Chaverra seeks similar
relief through a Petition for Writ of Mandamus pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1361. He alleges that the Privacy Rule, 45
C.F.R. §§ 164.502(g), 164.524 - a regulation
promulgated pursuant to the Health Insurance Portability and
Accountability Act (HIPAA) - bestows upon him a clear legal
right to Jimenez's medical records. Chaverra thus asks
the Court to compel Defendants to turn over these records.
seeks the same relief in Count VII, but this time under
§ 706(1) of the APA. Like his mandamus count, Chaverra
contends here that ICE has a legal obligation under the
Privacy Rule to turn over Jimenez's medical records and
explains in his Opposition that Defendant's refusal to do
so constitutes agency action contrary to law (although this
precise articulation does not appear in his Complaint).
See ECF No. 13 (Pl. Opp.) at 21. Chaverra also
points to a 2011 ICE guidance document to support his
argument: the Performance-Based National Detention Standards
(PBNDS). Id. at 10-11, 21. This guidance, Plaintiff
says, independently entitles him to Jimenez's medical
records. He asserts that ICE treats the PBNDS, although
promulgated without notice and comment, as binding on the
agency. Id. at 10. By declining to provide
Jimenez's medical records, therefore, Chaverra contends
(also in his Opposition) that ICE's action in
“failing to follow its own sub-regulatory
guidelines” is arbitrary and capricious. Id at
now move to dismiss Counts VI (mandamus) and VII (APA)
pursuant to, respectively, Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6).
They do not challenge the FOIA claims this time around.
evaluating Defendants' 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
Pharm., 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 it must thus be
given every favorable inference that may be drawn from the
allegations of fact. Sparrow, 216 F.3d at 1113.
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.” Although
“detailed factual allegations” are not necessary
to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, “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, 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)).
standard to survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1)
is less forgiving. Under this Rule, a plaintiff bears the
burden of proving that the Court has subject-matter
jurisdiction to hear its claims. See Lujan v. Defenders
of Wildlife,504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992). A court also has
an “affirmative obligation to ensure that it is acting
within the scope of its jurisdictional authority.”
Grand Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft185 F.Supp.2d 9, 13 (D.D.C. 2001). For this reason,
“‘the [p]laintiff s factual allegations in the
complaint . . . will bear closer scrutiny in resolving a
12(b)(1) motion' than in resolving a 12(b)(6) motion for
failure to state a claim.” Id. at 13-14
(quoting 5A Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal
Practice and Procedure § 1350 (2d ed. 1987)
(alteration in original)). Additionally, unlike with a motion
to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court “may consider