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IK School of Gymnastics, Inc. v. Nielsen

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 26, 2018

IK SCHOOL OF GYMNASTICS, Plaintiff,
v.
KIRSTJEN NIELSON et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TREVOR N. McFADDEN, U.S.D.J.

         IK School of Gymnastics (“the School”) requested that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) classify Ms. Viktoriia Savelieva as an “alien of extraordinary ability, ” a status that would allow her to enter the United States to work at the School's gymnastics training center in Florida. As evidence of Ms. Savelieva's ability and renown as a gymnast, the School submitted documentation such as photos of awards and trophies, certificates, news articles, and letters from coaches. USCIS, though, denied the School's petition, concluding that Ms. Savelieva did not satisfy the statutory requirements for an extraordinary ability visa.

         The School now sues USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna and his boss, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen, bringing claims under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), the Declaratory Judgment Act, and the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”). The School asserts that the agency's denial was arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion. In response, the Federal Defendants ask this Court: (1) to dismiss the School's complaint, in part, for a lack of subject matter jurisdiction; and (2) to grant summary judgment in their favor on the APA count. The School also moved for summary judgment. These opposing motions are now ripe.

         Given the generous arbitrary-and-capricious standard of review, this Court will not overturn the agency's reasoned judgment that the School did not satisfy the statutory requirements for this type of visa. So the Defendants' motion will be granted, and the Plaintiff's motion will be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The School is a professional gymnastics training center in Miami, Florida. Compl. ¶ 8, ECF 1. It sought to employ Ms. Savelieva, a citizen of Ukraine, as “a rhythmic gymnastics assistant coach/performer, ” so it submitted on her behalf an I-129 non-immigrant visa petition for her classification as an alien of extraordinary ability. Id. ¶ 17. In support of its petition, the School submitted various forms of documentation. See generally CAR 265-331.

         After receiving the School's petition and materials, USCIS sent the School a “Request for Evidence, ” seeking specific additional documentation. See CAR 246-54. The School then submitted both a written response and additional evidence. See CAR 18-127. USCIS still denied the School's petition because it concluded that the School did not establish “the type of sustained national or international recognition of accomplishments necessary[.]” CAR 9. Accordingly, it determined that Ms. Savelieva was ineligible for classification as an alien of extraordinary ability. Id. Noting that “[t]he burden of proof to establish eligibility for a desired preference rests on the petitioner, ” USCIS found that the School had fallen short. Id.

         The School seeks relief in this Court, alleging that USCIS's decision was arbitrary and capricious and not in accordance with the law. Compl. ¶ 1. In response, USCIS asks this Court to dismiss the School's complaint, in part, for a lack of subject matter jurisdiction and to grant summary judgment in its favor on the School's APA claim. Defs.' Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss 1-2, ECF No. 17-1 (“Defs. Mem.”). The School also seeks summary judgment. Pl. Mem. 1-2, ECF No. 20-1 (“Pl. Mem.”). The parties' opposing motions are before the Court.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         “Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction” and thus “possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of America, 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Jurisdiction is thus a prerequisite that must be satisfied before proceeding to the merits, and a federal court must dismiss any action over which it determines that it lacks jurisdiction. Moms Against Mercury v. FDA, 483 F.3d 824, 826 (D.C. Cir. 2007). The party claiming subject matter jurisdiction has the burden of establishing it. Arpaio v. Obama, 797 F.3d 11, 19 (D.C. Cir. 2015).

         Summary judgment is usually only appropriate if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56. But when a court is reviewing an administrative agency's decision, the standard set out in Federal Civil Procedure Rule 56 does not apply. Richards v. I.N.S., 554 F.2d 1173, 1177 (D.C. Cir. 1977). Instead, as both parties acknowledge, courts review an agency's decision under the deferential standard provided in the APA. See Ramaprakash v. Fed. Aviation Admin., 346 F.3d 1121, 1124 (D.C. Cir. 2003).

         Under the APA, “the reviewing court shall . . . hold unlawful and set aside agency action, findings, and conclusions found to be . . . arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law[.]” 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A). The court asks whether the record contains “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support” the agency's decision. Consolo v. Fed. Mar. Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966).

         Courts “will not disturb the decision of an agency that has ‘examined the relevant data and articulated a satisfactory explanation for its action including a rational connection between the facts found and the choice made.'” MD Pharm. Inc. v. Drug Enf't Admin., 133 F.3d 8, 16 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (quoting Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass'n v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 463 U.S. 29, 43 (1983)). Even though a reviewing court may not “supply a reasoned basis for the agency's action that the agency itself has not given[, ]” it may “uphold a decision of less than ideal clarity if the agency's path may reasonably be discerned.” Bowman Transp., Inc. v. Arkansas-Best Freight System, Inc., 419 U.S. 281, 285-86 (1974).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. The Court Will Grant USCIS's Motion to Dismiss

         USCIS first argues that this Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over the School's claims under the Declaratory Judgment Act and the INA. Defs. Mem. 1. USCIS admits that the APA provides ...


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