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Al-Haddad v. Sessions

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 16, 2019

AHMED ZAKI DAWOOD AL-HADDAD, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFFERSON B. SESSIONS, III, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS FOR LACK OF SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION

          RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Ahmed Zaki Dawood Al-Haddad has brought this lawsuit under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 701 et seq., to challenge the denial of his application for refugee resettlement in the United States under Section 207 of the Immigration and Naturalization Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1157. Defendants now move to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim, arguing that his claims are non-justiciable and barred by longstanding principles of nonreviewability of visa denials. Because it lacks jurisdiction to review discretionary denials of refugee resettlement applications, the Court grants the motion to dismiss.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Ahmed Zaki Dawood Al-Haddad (“Al-Haddad”) is an Iraqi national who lives in Baghdad. See 2014 Request for Review, Compl. Ex. 4, at 1, ECF No. 1-4. Al-Haddad and his family have a history of involvement with U.S.-led and funded efforts in Iraq since at least 2007. See Id. at 1-2. In 2007, Al-Haddad and his family were forced to temporarily relocate to Syria after a failed kidnapping attempt on one of his family members caused by his older brother's work in the International Zone in Baghdad. Id. at 2. Between 2009 and 2013, Al-Haddad himself worked as a network engineer on a number of U.S. government contracts in the International Zone. Id. at 1. Al-Haddad also acted as a translator for Reuters' chief bureau officer in Baghdad during that time. Id. And between at least February and September 2014, Al-Haddad worked as a Communications Officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development. Id. at 8. As a result of their work in the International Zone and on U.S.-led projects, both Al-Haddad, his family, and his co-workers were targeted for reprisals on numerous occasions over the years. See Id. at 2. Aside from the 2007 kidnapping attempt, Al-Haddad and his family were threatened on several occasions between 2009 and 2012. Id. After several of Al-Haddad's family members were admitted to the United States as refugees in 2012, threats against Al-Haddad and his older brother continued. Id. at 2-3.

         Al-Haddad applied for refugee resettlement in the United States at some point in 2010 or earlier. See Id. at 2. Under Section § 207 of the Immigration and Naturalization Act (“INA”), 8 U.S.C. § 1157, the admission of refugees is committed to the discretion of the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. See 8 U.S.C. § 1157(c)(1); 6 U.S.C. § 557. On June 16, 2014, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) issued Al-Haddad a notice of ineligibility for resettlement. Compl. at 5; 2014 Notice of Ineligibility, Compl. Ex. 1, at 1, ECF No. 1-1. The notice explained that Al-Haddad's application for refugee resettlement under § 207 of the INA had “been denied as a matter of discretion for security-related reasons.” 2014 Notice of Ineligibility at 2.

         On September 8, 2014, Al-Haddad filed a request for review of the denial, attaching a number of documents in support. Compl. at 5; see generally 2014 Request for Review. While there is no formal mechanism for review of refugee resettlement applications, see 8 U.S.C. § 1157; 8 C.F.R. § 207.4 (“There is no appeal from a denial of refugee status under this chapter”), USCIS considers informal requests for review of such denials in its discretion, see Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss at 3, ECF No. 7. In this case, USCIS initially responded to the request for review on September 11, 2017, overturning the denial of the request for resettlement and indicating that Al-Haddad was “now conditionally eligible for resettlement, pending all necessary . . . security clearances.” Sept. 11, 2017 Request for Review Response, Compl. Ex. 9, at 1, ECF No. 1-9. However, just nine days later on September 20, 2017, USCIS issued Al-Haddad a second notice of ineligibility for resettlement, referencing both his initial application for refugee resettlement and his request for review. Compl. at 7; Sept. 20, 2017 Notice of Ineligibility, Compl. Ex. 10, at 1, ECF No. 1-10. As with the 2014 notice, USCIS indicated that “[a]fter a review of all the information concerning [Al-Haddad's] case, ” his application for refugee resettlement had been denied “as a matter of discretion for security reasons.” Sept. 20, 2017 Notice of Ineligibility at 2.

         On March 24, 2018, Al-Haddad brought suit against various U.S. government officials, alleging that the denial of his refugee resettlement application was an arbitrary and capricious decision in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”). Compl. at 2-3. On June 15, 2018, Defendants moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. See Defs.' Mot. Dismiss at 1, ECF No. 7. Al-Haddad filed his opposition on August 6, 2018, Pl.'s Mem. Opp'n Mot. Dismiss at 1, ECF No. 10, and Defendants filed their reply on August 17, 2018, Defs.' Reply at 1, ECF No. 12. The motion to dismiss is now ripe for consideration.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) provides for the dismissal of an action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, and it is generally presumed that “a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Accordingly, it is imperative that this Court “begin, and end, ” with an examination of its jurisdiction. Gen. Motors Corp. v. EPA, 363 F.3d 442, 448 (D.C. Cir. 2004).

         It is the plaintiff's burden to establish that the court has subject matter jurisdiction over his or her claims. Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992). In determining whether the plaintiff has met this burden, a court must accept “the allegations of the complaint as true, ” Banneker Ventures, LLC v. Graham, 798 F.3d 1119, 1129 (D.C. Cir. 2015), and “construe the complaint liberally, granting the plaintiff the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged[, ]” Barr v. Clinton, 370 F.3d 1196, 1199 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (internal quotation marks omitted). However, “the plaintiff'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.” Grand Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185 F.Supp.2d 9, 13-14 (D.D.C. 2001).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         Al-Haddad challenges the discretionary denial of his refugee resettlement application pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1157(c)(1). He brings this challenge under § 702 of the APA, arguing that the denial caused a legal wrong that entitles him to judicial review. Compl. at 3 (citing 5 U.S.C. § 702). Defendants argue that the Court does not have jurisdiction over Al-Haddad's APA claims because the INA expressly divested courts of jurisdiction over discretionary decisions like refugee resettlement denials. Defs' Mem. Supp. at 6. The Court agrees with Defendants, and accordingly grants the motion to dismiss.

         “The APA confers a general cause of action upon persons ‘adversely affected or aggrieved by agency action within the meaning of a relevant statute.'” Block v. Cmty. Nutrition Inst., 467 U.S. 340, 345 (1984) (quoting 5 U.S.C. § 702). However, the APA “withdraws that cause of action to the extent the relevant statute ‘preclude[s] judicial review.'” Id. (alteration in original) (quoting 5 U.S.C. § 701(a)(1)). And the INA includes such a restriction on judicial review: it provides that “any . . . decision or action of . . . the Secretary of Homeland Security the authority for which is specified . . . to be in the discretion of the . . . . Secretary of Homeland Security” is not subject to judicial review by federal courts. 8 U.S.C. § ...


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