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Statewide Bonding, Inc. v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 19, 2019

STATEWIDE BONDING, INC., et al., Plaintiffs,


          JAMES E. BOASBERG United States District Judge

         For much of this country's history, money bail offered persons detained on criminal charges one of the only ways they could obtain release. The Bail Reform Act of 1984 changed that for the federal system. Abolishing financial bonds and replacing them with a system of monitored release, the Act changed the architecture of pretrial detention. For all the reforms it enacted, however, it did not completely disentangle the federal government from money bail. This case involves one area in which such bonds persist: the release of certain non-citizens pending immigration proceedings. Plaintiffs here are several companies and an individual involved in issuing bail bonds to persons in immigration detention. In their Complaint, they contend that the Department of Homeland Security is engaging in a host of unlawful practices with respect to those bonds. These are serious allegations that may well be worthy of judicial consideration. But not today. As the Court cannot discern from the pleadings what precise practices Plaintiffs take issue with, what legal claims derive therefrom, and how these Plaintiffs are harmed, it is bound to dismiss the Complaint for lack of standing. Plaintiffs may amend, however, if, through clearer allegations, they can demonstrate that subject-matter jurisdiction does exist here.

         I. Background

         This is one of several lawsuits Plaintiffs have filed in this Court seeking relief from Defendant DHS's immigration-bond practices. Two of the Plaintiffs - Statewide Bonding, Inc. and Big Marco Insurance and Bonding Services, LLC - are “bonding compan[ies] that issue[] criminal and immigration bonds throughout the United States.” ECF No. 8 (Amended Complaint), ¶¶ 14-15. The others are Nexus Services, Inc., a business that helps immigrants obtain release from detention by guaranteeing their bonds, and Mike Donovan, Nexus's President and CEO. (For ease of reference, and unless distinguishing among Plaintiffs, the Court will refer to them collectively as “Statewide.”)

         They filed this suit against DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement back in September 2018, requesting monetary, declaratory, and injunctive relief for violations of the Administrative Procedure Act and the Due Process Clause and for breach of contract. See ECF No. 1 (Complaint) at 2-3. Soon after, Plaintiffs sought emergency relief in the form of a temporary restraining order. See ECF No. 4 (Motion for TRO). Concluding that they had not shown that they would suffer irreparable harm absent judicial intervention and expressing doubts about its jurisdictional basis, the Court denied the application. See Minute Order 10/5/2018. On October 16, Statewide filed an Amended Complaint seeking only declaratory and injunctive relief. See Amended Compl., ¶¶ 57-60. The precise facts and claims raised therein are somewhat difficult to divine - a concern to which the Court will soon return. Accepting the factual allegations as true, see Hurd v. District of Columbia, 864 F.3d 671, 678 (D.C. Cir. 2017), the following is nonetheless the best the Court can glean about Plaintiffs' case.

         The dispute centers on DHS's immigration-bond practices. Certain persons in immigration custody - presumably those detained pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1226(a) - may be released on bond pending further proceedings. See 8 C.F.R. §§ 103.6, 236.1(c)(8). Many obtain bond with the help of companies like Statewide and Big Marco, perhaps with additional support from Nexus, although that is unclear. See Amended Compl., ¶ 16. Upon release from custody, they are supposed to receive “Notices to Appear” (NTAs) - documents containing information about the nature of their immigration proceedings and the time and place those proceedings will be held. See 8 U.S.C. § 1229(a). But DHS often issues NTAs without the time, place, or date of the next proceeding. See Amended Compl., ¶ 38. In addition, copies of the NTAs are not sent to the entities responsible for procuring the non-citizens' release and return - viz., the bond companies and Nexus, as the bonds' guarantor. Id., ¶ 39. These practices make it less likely that immigrants released on bond will attend their subsequent hearings, thereby increasing the likelihood that bonds will be breached. Id., ¶¶ 40, 45-47.

         Compounding matters, Statewide says, are the Government's abbreviated follow-up efforts after a bond is breached. In that event, DHS sends the bonding company a “Notice to Produce Alien” (NPA) - a document directing it to ensure the non-citizen's attendance at a hearing. Id., ¶¶ 48-50. Yet the NPAs allegedly give Plaintiffs less than ten days to track down persons who have missed the hearings, which they maintain is insufficient. Id., ¶ 52. Those practices, not surprisingly, thus lead to a substantial number of uncured bond breaches.

         Where the Complaint gets more confusing is in its articulated causes of action, which are differentiated by form of relief rather than, as is appropriate, the substantive legal claim. Each count, in fact, conflates different claims under one heading. The first, for example, seeks “Declaratory Relief for violation of the Administrative Procedure[] Act . . . by disregarding the requirements of, inter alia, 8 U.S.C. § 1229 and for violation of Procedural and Substantive Due Process Rights protected by the Due Process Clause 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.” Id. at 18. The second seeks “Injunctive Relief for violation of the Administrative Procedure[] Act . . . as well as Procedural and Substantive Due Process Rights.” Id. at 19. In support of these claims, Statewide points to DHS's practice of issuing NTAs without a “time, date and place regarding immigrant court appearance” and sending NPAs with an “inadequate amount of time to produce an alien.” Id., ¶ 58.

         After filing the Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Declaratory Judgment and Permanent Injunctive Relief. See ECF No. 10. In addition to opposing that Motion, the Government has filed Motions to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) and for More Definite Statement under Rule 12(e). See ECF No. 22 (MTD).

         II. Legal Standard

         As the Court does not ultimately evaluate Plaintiffs' Motion, it sets out the standards only for those brought by Defendants. In analyzing their Motion to Dismiss, the Court must “treat the complaint's factual allegations as true . . . and must grant plaintiff ‘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)) (internal citation omitted). The Court need not accept as true, however, “a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation, ” nor an inference unsupported by the facts set forth in the complaint. Trudeau v. FTC, 456 F.3d 178, 193 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted)).

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), the 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); US Ecology, Inc. v. U.S. Dep't of Interior, 231 F.3d 20, 24 (D.C. Cir. 2000). A court has an “affirmative obligation to ensure that it is acting within the scope of its jurisdictional authority.” Grand Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185 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, Fed. Practice & Procedure § 1350 (2d ed. 1987)) (alteration in original).

         Rule 12(e) permits a defendant to move for a more definite statement if “a pleading . . . is so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response.” “[W]hen a defendant is unclear about the meaning of a particular allegation in the complaint, the proper course of action is not to move to dismiss but to move for a more definite statement.” Hilska v. Jones, 217 F.R.D. 16, 21 (D.D.C. 2003) (quoting Am. Nurses' Ass'n v. Illinois, 783 F.2d 716, 725 (7th Cir. 1986)).

         III. ...

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