United States District Court, District of Columbia
Document No. 2
RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction
Usha Sagarwala is a citizen of India who has lived in the
United States since 2012 on an H-1B visa, a status granted to
foreign citizens employed in "specialty
occupation[s]." 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(H)(i)(B).
But when Sagarwala sought to change jobs in 2018, the United
States Citizenship and Immigration Services
("USCIS") concluded that her new position did not
constitute a "specialty occupation" and denied her
prospective new employer's petition to extend her visa.
In this lawsuit brought against USCIS's Director,
Sagarwala argues that the denial of the H-1B petition
violated the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA").
See 5 U.S.C. § 706. Presently before the Court
is Sagarwala's motion for a preliminary injunction that
would, for the duration of the lawsuit, grant her all of the
benefits she would have received if the visa petition had
been granted. As explained below, the Court denies this
motion without taking a position on the merits of
Sagarwala's underlying APA claim, because irrespective of
the merits, Sagarwala has failed to substantiate her
allegations of irreparable harm with specific factual
information. Injunctive relief is thus inappropriate at this
turning to the preliminary injunction motion, however, the
Court must first briefly address a jurisdictional challenge
that the USCIS Director has raised. The Director contends
that Sagarwala lacks standing to challenge the denial of the
H-1B petition because she was merely the beneficiary of the
petition, which her prospective new employer submitted on her
behalf. According to the Director, because Sagarwala was not
the party who actually submitted the petition, she lacks a
sufficient personal stake in the outcome of this case to
invoke federal court jurisdiction. But this Court has already
rejected a similar argument in another case and held that a
visa beneficiary has standing to bring a judicial challenge
to USCIS's denial of an H-1B petition submitted on his or
her behalf. See Stellar IT Sols., Inc. v. USCIS, No.
18-2015, 2018 WL 6047413, at *5 (D.D.C. Nov. 19, 2018). Like
the plaintiff in that case, Sagarwala has suffered an
injury-in-fact-the loss of her lawful ability to work in this
country-that is traceable to USCIS's denial of the
petition and redressable by a favorable ruling from this
Court. She therefore has standing. See, e.g., Lujan v.
Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992) (general
Article III standing requirements); Mantena v.
Johnson, 809 F.3d 721, 731 (2d Cir. 2015) (holding that
foreign citizen had standing to challenge revocation of 1-140
petition that her employer filed on her behalf); Kurapati
v. USCIS, 775 F.3d 1255, 1259-60 (11th Cir. 2014)
that out of the way, the Court now turns to the familiar
preliminary injunction standard. "A party seeking a
preliminary injunction must make a 'clear showing that
four factors, taken together, warrant relief: likely success
on the merits, likely irreparable harm in the absence of
preliminary relief, a balance of the equities in its favor,
and accord with the public interest.'" League of
Women Voters of the U.S. v. Newby, 838 F.3d 1, 6 (D.C.
Cir. 2016) (quoting Pursuing Am. 's Greatness v.
FEC, 831 F.3d 500, 505 (D.C. Cir. 2016)). For years,
courts in this circuit weighed these factors through
application of a "sliding-scale" approach, under
which "a strong showing on one factor could make up for
a weaker showing on another." Id. at 7 (quoting
Sherley v. Sebelius, 644 F.3d 388, 392 (D.C. Cir.
2011)). But the validity of that approach is now in doubt
following the Supreme Court's decision in Winter v.
Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7
(2008). See, e.g., Sherley, 644 F.3d at 392-93. The
D.C. Circuit has "suggested, without deciding, that
Winter should be read to abandon the sliding-scale
analysis in favor of a 'more demanding burden'
requiring plaintiffs to independently demonstrate both a
likelihood of success on the merits and irreparable
harm." Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. U.S. Army Corps
of Eng'rs, 205 F.Supp.3d 4, 26 (D.D.C. 2016) (citing
Sherley, 644 F.3d at 392-93; Davis v. Pension
Benefit Guar. Corp., 571 F.3d 1288, 1292 (D.C. Cir.
even before Winter, courts in this circuit
consistently stressed that "a movant must demonstrate
'at least some injury' for a preliminary injunction
to issue." Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches v.
England, 454 F.3d 290, 297 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting
CityFedFin. Corp. v. OTS, 58 F.3d 738, 747 (D.C.
Cir. 1995)). Thus, "if a party makes no showing of
irreparable injury, the court may deny the motion without
considering the other factors." Henke v. Dep 't
of Interior, 842 F.Supp.2d 54, 59 (D.D.C. 2012) (quoting
CityFed Fin. Corp., 58 F.3d at 747); see
also Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches, 454 F.3d at
297 ("A movant's failure to show any irreparable
harm is . . . grounds for refusing to issue a preliminary
injunction, even if the other three factors entering the
calculus merit such relief"). The movant's burden is
also a heavy one: The D.C. Circuit "has set a high
standard for irreparable injury," Chaplaincy of Full
Gospel Churches, 454 F.3d at 297, and a
"prospective injury that is sufficient to establish
standing . . . does not necessarily satisfy" that
standard, Cal. Ass 'n of Private Postsecondary Schs.
v. DeVos (CAPPS), 344 F.Supp.3d 158, 170 (D.D.C. 2018).
Instead, the "injury must be unrecoverable; it must be
'both certain and great; [and] it must be actual and not
theoretical.'" Id. (alteration in original)
(quoting Wis. Gas. Co. v. Fed Energy Regulatory Comm
'n, 758 F.2d 669, 674 (D.C. Cir. 1985)).
general rule is that "economic loss does not, in and of
itself," suffice. Air Trans. Ass'n of Am., Inc.
v. Exp.-Imp. Bank of the U.S., 840 F.Supp.2d 327, 335
(D.D.C. 2012) (quoting Wis. Gas. Co., 758 F.2d at
674). A narrow exception to this rule might exist in cases,
such as this one, where the allegedly offending party is a
government entity that enjoys sovereign immunity from claims
for money damages. See CAPPS, 344 F.Supp.3d at 170
("To be sure, economic loss sustained due to a federal
administrative action is typically 'uncompensable' in
the sense that federal agencies enjoy sovereign immunity, and
the wavier of sovereign immunity in the APA does not reach
damages claims."); 5 U.S.C. § 702 (authorizing
actions "seeking relief other than money damages").
But even in those cases, damages are not per se
irreparable. Otherwise the irreparable harm requirement would
be virtually nonexistent in cases against the government:
"Any movant that could show any damages against an
agency with sovereign immunity-even as little as $1-would
satisfy the standard." Air Transport Ass 'n of
Am., 840 F.Supp.2d at 335.
this reason, to be legally cognizable, "an asserted
'economic harm' must 'be significant,
even where it is irretrievable because a defendant has
sovereign immunity.'" CAPPS, 344 F.Supp.3d
at 170 (emphasis added) (quoting Air Transp. Ass'n of
Am., 840 F.Supp.2d at 335). "[T]he loss
'must... be serious in terms of its effect on the
plaintiff" Id. (omission in original) (quoting
Gulf Oil Corp. v. Dep 't of Energy, 514 F.Supp.
1019, 1026 (D.D.C. 1981)). In this context, '"broad
conclusory statements' about the likelihood of harm"
are not enough either. Guttenberg v. Emery, 26
F.Supp.3d 88, 102 (D.D.C. 2014) (quoting Cornish v.
Dudas, 540 F.Supp.2d 61, 65 (D.D.C. 2008)). The movant
must instead "substantiate the claim that
irreparable injury is likely to occur." CAPPS,
344 F.Supp.3d at 171 (internal quotation marks omitted)
(quoting Wis. Gas. Co., 758 F.2d at 674).
Sagarwala's claimed injuries all arise out of economic
harm; her motion does not allege that she is now legally
prohibited from residing in the United States. Cf. Stellar
IT, 2018 WL 6047413, at *11 (finding that plaintiff who
was, as a result of H-1B denial, "without legal status
at this moment and could, by law, be placed in removal
proceedings at any time" had established irreparable
harm). Sagarwala instead contends that, because she cannot
legally work in this country without H-1B status, she is
currently unable to afford to pay her mortgage and for other
necessities. She claims that she will thus have no choice but
to return, with her daughter, to India, where she will be
unable to find work that pays enough to keep her house and
car in the United States while also covering her living
expenses in India.
Court is sensitive to the apprehensions Sagarwala may be
experiencing as a result of her loss of H-1B status, but the
problem for purposes of her motion for preliminary injunction
is that she has provided virtually no specific factual
information to substantiate her claim. The only piece of
evidence that Sagarwala has submitted on this issue is a
short declaration that focuses mostly on what will happen
//she is forced to go back to India. The declaration says
little about why Sagarwala would need to leave in
the first place, though-much less why she would need to leave
imminently. The declaration states only that she
"rel[ies] on [her] salary to pay" her $3, 711
monthly mortgage and other expenses; it does not specify how
much she relies on it. Deck of Usha Sagarwala ¶ 7, ECF
No. 2-2. Indeed, the declaration provides no information
whatsoever about Sagarwala's household income (she is
married) or her current financial situation. See Id.
¶¶ 5-8. The Court of course understands that the
loss of Sagarwala's salary would naturally impact her
family's economic circumstances, but she cannot meet her
burden without "specific details regarding the
extent" of that impact. CAPPS, 344 F.Supp.3d at
171 (quoting Nat'l Ass 'n of Mortg. Brokers v.
Bd. of Governors of the Fed. Res. Syst., 773 F.Supp.2d
151, 181 (D.D.C. 2011)). Only with such specific details can
the Court know the significance of the injury
"in terms of its effect" on Sagarwala. Air
Transport Ass 'n of Am., 840 F.Supp.2d at 334
(quoting Hi-Tech Pharmacal Co. v. FDA, 587 F.Supp.2d
1, 11 (D.D.C. 2008)). And only with such details can the
Court be confident that Sagarwala's injury is so certain
and so imminent that there is a "clear and present need
for extraordinary equitable relief to prevent [the]
harm." GEO Specialty Chems., Inc. v. Husisian,
923 F.Supp.2d 143, 147 (D.D.C. 2013) (quoting Power
Mobility Coal. v. Leavitt, 404 F.Supp.2d 190, 204
specific details, all the Court has here are "[b]are
allegations of what is likely to occur"-which are
"of no value" on consideration of a motion for
preliminary injunction. CAPPS, 344 F.Supp.3d at 171
(alteration in original) (quoting Wis. Gas. Co., 758
F.2d at 674). Sagarwala has thus failed to make any showing
of irreparable injury, and the Court concludes that
injunctive relief is inappropriate without considering the
other relevant factors. See, e.g., Chaplaincy of Full
Gospel Churches, 454 F.3d at 297. Sagarwala's motion
for preliminary injunction is accordingly
DENIED. An order consistent with this
Memorandum Opinion is separately and contemporaneously