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Jafarzadeh v. McAleenan

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 30, 2019

MANOUCHEHR JAFARZADEH, et al., Plaintiffs,
KEVIN McALEENAN, Acting Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, [1] et al., Defendants.


          John D. Bates. United States District Judge.

         Manouchehr Jafarzadeh and Shahnaz Karami, husband and wife, have faced a long and difficult path to becoming lawful permanent residents of the United States. Karami waited for years for her application for lawful permanent resident (“LPR”) status to be granted. Jafarzadeh also waited for years, only to have his application denied by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”). When Karami and Jafarzadeh discovered that their applications had been subject to heightened review under USCIS's Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program (“CARRP”) policy, they filed this lawsuit. Their amended complaint alleged that CARRP violates the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), 5 U.S.C. § 551 et seq., and they sought to have Jafarzadeh's application for LPR status adjudicated without the influence of CARRP. However, in March 2019, an immigration judge granted Jafarzadeh LPR status in removal proceedings. Defendants now move for dismissal of this case as moot. Defs.' Renewed Mot. to Dismiss Pls.' Am. Compl. as Moot (“Defs.' Renewed Mot. to Dismiss”) [ECF No. 58] at 1. For the reasons that follow, the Court agrees with defendants and finds that it must dismiss the case.


         Jafarzadeh is a citizen of Iran who has lived legally and continuously in the United States with his wife, Karami, an Iranian citizen and LPR of the United States, for over three decades. Jafarzadeh v. Nielsen, 321 F.Supp.3d 19, 24 (D.D.C. 2018). Jafarzadeh applied for LPR status in January 2010, and his application remained pending for years with USCIS, a component of the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”). Id. at 25. During that time, USCIS processed Jafarzadeh's application under its CARRP policy, a separate, secret track for processing certain applications that USCIS adopted in 2008. Id.; Defs.' Notice of Serv. of Admin. R. & Mem. of P. & A. (“Defs.' Notice of Serv.”) [ECF No. 45] at 2. CARRP was “unknown to anyone outside the government until it was discovered in a court case that was filed in 2010.” Jafarzadeh, 321 F.Supp.3d at 38-39.

         Jafarzadeh and his family members filed this suit in 2016 challenging, inter alia, the legality of the CARRP policy under the APA.[2] Id. at 25. USCIS denied Jafarzadeh's application and placed him in removal proceedings in February 2017. Id.; Am. Compl. [ECF No. 30] ¶ 27. At the conclusion of those proceedings in March 2019, an immigration judge granted Jafarzadeh LPR status. Order of the Immigration Judge, Ex. 1 to Defs.' Renewed Mot. to Dismiss [ECF No. 58-1] at 1.


         “If the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3). A court may only exercise jurisdiction over actions presenting “Cases” or “Controversies.” U.S. Const. art. III, § 2, cl. 1. “A case becomes moot- and therefore no longer a ‘Case' or ‘Controversy' for purposes of Article III-‘when the issues presented are no longer “live” or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome.'” Already, LLC v. Nike, Inc., 568 U.S. 85, 91 (2013) (citation omitted). When “an intervening circumstance deprives the plaintiff of a ‘personal stake in the outcome of the lawsuit,' . . . the action can no longer proceed and must be dismissed as moot.” Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk, 569 U.S. 66, 72 (2013) (quoting Lewis v. Continental Bank Corp., 494 U.S. 472, 477- 78 (1990)). A plaintiff's personal stake is lost when “a court . . . cannot grant ‘any effectual relief . . . .'” Calderon v. Moore, 518 U.S. 149, 150 (1996) (per curiam) (citation omitted).

         Two exceptions to mootness are relevant here. First, an exception exists for cases in which the question presented is “capable of repetition, yet evading review.” Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U.S. 393, 399-400 (1975). “[I]n the absence of a class action, the ‘capable of repetition, yet evading review' doctrine [is] limited to the situation where two elements combine[]: (1) the challenged action [is] in its duration too short to be fully litigated prior to its cessation or expiration, and (2) there [is] a reasonable expectation that the same complaining party would be subjected to the same action again.” Weinstein v. Bradford, 423 U.S. 147, 149 (1975) (per curiam). Second, “a defendant's voluntary cessation of allegedly unlawful conduct ordinarily does not suffice to moot a case.” Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs. (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 174 (2000). The exception applies when a defendant “voluntarily changes its allegedly unlawful conduct” yet remains “free to return to his old ways.” Sharp v. Rosa Mexicano, D.C., LLC, 496 F.Supp.2d 93, 99 (D.D.C. 2007) (citation omitted).


         Defendants move to dismiss the case as moot on the grounds that plaintiffs no longer have any legally cognizable injury, the Court can no longer grant effectual relief, and there is no live controversy in this case. Defs.' Mem. of Law in Support of Their Renewed Mot. [ECF. No. 58] at 3-6. Plaintiffs respond that, even if the case is moot, an exception to mootness applies either because the harm caused by CARRP is capable of repetition yet evading review or because defendants are seeking to avoid liability through voluntary cessation of unlawful conduct. Pls.' Resp. to Defs.' Renewed Mot. to Dismiss (“Pls.' Resp.”) [ECF No. 62] at 6-12. Alternatively, plaintiffs propose two new forms of relief that the Court could grant, which in their view would render the case not moot. Id. at 12-16. Defendants reply that no exception to mootness applies and that, even if the Court had authority to grant the newly proposed relief, such relief is not sought in the amended complaint and thus should be rejected. Defs.' Reply [ECF No. 63] at 1-9.

         The Court first considers whether Jafarzadeh's newly awarded LPR status moots this case. Finding that it does, the Court considers whether an exception to mootness applies. Because the case is moot and no exception applies, the case must be dismissed.

         I. The case is moot because the Court cannot grant effectual relief.

         Defendants have argued mootness at multiple stages in this case. After USCIS denied Jafarzadeh's application for LPR status (but before the immigration judge later granted Jafarzadeh LPR status), the Court concluded that any claims for relief based on USCIS's delay had become moot because the agency had adjudicated plaintiffs' applications. Sept. 7, 2017, Mem. Op. [ECF No. 26] at 8. However, the Court noted that plaintiffs' complaint also made out APA claims that were not mooted by the denial of LPR status to Jafarzadeh and for which the Court could still grant relief in the form of a new adjudication of LPR status without the use of the allegedly unlawful CARRP policy. Id. at 8-10. Plaintiffs amended their complaint shortly thereafter to conform their claims to these new factual circumstances. See Am. Compl. [ECF No. 30].

         A few months later, defendants moved to dismiss the amended complaint. This time, defendants argued that the case was moot because Jafarzadeh's application for status was before an immigration judge, who could “make a de novo determination of Jafarzadeh's eligibility for LPR status ‘that is not affected by either USCIS's decision or CARRP.'” Jafarzadeh, 321 F.Supp.3d at 28 (citation omitted). Thus, defendants argued, Jafarzadeh was essentially getting the relief he sought: adjudication of his LPR application without the influence of the allegedly unlawful CARRP policy. The Court concluded, ...

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