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Jacksonville Urban League, Inc. v. Azar

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 16, 2019

JACKSONVILLE URBAN LEAGUE, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
ALEX M. AZAR, II, Secretary, United States Department of Health and Human Services, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          DABNEY L. FRIEDRICH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The plaintiff Jacksonville Urban League (JUL) brings this action against the defendant, Alex M. Azar II, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in both his official and individual capacities. JUL alleges that HHS violated the Fourth and Fifth Amendments when it suspended JUL's Head Start and Early Head Start funding and subsequently searched and seized its office, files, and computers. Before the Court are the United States' and defendant Azar's motions to dismiss and JUL's motion for leave to file an amended complaint. For the following reasons, the Court will grant the motions to dismiss and deny the motion for leave to file an amended complaint.

         I. BACKGROUND

         JUL is a community-based, non-profit agency that received funds from HHS to operate Head Start and Early Head Start programs. Complaint ¶ 2, Dkt. 1 (Compl.). On April 5, 2013, the Administration of Children and Families (ACF), a division of HHS, suspended JUL's funding based on concerns for the health and safety of children under JUL's care. See Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Individual-Capacity Claims, Dkt. 14 (Def.'s Indiv. Mtn.).

         A review of HHS' decision began almost immediately. In June of 2013, ACF permitted JUL to show cause why the suspension should be rescinded. Id. at 2. ACF determined that JUL failed to provide satisfactory evidence to restore funding, so the suspension continued. Id. Next, JUL appealed the suspension to the HHS Departmental Appeals Board. A hearing took place in January of 2014, and JUL argued that its suspension was improper because ACF had not shown that an “emergency” justified the suspension. Id. at 2. In March of 2014, the Appeals Board upheld the suspension. Id. at 2-3. JUL then petitioned a federal court for review of the Appeals Board's decision. Id. at 3. The District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed the case without prejudice for failure to prosecute under Local Civil Rule 83.23. Id.

         In June of 2018, JUL brought another challenge in federal court. There, for the first time, JUL asserted claims against the Secretary of HHS for alleged constitutional violations under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). Id. That court dismissed the case without prejudice for failure to serve the United States in accordance with Rule 4(i)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Id.

         On October 1, 2018, JUL filed this action which is virtually identical to its June 2018 complaint. JUL now sues the Secretary of HHS in his “official capacity, ” and pursuant to Bivens, raises individual-capacity claims for money damages based on alleged Fourth and Fifth Amendment violations. Compl. ¶¶ 25-39. The complaint alleges that HHS violated (1) the Fourth Amendment by unlawfully searching and seizing JUL's funding, office, files, and computers, id. ¶¶ 25-31, and (2) the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment by suspending JUL's funding without giving JUL notice or an opportunity to be heard, id. ¶¶ 32-39

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Rule 12(b)(1)

         Under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a party may move to dismiss an action or claim when the court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). A motion for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1) “presents a threshold challenge to the court's jurisdiction.” Haase v. Sessions, 835 F.2d 902, 906 (D.C. Cir. 1987). Federal district courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, and it is “presumed that a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Thus, “the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the court has jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence.” Seawright v. Postmaster General of U.S.P.S., No. 18-CV-460, 2018 WL 6173445, at *1 (D.D.C. 2018) (citing Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992)).

         “When ruling on a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the court must treat the plaintiff's factual allegations as true and afford the plaintiff the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.” Jeong Seon Han v. Lynch, 223 F.Supp.3d 95, 103 (D.D.C. 2016) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Those factual allegations, however, receive “closer scrutiny” than they would if the court were considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim. Id. Also, unlike in the Rule 12(b)(6) context, a court may consider documents outside the pleadings to evaluate whether it has jurisdiction, but a court “must still accept all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true.” See Jerome Stevens Pharm., Inc. v. FDA, 402 F.3d 1249, 1253 (D.C. Cir. 2005) (internal quotations marks and citations omitted). If at any point the court determines that it lacks jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the claim or action, whether on the defendant's motion or sua sponte. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), 12(h)(3).

         B. Rule 12(b)(2)

         Under Rule 12(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a defendant may move to dismiss an action when the court lacks personal jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2). “On such a motion, the plaintiff bears the burden of ‘establishing a factual basis for the exercise of personal jurisdiction' over each defendant.” Triple Up Ltd. v. Youku Tudou Inc., 235 F.Supp.3d 15, 20 (D.D.C. 2017) (quoting Crane v. N.Y. Zoological Soc., 894 F.2d 454, 456 (D.C. Cir. 1990)). To meet this burden, a plaintiff cannot rely on conclusory allegations, id., but rather must allege specific facts connecting the defendant with the forum, see Shibeshi v. United States, 932 F.Supp.2d 1, 2 (D.D.C. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted) (citing Second Amendment Foundation v. U.S. Conference of Mayors, 274 F.3d 521, 524 (D.C. Cir. 2001)). “Ultimately, the Court must satisfy itself that it has jurisdiction to hear the suit.” Triple Up Ltd., 235 F.Supp.3d at 20-21 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         C. ...


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