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Relx, Inc. v. Baran

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 5, 2019

RELX, INC. d/b/a/ LexisNexis USA, and SUBHASREE CHATTERJEE Plaintiffs,
KATHY A. BARAN, In her official Capacity, Director of the California Service Center, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, ET AL. Defendants.


          Emmet G. Sullivan, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiffs RELX, Inc., d/b/a LexisNexis USA (“LexisNexis”) and Ms. Subhasree Chatterjee, a Data Analyst for LexisNexis, bring this action against defendant Kathy Baran, Director of the California Service Center, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”), U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), and other government officials and entities, under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 701, et seq. Plaintiffs allege that defendants violated the Administrative Procedure Act when they denied LexisNexis' H-1B petition on behalf of Ms. Chatterjee. Pending before the Court are plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment and defendants' motion to dismiss. Having considered the submissions of the parties, the administrative record, the relevant law, and the arguments of the parties during the motion hearing, the court DENIES defendants' motion to dismiss and GRANTS plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment.

         I. Background

         A. Statutory and Regulatory Background

         The H-1B visa program permits employers to temporarily employ foreign, nonimmigrant workers in specialty occupations. See 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(H). Before obtaining a visa, an employer must obtain certification from the Department of Labor that it has filed a labor condition application in the specific occupational specialty. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(h)(4). The employer must then file an H-1B visa petition on behalf of the alien worker, which shows that the proffered position satisfies the statutory and regulatory requirements. 8 U.S.C. § 1184(c). A specialty occupation is defined as an occupation that requires “theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge” and “attainment of a bachelor's or higher degree in a specific specialty (or its equivalent) as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the United States.” 8 U.S.C. § 1184(i)(1). USCIS regulations have further defined four criteria, each sufficiently independent, to determine whether a profession qualifies as a “specialty occupation.” Under the regulation an occupation qualifies if:

(1) A baccalaureate or higher degree or its equivalent is normally the minimum requirement for entry into a particular position;
(2) The degree requirement is common to the industry in parallel positions among similar organization or, in the alternative, an employer may show that its particular position is so complex or unique that it can be performed only by an individual with a degree;
(3) The employer normally requires a degree or its equivalent for the position; or
(4) The nature of the specific duties are so specialized and complex that knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with the attainment of a baccalaureate or higher degree.

8 C.F.R. § 214.2(h)(4)(iii)(A)(1)-(4). The petitioner bears the burden of proving that his or her occupation falls within one of the four categories. 8 U.S.C. § 1361.

         B. Factual Background

         Plaintiff LexisNexis is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in New York, NY. LexisNexis is an umbrella corporation with several key markets: Legal, Scientific, Medical, Risk, and Exhibitions. LexisNexis USA is an unincorporated division of RELX, Inc. Declaration of Leticia Andrade (“Andrade Decl.”), ECF No. 4-8 ¶ 3. LexisNexis is a provider of comprehensive information and business solutions to professionals in a variety of areas - legal, risk management, corporate, government, law enforcement, accounting, and academic. Id.

         Plaintiff Subhasree Chatterjee is a citizen of India, currently residing in Raleigh, NC. Declaration of Subhasree Chatterjee (“Chatterjee Decl.”), ECF No. 4-9 ¶ 2. Ms. Chatterjee holds a Master of Science in Business Administration, with a focus on Business Analytics, from the University of Cincinnati, located in Ohio, USA. Administrative Record (“AR”), ECF No. 7-4 34-35. Prior to earning her Masters degree and her work for LexisNexis in 2017, Ms. Chatterjee earned a Bachelor of Technology degree in Computer Science and Engineering from West Bengal University of Technology in Kolkata, India. Chatterjee Decl., ECF No. 4-8 ¶ 7. Ms. Chatterjee also has extensive practical experience in data analytics from four years of working for Infosys in Pune, India and one year working in data analytics for Evalueserve Inc. in Raleigh, NC in the field of Analytics Delivery after earning her undergraduate degree. Chatterjee Decl., ECF No. 4-8 ¶ 7; Andrade Decl., ECF No. 4-9 ¶ 9.

         Ms. Chatterjee is currently employed by LexisNexis and works as a Data Analyst in LexisNexis's engineering Center for Excellence. Andrade Decl. No. 4-9 ¶ 8. The LexisNexis Data Analyst position consists of several technical responsibilities. These responsibilities include “analyzing, investigating, and hypothesizing data to effectively communicate with internal and external customers, management and functional areas by presenting problem resolution, product information . . . work with Designers and Researchers, embedded in product development teams, to help them understand customer behavior . . . analyz[ing], investigat[ing], negotiat[ing] and resolv[ing] problems to help inform product design decisions.” AR 32.

         Ms. Chatterjee is currently in the United States on a F-1 student visa with STEM OPT (Optional Practical Training) that expires on August 3, 2019, AR 37-45, after which she will not be permitted to work in the United States. Ms. Chatterjee is the subject of the H-1B petition LexisNexis filed and she is directly impacted by the agency decision denying her an H-1B visa.

         C. Procedural History

         On April 12, 2018, LexisNexis filed a Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, Form I-129, on behalf of Ms. Chatterjee, a citizen of India. AR 86. LexisNexis petitioned to classify Ms. Chatterjee in H-1B status so that she could continue to work for LexisNexis as a Data Analyst. Id. In support of its petition, LexisNexis supplied a Labor Condition Application (“LCA”) (Case Number I-200-18060-605447), certified by the U.S. Department of Labor for the validity period of September 2, 2018 through September 1, 2021, AR 26-31; a letter from Leticia Andrade, Immigration Compliance Specialist, AR 32-33; background information about LexisNexis, id.; copies of Ms. Chatterjee's Master's degree from the University of Cincinnati and official transcript, AR 34-35; a copy of her F-1 student visa and work authorization, AR 36-45; and a copy of the biographic page of Ms. Chatterjee's unexpired passport, AR 48-49.

         The government responded to the petition with a “Request For Evidence” (“RFE”) related to whether the Data Analyst position was a specialty occupation. AR 52-53. Among the categories of information requested were (1) “A detailed statement to explain the beneficiary's proposed duties and responsibilities; indicate the percentage of time devoted to each duty; and state the educational requirements for these duties”; (2) “Job postings or advertisements showing a degree requirement is common to the industry in parallel positions among similar organizations”; and (3) expert opinions supported by “[t]he writer's qualifications as an expert; [h]ow the conclusions were reached; and [t]he basis for the conclusions supported by copies or citations of any materials used.” AR 52.

         On June 18, 2018, LexisNexis responded to defendants' RFE with (a) a supplemental letter from Leticia Andrade, Immigration Compliance Specialist, AR 55-57; (b) an organizational chart, AR 58; (c) six job announcements for Data Analyst positions, from six different employers, each showing that the Data Analyst positions required at least a Bachelor's degree in STEMfields such as business analytics, statistics, mathematics, economics or operations research, AR 59-64; and (d) an expert opinion from Dr. Gerhard Steinke, Professor of Management and Information Systems at Seattle Pacific University, AR 65-68. Through its June 2018 submission, LexisNexis provided evidence on only three out of the four 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(h)(4)(iii)(A) grounds for “specialty occupation.”

         On September 13, 2018, the Government denied the petition filed by LexisNexis on behalf of Ms. Chatterjee. AR 86-94. The government stated that LexisNexis had not shown that the position is a specialty occupation. Id. LexisNexis moved for reconsideration, AR 97, and the government granted the motion for reconsideration on January 17, 2019. Six days later, the government issued a final decision denying the petition for the same reasons as the initial denial. AR 1-7.

         On July 3, 2019, plaintiffs filed suit seeking relief under the APA. See Compl., ECF No. 1. The Court placed this matter on an expedited briefing and hearing schedule - consolidating the plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction with a decision on the merits - in light of the fact that Ms. Chatterjee's current status expires on August 3, 2019. See Minute Order dated July 12, 2019. The parties were instructed to file cross-motions for summary judgment with the plaintiffs' motion due on July 22, 2019. On July 18, 2019, shortly before the plaintiffs filed their opening motion, defendants sua sponte reopened Ms. ...

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