United States District Court, District of Columbia
L. FRIEDMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Beata Mariana De Jesus Mejia-Mejia and her seven-year-old
son, D.M., are citizens of Guatemala who entered the United
States to seek asylum on May 19, 2018. U.S. Customs and
Border Protection agents immediately detained Ms. Mejia-Mejia
and D.M. Several days later, officials separated D.M. and Ms.
Mejia-Mejia and took D.M. to a shelter for unaccompanied
minors. Ms. Mejia-Mejia passed her credible fear interview,
an early stage in the asylum process, and was released from
detention on June 15, 2018. On June 19, Ms. Mejia-Mejia filed
both a civil complaint [Dkt. No. 1] and a motion for a
temporary restraining order [Dkt. No. 4] seeking immediate
reunification with D.M. On June 22, 2018, the Office of
Refugee Resettlement voluntarily released D.M. to Ms.
Mejia-Mejia. Later that day, upon the joint request of the
parties, the Court dismissed the motion for a TRO as moot.
Ms. Mejia-Mejia filed an Amended Complaint [Dkt. No. 14] on
July 13, 2018, and a motion for declaratory relief and a
permanent injunction [Dkt. No. 16] on August 27, 2018. This
matter is now before the Court on that motion and on two
motions to dismiss the Amended Complaint.
defendants sued in their official capacities filed their
motion to dismiss and opposition to plaintiff’s motion
for declaratory relief [Dkt. No. 19] on September 14, 2018.
See also Dkt. No. 20. The two defendants sued in their
individual capacities – former Attorney General Jeff
Sessions and Scott Lloyd, former director of the Office of
Refugee Resettlement – filed their motion to dismiss
[Dkt. No. 53] on November 5, 2018. Upon careful consideration
of the briefs, the relevant legal authorities, and the entire
record in this case, the Court will grant the motions to
dismiss the Amended Complaint and will deny Ms.
Mejia-Mejia’s motion for declaratory
Mejia-Mejia asserts nine causes of action arising from
defendants’ decision to forcibly separate her from D.M.
during their pre-asylum detention. Ms. Mejia-Mejia seeks the
following relief: (i) a declaratory judgment that
defendants’ conduct violated the Administrative
Procedure Act’s prohibition against arbitrary and
capricious final agency actions, see 5. U.S.C.
§ 706(2), and that the conduct violated Ms.
Mejia-Mejia’s right to due process and equal protection
under the U.S. Constitution (Counts I, II, III, and IV),
see Amended Complaint at 45-54; (ii) a permanent
injunction prohibiting the defendants sued in their official
capacities from separating Ms. Mejia-Mejia and her son
“where there is no court finding of danger to D.M. in
Ms. M.’s custody” (Count V), id. at 53,
56; (iii) compensatory and punitive damages from Mr. Sessions
and Mr. Lloyd in their individual capacities for violating
Ms. Mejia-Mejia’s constitutional rights (Counts VI,
VII, and VIII), see id. at 54-56; and (iv)
attorneys’ fees (Count IX), see id. at 56.
defendants sued in their official capacities have moved to
dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing that
Ms. Mejia-Mejia’s claims are moot because the
circumstances precipitating the lawsuit and the only active
dispute between the parties – the separation of Ms.
Mejia-Mejia and her son – no longer exist. They also
argue that the Administrative Procedure Act count should be
dismissed for failure to state a claim on which relief can be
defendants sued in their individual capacities have moved to
dismiss the claims against them for failure to state a claim.
They argue that Ms. Mejia-Mejia’s damages claims
require recognition of a new implied constitutional cause of
action under the Supreme Court’s decision in Bivens
v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388
(1971), and that Bivens claims should not be
expanded to this context. They also assert absolute and
Motions to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure
courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, possessing only
those powers authorized by the Constitution and an act of
Congress. See, e.g., Janko v.
Gates, 741 F.3d 136, 139 (D.C. Cir. 2014); Abulhawa
v. U.S. Dep’t of the Treasury, 239 F.Supp. 3d 24,
30 (D.D.C. 2017). The plaintiffs bear the burden of
establishing that the Court has jurisdiction. See Walen
v. United States, 246 F.Supp. 3d 449, 452 (D.D.C. 2017).
determining whether to grant a motion to dismiss for lack of
subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court must construe the
complaint in plaintiffs’ favor and treat all
well-pleaded factual allegations as true. See Attias v.
CareFirst, Inc., 865 F.3d 620, 627 (D.C. Cir. 2017).
Although the Court must grant plaintiffs the benefit of all
reasonable inferences, the Court “need not accept
factual inferences drawn by plaintiffs if those inferences
are not supported by facts alleged in the complaint, ”
and the court need not accept plaintiffs’ legal
conclusions. Disner v. United States, 888 F.Supp.2d
83, 87 (D.D.C. 2012). Finally, in determining whether
plaintiffs have met the burden of establishing jurisdiction,
the Court may consider materials beyond the pleadings where
appropriate. Am. Nat’l Ins. v. FDIC, 642 F.3d
1137, 1139 (D.C. Cir. 2011); Cumis Ins. Society Inc. v.
Clark, 318 F.Supp. 3d 199, 207 (D.D.C. 2018).
doctrine of mootness – a central component of the
arguments made by the defendants sued in their official
capacities – is a jurisdictional inquiry. Safari
Club Int'l v. Jewell, 842 F.3d 1280, 1285, 1287
(D.C. Cir. 2016); Mine Reclamation Corp. v. FERC, 30
F.3d 1519, 1522 (D.C. Cir. 1994) (“[M]ootness goes to
the jurisdiction of this court.”). Accordingly, motions
to dismiss for mootness are properly brought under Rule
12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Han v.
Lynch, 223 F.Supp. 3d. 95, 102 (D.D.C. 2016). “The
initial heavy burden of establishing mootness lies with the
party asserting a case is moot, but the opposing party bears
the burden of showing an exception applies.” J.D.
v. Azar, 925 F.3d 1291, 1307 (D.C. Cir. 2019) (quoting
Honeywell Int'l v. Nuclear Regulatory
Comm’n, 628 F.3d 568, 576 (D.C. Cir. 2010)). Once
a court determines that a claim is moot, it lacks
jurisdiction to entertain the claim and must dismiss it.
Han v. Lynch, 223 F.Supp. 3d at 103.
Motions to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure
withstand a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim
under Rule 12(b)(6), plaintiffs must plead facts that
“give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is
and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (alteration
in original). Although “detailed factual
allegations” are not necessary to withstand a Rule
12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the complaint “must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, ‘to state
a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.’” See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. at 555, 570); see also Henok v. Kessler, 78
F.Supp. 3d 452, 457 (D.D.C. 2015). And “[a] claim has
facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content
that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that
the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
In re Interbank Funding Corp. Sec. Litig., 629 F.3d
213, 218 (D.C. Cir. 2010) (quoting Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).
deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court
“must accept as true all of the factual allegations
contained in the complaint.” See Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 572 (quoting Swierkiewicz v.
Sorema N. A., 534 U.S. 506, 508 n.1 (2002)). The Court
considers the complaint in its entirety, see Tellabs,
Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308,
322 (2007), and construes it liberally, granting plaintiffs
“the benefit of all inferences that can [reasonably] be
derived from the facts alleged.” See Sickle v.
Torres Advanced Enter. Sols., LLC., 884 F.3d 338, 345
(D.C. Cir. 2018) (alteration in original). The Court need
not, however, accept plaintiffs’ legal conclusions or
the inferences drawn by plaintiffs if those inferences are
unsupported by the facts alleged. See id. Nor is the
Court “bound to accept as true a legal conclusion
couched as a factual allegation.” Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. See also Kaempa v.
Myers, 367 F.3d 958, 963 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (“Nor
must we accept as true the complaint’s factual
allegations insofar as they contradict exhibits or matters
subject to judicial notice.”).
Plaintiff Fails to State a Claim Against the Defendants Sued