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Mejia-Mejia v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 26, 2019

BEATA MARIANA DE JESUS MEJIA-MEJIA, Plaintiff,
v.
U.S. IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          PAUL L. FRIEDMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff 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.

         The 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.[1] 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 relief.[2]

         I. BACKGROUND

         Ms. 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.

         The 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 granted.

         The 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 qualified immunity.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Motions to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

         Federal 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).

         In 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).

         The 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.

         B. Motions to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

         To 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).

         In 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.”).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Plaintiff Fails to State a Claim Against the Defendants Sued ...


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