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Molina De Ramirez v. Barr

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 30, 2019

WILLIAM P. BARR, et al ., Defendants.



         On June 26, 2018, plaintiff Claudia Arely Molina de Ramirez filed a civil complaint [Dkt. No. 1] challenging the Trump Administration’s Zero-Tolerance Policy of separating certain immigrant parents from their children at the United States-Mexico border. See Complaint at 1. Ms. Ramirez is a citizen of El Salvador and the mother of three minor children who would like to seek asylum in the United States; she and her children have not been separated under the challenged Zero-Tolerance Policy. See id. at 9, 33. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss [Dkt. No. 13] on September 14, 2018.[1] Upon careful consideration of the briefs, the relevant legal authorities, and the entire record in this case, the Court will grant defendants’ motion to dismiss.[2] The Court concludes that Ms. Ramirez does not have constitutional standing to challenge a policy under which she has suffered no injury. Accordingly, the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to resolve her claims.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On April 6, 2018, the Attorney General of the United States announced the Zero-Tolerance Policy, under which all immigrant parents unlawfully crossing the United States-Mexico border with their children would be subject to criminal prosecution and forcibly separated from their children. See Jacinto-Castanon de Nolasco v. U.S. Immigration & Customs Enf’t, 319 F.Supp.3d 491, 494-95 (D.D.C. 2018). On June 20, 2018 – before Ms. Ramirez filed the instant suit – President Trump issued an Executive Order rescinding and clarifying several aspects of the Zero-Tolerance Policy and stating the government’s policy of housing parents and children together, subject to certain limitations. See Exec. Order No. 13, 841, 83 Fed. Reg. 29, 435 (June 20, 2018).

         Ms. Ramirez filed suit to challenge the legality of the Zero-Tolerance Policy and the conduct that defendants undertook in applying it. But unlike plaintiffs in a number of the other suits challenging the Trump Administration’s Zero-Tolerance Policy, Ms. Ramirez has not actually been separated from her children by the United States government – under the challenged policy or otherwise. Instead, Ms. Ramirez is already in the United States, Response at 2; Reply at 2, and “she wishes to return to El Salvador and bring her children back with her to seek asylum in the United States.” Complaint at 34. Ms. Ramirez reports that her three minor children attempted to travel from El Salvador to the United States in 2016 – well before the implementation of the challenged Zero-Tolerance Policy – but were kidnapped in Guatemala. See id. The children were rescued and returned to El Salvador, where they remain. See id.

         Ms. Ramirez now fears that if she brings her children to the United States they will be separated from her, “[b]ecause of the Trump Administration’s widely reported child-separation policy . . . .” Complaint at 35. She argues that it is a “discriminatory policy aimed at all persons from El Salvador, amongst other Central American [c]ountries.” Id. at 36. Ms. Ramirez therefore seeks a declaratory judgment (i) that the Zero-Tolerance Policy violates her Fifth Amendment equal protection rights (Count I), id. at 35-38; and (ii) that the government acted arbitrarily and capriciously in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (Count II), id. at 38-39.

         The defendants advance two grounds for dismissing this suit. First, they move to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, arguing that this Court lacks the subject matter jurisdiction to resolve this suit because Ms. Ramirez has not established an actual or imminent injury-in-fact that is sufficient to establish her constitutional standing. Second, the government moves to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, arguing that Ms. Ramirez has failed to state a claim for which relief can be granted with respect to either her Fifth Amendment claim or her Administrative Procedure Act claim.

         On June 25, 2019, this Court issued a Show Cause Order requiring Ms. Ramirez to explain why her suit should not be dismissed for lack of standing. See Show Cause Order, Dkt. No. 31, at 1. Ms. Ramirez responded to the show cause order on July 9, 2019, claiming that she has pre-enforcement standing to challenge the Zero-Tolerance Policy. See Show Cause Response at 3 (citing Babbitt v. United Farm Workers Nat’l Union, 442 U.S. 289, 298 (1979)).


         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, 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, it “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 a plaintiff has established 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).

         B. Constitutional Standing

         Standing is one of the three “inter-related judicial doctrines” that – along with the requirements of mootness and ripeness – “ensure that federal courts assert jurisdiction only over ‘Cases’ and ‘Controversies.’” Worth v. Jackson, 451 F.3d 854, 855 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting U.S. Const. art. Ill. § 2). Standing is “one of the essential prerequisites to jurisdiction under Article III.” Fleming v. Cherokee Nation, 2019 WL 2327814, at *3 (D.D.C. May 31, 2019). The “irreducible constitutional minimum of standing” contains three elements, and “the party invoking federal jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing” them. Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992). Plaintiffs must establish (1) a concrete injury-in-fact – the invasion of a legally protected interest – that is particular to plaintiffs and that is actual or imminent, as opposed to conjectural or hypothetical; (2) that the injury is fairly traceable to the defendant’s conduct – that is, a causal connection exists between the injury and the defendants; and (3) that it is likely, and not merely speculative, that a favorable decision on the merits will redress plaintiff’s injury. See Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. at 560-61; see also Arpaio v. Obama, 797 F.3d 11, 19 (D.C. Cir. 2015). As with other motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of [standing], supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice, ” and courts “do not assume the truth of legal conclusions” nor “accept inferences that are unsupported by facts set out in the complaint.” Arpaio v. Obama, 797 F.3d at 19.

         Of the three components of standing, the requirement of a concrete injury that is actual or imminent is of particular importance to this case. “Although imminence is concededly a somewhat elastic concept, it cannot be stretched beyond its purpose, which is to ensure that the alleged injury is not too speculative for Article III purposes.” Clapper v. Amnesty Int’l USA., 568 U.S. 398, 409 (2013). Therefore, when a plaintiff seeks to establish standing based on projected future injury, she must “satisfy the well-established requirement that the threatened injury [is] ‘certainly impending’” Id. at 401 (quoting Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149, 158 (1990)). The possibility of injury – even where an “objectively reasonable likelihood” of injury exists – is insufficient for standing purposes. Id. at 410. The “certainly impending” requirement is unlikely to be satisfied by claims that depend on a ...

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