United States District Court, District of Columbia
KAREN YADIRA RODRIGUEZ GUTIERREZ and MARIA IRMA GUITIERREZ DURON, Plaintiffs,
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, et al., Defendants.
L. FRIEDMAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Maria Irma Gutierrez Duron (“Ms. D.”) and her
eleven-year-old grandson, J.G., entered the United States at
an authorized port of entry in March 2018 to seek asylum from
gang violence in their home country of Honduras. See
Amended Complaint, Dkt. No. 71, at 5; see also
Errata, Dkt. No. 25, at 1. Plaintiff Karen Yadira Rodriguez
Gutierrez (“Ms. G.”), J.G.'s mother, was
already present in the United States. Amended Complaint at 5.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents took Ms. D. and her
grandson into custody shortly after they crossed the border.
Id. at 34. Immigration officials classified J.G. -
who entered the United States without a biological parent or
legal guardian - as an unaccompanied alien child,
id. at 10, and separated him from his grandmother
approximately a week after their arrival. Id. at
34-35. Ms. D. filed her claim for asylum in March 2018,
id. at 37, and in late July 2018 she was released
from custody, apparently for the duration of the pendency of
her asylum claim. See id. at 42. The government
continued to detain Ms. D's grandson as an unaccompanied
alien child. Id. at 37.
August 2018, Ms. D. and Ms. G. filed a civil complaint [Dkt.
No. 1] and an emergency motion for a temporary restraining
order [Dkt. No. 4] seeking the immediate release of J.G.,
among other relief. The Court held a hearing on the motion on
September 20, 2018. The next day, the Office of Refugee
Resettlement notified the Court that J.G. would be reunited
with his mother on September 22, 2018. See Notice of
Release at 1. Accordingly, the Court dismissed as moot the
plaintiffs' motion for a temporary restraining order.
See September 26, 2018 Minute Order.
and Ms. D. filed an Amended Complaint [Dkt. No. 71] in March
2019, and this matter is now before the court on the
defendants' second motion to dismiss the claims against
the defendants sued in their official capacities [Dkt. No.
75], who are the only named defendants remaining in this
case. See also Defendants' First Motion to
Dismiss, Dkt. No. 69; Stipulation of Dismissal, Dkt. No. 72.
Upon careful consideration of the briefs, the relevant legal
authorities, and the entire record in this case, the Court
will (i) deny as moot the first motion to dismiss, which is
directed at a superseded complaint, and (ii) grant
defendants' second motion to dismiss, which is directed
at the Amended Complaint.
defendants represent that J.G. was classified as an
unaccompanied alien child because he entered the United
States in the company of his grandmother, rather than a
biological parent or other legal guardian. Under these
circumstances, the government believed it had a statutory
obligation to transfer J.G. to the custody of the Office of
Refugee Resettlement (“ORR”). Opposition to TRO
Motion at 2. Defendants represent that, as soon as J.G.
entered the shelter - and well before plaintiffs filed this
suit - the government began to “work
diligently” to reunite J.G. with his mother, Ms. G.,
who was already in the United States. Opposition to TRO
Motion at 2. The government's efforts to satisfy its
requirements and reunite Ms. G. and J.G., however, were
“hindered by [Ms. G.'s] failure to timely respond
to its requests for information, her unexpected movement from
one location to another, and her failure to provide
information about the persons who will be living with the
reunited family, ” as required for reunification under
the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of
2008 (“TVPRA”). Id. Indeed, the Amended
Complaint acknowledges some of these difficulties.
See Amended Complaint at 35-36. Finally, in
September 2018 - after the Court heard argument on the TRO
but before it ruled - ORR released J.G. to the custody of his
mother. He and Ms. G. are now living together in the United
States, awaiting the adjudication of their asylum claims. See
Motion at 3. Ms. D. is also living with J.G. and Ms. G. The
Court has no information to suggest that Ms. G., Ms. D., or
J.G. have any concrete expectation of being returned to the
custody of the United States government.
Amended Complaint, filed after the family's
reunification, narrows the dispute before the Court: it
abandons the plaintiffs' initial claims for an injunction
and money damages, see Complaint at 66, and drops
all claims against the named government officials sued in
their individual capacities, see id. at 1-2. See
also Stipulation of Dismissal at 1. The defendants
remaining before the Court are several government agencies
and individuals connected with the immigration system, who
are sued in their official capacities, and five unnamed John
Doe defendants, sued in their individual capacities.
See Amended Complaint at 1-3. The Amended
Complaint seeks a declaratory judgment (i) that the
defendants' conduct violated the plaintiffs'
substantive due process rights under the Fifth Amendment to
the United States Constitution (Count I), see
Amended Complaint at 46-49; and (ii) that the defendants'
conduct violated the plaintiffs' procedural due process
rights (Count II), see id. at 51-52. Ms. D. and Ms.
G. also continue to seek attorneys' fees (Count III).
See id. at 51.
named defendants moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction, arguing that the claims of Ms. D. and Ms. G.
are moot because no actual controversy persists between the
parties now that Ms. D. has been released and J.G. has been
reunited with his mother. See Motion at 2-3.
Further, the government notes that the “capable of
repetition yet evading review” exception to mootness
does not apply because there is no indication that the
challenged separation is likely to reoccur. See id.
at 3-4. For their part, Ms. D. and Ms. G. argue
that another exception to mootness - voluntary cessation -
does apply, and is sufficient to preserve their claims.
Response at 5.
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, on which defendants' arguments
rely, 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
The Court Lacks Jurisdiction over the ...