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Muthana v. Pompeo

United States District Court, District of Columbia

December 9, 2019

AHMED ALI MUTHANA, individually, and as next friend of Hoda Muthana and Minor John Doe, Plaintiff,
MICHAEL POMPEO, in his official capacity as Secretary of the Department of State, et al., Defendants.



         The plaintiff, Ahmed Ali Muthana, brings this civil action individually and as the next friend of his daughter, Hoda Muthana, and minor grandson, John Doe, against the defendants, Michael Pompeo, in his official capacity as the Secretary of the United States Department of State (“the “State Department”); Donald J. Trump, in his official capacity as the President of the United States; and William Barr, in his official capacity as the Attorney General of the United States (collectively, the “defendants”), seeking expedited declaratory, injunctive, and mandamus relief, see Expedited Complaint for Declaratory Judgment, Injunctive Relief and Petition for Writ of Mandamus (“Compl.” or the “Complaint”) ¶ 1, in his attempt to have the Court order that his daughter and grandson be permitted to enter the United States and that he be permitted to provide financial support to them while they are in Syria.

         After denying the plaintiff's first request for expedited consideration of the relief requested by the plaintiff on March 11, 2019, see Order at 4 (Mar. 11, 2019), ECF No. 18, on November 14, 2019, the Court granted the Plaintiff's Renewed Motion for Expedited Ruling

         (“Pl.'s Mot.” or the “renewed motion for expedited consideration”) and granted in part and denied in part the defendants' Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Partial Summary Judgment (“Defs.' Mot.” or the “motion to dismiss”), [1] see Order at 1-2 (Nov. 15, 2019), ECF No. 30. This Memorandum Opinion provides the legal basis for the Court's November 15, 2019 Order.

         I. BACKGROUND

         According to the plaintiff, “[p]rior to his daughter's birth, [the plaintiff] worked as a diplomat for the United Nations.” Compl. ¶ 18. However, “[o]n June 2, 1994, the Yemeni Ambassador Al-Aashtal required [the plaintiff] to surrender his diplomatic identity card.” Id. Thereafter, his daughter, Hoda Muthana, was born in New Jersey on XXXXX1994. See id. ¶ 20. The plaintiff initially applied for a United States passport for his daughter in 2004. See Id. ¶ 21. The State Department “initially questioned whether Ms. Muthana was eligible for a [United States] passport, based on [its] records showing her father's diplomatic status remained in effect until February 6, 1995, ” but after the plaintiff provided the State Department with a letter “confirm[ing] that the diplomatic status he had due to his employment at the [United Nations] was terminated prior to the time of Ms. Muthana's birth, ” Ms. Muthana's passport application was granted. Id.

         In November 2014, Ms. Muthana withdrew from the university she was attending in Alabama and traveled to Syria. See id. ¶ 22. “After arriving in Syria, Ms. Muthana made her way into [Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (‘ISIS')]-controlled territory.” Id. ¶ 23. She married twice and had a son, John Doe, by her second husband. Id. ¶¶ 23-24. “On January 15, 2016, the United States issued a letter addressed to Ms. Muthana at her parents' residence, purporting to revoke her passport under 22 C.F.R. [§] 51.7 and 51.66[, ]”

assert[ing] for the first time that because the [United States] Permanent Mission to the United Nations [the (“United States Mission”)], Host Country Affairs Section, had not been officially notified of [the plaintiff's] termination until February 6, 1995, [Ms. Muthana] was not “within the jurisdiction of the United States” at the time of her birth, and therefore [is] not a United States citizen pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

Id. ¶ 25.

         In December 2018, “Ms. Muthana fled ISIS-controlled territory, ” id. ¶ 30, and “subsequently surrendered to Kurdish forces, who transferred her to Camp al-Hawl in northeast Syria, ” id. ¶ 31. On January 15, 2019, the plaintiff's counsel wrote a letter to the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, “communicating [Ms. Muthana's] desire to return [to the United States] as well as her willingness to surrender to United States authorities for any contemplated charges.” Id. ¶ 33.

On February 20, 2019, the . . . State Department declared on its website that “Ms. Hoda Muthana is not a [United States] citizen and will not be admitted into the United States. She does not have any legal basis, no valid [United States] passport, no right to a passport, nor any visa to travel to the United States.”

Id. ¶ 35. That same day, President Trump “tweeted that ‘I have instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and he fully agrees, not to allow Hoda Muthana back into the Country!'” Id. ¶ 36. Ms. Muthana and her son are “currently detained in Syria by Kurdish forces at Camp Roj, after being transferred from Camp al-Hol (also spelled al-Hawl).” Pl.'s Mot. at 2.

         On February 21, 2019, the plaintiff instituted this civil action against the defendants, seeking expedited consideration “because of the precarious position of [the] [p]laintiff['s] [ ] daughter and grandson at Camp al-Hawl in Syria, under the authority of Kurdish forces” and the President's “intent to withdraw [United States] forces from the Syrian conflict.” Compl. ¶ 15. On March 4, 2019, the Court denied the plaintiff's first request for expedited relief. See Order at 4 (Mar. 11, 2019), ECF No. 18. Thereafter, on April 26, 2019, the defendants filed their motion to dismiss. See Defs.' Mot. at 1. On November 1, 2019, the plaintiff filed his renewed motion for expedited consideration, “re-urg[ing] the need for expedited relief in this matter, based on updated circumstances and newly discovered facts[, ]” Pl.'s Mot. at 1, and the Court subsequently scheduled a hearing on the defendants' motion to dismiss, see Min. Order (Nov. 5, 2019). At the hearing on November 14, 2019, the Court granted the plaintiff's renewed motion for expedited consideration and granted in part and denied in part the defendants' motion to dismiss. See Order at 1 (Nov. 15, 2019), ECF No. 30. These motions are the subject of this Memorandum Opinion.


         A. Motion for Expedited Consideration

         Temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions[2] are “extraordinary remed[ies] that should be granted only when the party seeking the relief, by a clear showing, carries the burden of persuasion.” Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches v. Eng., 454 F.3d 290, 297 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Cobell v. Norton, 391 F.3d 251, 258 (D.C. Cir. 2004)). In determining whether to issue a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction, see Hall v. Johnson, 599 F.Supp.2d 1, 3 n.2 (D.D.C. 2009) (noting that the same standard applies to both), a plaintiff must establish “[(1)] that he is likely to succeed on the merits, [(2)] that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, [(3)] that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and [(4)] that an injunction is in the public interest, [, ]” Sherley v. Sebelius, 644 F.3d 388, 392 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (quoting Winter v. Nat. Res. Def. Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 20 (2008)).

         B. Rule 12(b)(1) Motion to Dismiss

         “Federal [district] courts are courts of limited jurisdiction[, ]” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994), and “[a] motion for dismissal under [Federal Rule of Civil Procedure] 12(b)(1) ‘presents a threshold challenge to the [C]ourt's jurisdiction[, ]'” Morrow v. United States, 723 F.Supp.2d 71, 75 (D.D.C. 2010) (Walton, J.) (quoting Haase v. Sessions, 835 F.2d 902, 906 (D.C. Cir. 1987)). Thus, the Court is obligated to dismiss a claim if it “lack[s] [ ] subject-matter jurisdiction[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). Because “[i]t is to be presumed that a cause lies outside [the Court's] limited jurisdiction, ” Kokkonen, 511 U.S. at 377, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that the Court has subject-matter jurisdiction, see Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992).

         In deciding a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, the Court “need not limit itself to the allegations of the complaint.” Grand Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185 F.Supp.2d 9, 14 (D.D.C. 2001). Rather, the “[C]ourt may consider such materials outside the pleadings as it deems appropriate to resolve the question [of] whether it has jurisdiction to hear the case.” Scolaro v. D.C. Bd. of Elections & Ethics, 104 F.Supp.2d 18, 22 (D.D.C. 2000); see Jerome Stevens Pharms., Inc. v. Food & Drug Admin., 402 F.3d 1249, 1253 (D.C. Cir. 2005). Additionally, the Court must “assume the truth of all material factual allegations in the complaint and ‘construe the complaint liberally, granting [the] plaintiff the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.'” Am. Nat'l Ins. Co. v. Fed. Deposit Ins. Corp., 642 F.3d 1137, 1139 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (quoting Thomas v. Principi, 394 F.3d 970, 972 (D.C. Cir. 2005)). However, “the [p]laintiff's factual allegations in the complaint . . . will bear closer scrutiny in resolving a 12(b)(1) motion than in resolving a 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim.” Grand Lodge, 185 F.Supp.2d at 13-14 (alterations in original) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         C. Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss

         A complaint must provide “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Thus, to survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) for “failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted[, ]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the “complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face[, ]'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the [C]ourt to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); see Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994) (noting that the plaintiff is entitled to “the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged”). Although the Court must accept the facts pleaded as true, legal allegations devoid of factual support are not entitled to this presumption. See Kowal, 16 F.3d at 1276. Along with the allegations made within the four corners of the complaint, the Court may also consider “any documents either attached to or incorporated in the complaint and matters of which [it] may take judicial notice.” Equal Emp't Opportunity Comm'n v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997).

         D. Rule 56 Motion for Summary Judgment

         The Court must “grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). When ruling on a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d 889, 895 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (citing Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000)). The Court must therefore draw “all justifiable inferences” in the non-moving party's favor and accept the non-moving party's evidence as true. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The non-moving party, however, cannot rely on “mere allegations or denials[.]” Burke v. Gould, 286 F.3d 513, 517 (D.C. Cir. 2002) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). Thus, “[c]onclusory allegations unsupported by factual data will not create a triable issue of fact.” Pub. Citizen Health Research Grp. v. Food & Drug Admin., 185 F.3d 898, 908 (D.C Cir. 1999) (Garland, J., concurring) (alteration in original) (quoting Exxon Corp. v. Fed. Trade Comm'n, 663 F.2d 120, 126-27 (D.C. Cir. 1980)). If the Court concludes that “the non[-]moving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of [its] case with respect to which [it] has the burden of proof[, ]” then the moving party is entitled to summary judgment. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).


         The Court will first address the plaintiff's motion for expedited consideration and will then address the defendants' motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment.

         A. The Plaintiff's Renewed Motion for Expedited Consideration

         The plaintiff seeks “expedited relief in this matter, based on updated circumstances and newly discovered facts[.]” Pl.'s Mot. at 1. Specifically, the plaintiff alleges that “[t]he President of the United States most recently announced the withdrawal of [United States] troops from the area” where Ms. Muthana and her son are currently detained, id. ¶ 5, and argues that “the failure of the United States to urgently facilitate the return of Ms. Muthana and her son will cause immediate and irreparable harm by jeopardizing their ability in the future to return to the United States[, ]” id. ΒΆ 6. The plaintiff further argues ...

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