WEAVER v. RUSSELL et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION accompanying the final order issued separately this day. Signed by Judge Tanya S. Chutkan on 10/14/20.(psu1)
Case 1:18-cv-00961-TSC Document 34 Filed 10/14/20 Page 1 of 11
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
JUSTIN D. WEAVER,
MICHAEL D. RUSSELL et al.,
Civil Action No. 18-cv-961 (TSC)
Plaintiff Justin Weaver, a federal prisoner appearing pro se, challenges the
decision of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to exclude him from federal
contracting and assistance programs based on his convictions. DHS has moved for
summary judgment, ECF No. 28. For the following reasons, the motion will be
1. Regulatory Framework
“Debarment is an administrative action which excludes nonresponsible
contractors from government contracting.” Caiola v. Carroll, 851 F.2d 395, 397 (D.C.
Cir. 1988). The labyrinthine regulations governing debarment are published in 2 C.F.R.
Part 180 (Office of Management and Budget Guidance) and 48 C.F.R. Subpart 9.4
(Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR). Debarment aims “[t]o protect the public
interest” of the federal government and to ensure “the integrity of Federal programs by
Case 1:18-cv-00961-TSC Document 34 Filed 10/14/20 Page 2 of 11
conducting business only with responsible persons.” 2 C.F.R. § 180.125(a). Agencies
use “the nonprocurement debarment and suspension system to exclude from Federal
programs persons who are not presently responsible.” 2 C.F.R. § 180.125(b). DHS has
adopted the “policies and procedures” of OMB’s Guidance. 2 C.F.R. § 3000.10.
An “exclusion is a serious action” to be taken “only to protect the public
interest,” and not “for the purposes of punishment.” 2 C.F.R. § 180.125(c). That said,
a Federal agency may debar a person for—(a) Conviction of
or civil judgment for . . . (3) Commission of embezzlement,
theft, forgery, bribery, falsification or destruction of records,
making false statements, tax evasion, receiving stolen
property, making false claims, or obstruction of justice; or (4)
Commission of any other offense indicating a lack of business
integrity or business honesty that seriously and directly
affects your present responsibility[.]
2 C.F.R. § 180.800. Agency officials who receive pertinent information “from any
source” may refer the information to the agency’s “suspending or debarring official”
who ultimately decides whether suspension or debarment is warranted. 2 C.F.R. §
2. Criminal History Summary
On January 27, 2011, Plaintiff pleaded guilty in the United States District Court
for the Central District of Illinois to one count each of production of child pornography,
possession of child pornography, and destruction of evidence. Plaintiff is serving a
lengthy prison sentence, to be followed by a life term of supervised release. Weaver v.
United States, No. 12-3216, 2015 WL 3814457, at *1 (C.D. Ill. June 18, 2015). His
current release date is November 29, 2034. https://www.bop.gov/inmateloc/ (last
visited Oct. 14, 2020).
Case 1:18-cv-00961-TSC Document 34 Filed 10/14/20 Page 3 of 11
3. Administrative Proceedings
As a result of Plaintiff’s convictions, then-Director Randolph W. Sawyer of the
Suspension and Debarment Division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) -a DHS component -- recommended a proposal to debar Plaintiff for 20 years. Admin.
Record (“AR”) at 1-4, ECF No. 28-1. Sawyer cited “the egregiousness of the [criminal]
misconduct,” the actual and potential harm to the child victims, and Plaintiff’s
destruction of evidence and failure to notify the appropriate government authorities as
factors for “a departure from the general three-year period of debarment[.]” Id. at 4.
Plaintiff had no “current federal government contracts in his name,” had not “received
any federal assistance,” and was not slated for “upcoming awards.” Id. at 1, 3.
Nevertheless, Sawyer concluded that Plaintiff “could reasonably be expected to receive
federal assistance, loans or scholarships with the U.S. Federal Government” and thus
qualified as a “participant” as defined by 2 C.F.R. § 180.980. Id. at 3 (citing 2 C.F.R. §
180.120(a)). Sawyer posited that the underlying “incident,” while not arising from “a
federal procurement or assistance transaction,” raised questions about Plaintiff’s
“general business integrity, business honesty, and present responsibility . . . and is of
legitimate interest to ICE.” Id.
On August 14, 2012, ICE Suspension and Debarment Official William C.
Randolph accepted Sawyer’s recommendation and mailed Plaintiff a Notice of Proposed
Debarment. AR 20-22. The Notice cited the basis of the proposed action, 2 C.F.R. §§
180.800 (a)(3) and (a)(4). It explained that if disbarred, Plaintiff would be ineligible to
receive federal contracts and “certain federal assistance, loans and benefits,” and his
“name would be published in the General Services Administration’s System for Award
Case 1:18-cv-00961-TSC Document 34 Filed 10/14/20 Page 4 of 11
Management.” AR 20. The Notice informed Plaintiff of his right to challenge the
proposed action within 30 calendar days, failing which the debarment would be
imposed “for a period of twenty years beyond [his] period of confinement” or an
“estimated length” of 43 years. AR 20-21.
On October 17, 2012, having received no challenge to the proposed action,
Randolph sent to Plaintiff by certified mail the Notice of Debarment, which was
effective immediately through June 25, 2055. AR 27-30. On August 1, 2016, Plaintiff
petitioned DHS for reconsideration of ICE’s action, asserting that the debarment
violated his constitutional rights to due process and equal protection and was
“unlawfully applied.” AR 33. In support of the latter, Plaintiff disputed that he was a
“‘participant’ for the purposes of 2 C.F.R. § 180 et seq.” and questioned the “rational
nexus between the debarment sanction” and his criminal convictions. Id. Plaintiff
requested that the debarment be vacated and “all record of it” expunged. Id.
On November 2, 2016, DHS Suspension and Debarment Official Michael D.
Russell affirmed ICE’s debarment decision but reduced the years beyond incarceration
from twenty to three. AR 35-38. As for the constitutional challenge, Russell
determined from the administrative record that Plaintiff was “afforded procedural due
process,” i.e. reasonable notice of the proposed action and a meaningful opportunity to
be heard on it. Id. 35-36. As for the non-constitutional challenges, Russell explained:
A “participant” is defined as “any person who submits a
proposal for or who enters into a covered transaction,
including an agent or representative of a participant.” See 2
C.F.R. § 180.980. Debarment does not require evidence of
active participation in covered transactions, only that the
respondent “has been” or “reasonably may be expected to be”
involved in a covered transaction. Uzelmeier v. US. Dept. of
Case 1:18-cv-00961-TSC Document 34 Filed 10/14/20 Page 5 of 11
HHS, 541 F. Supp. 2d 241 (D.D.C. 2008). Accordingly, this
is a very broad definition.
The administrative record indicates that you were a firefighter
prior to your arrest and incarceration. The federal government
frequently enters into contracts for fire suppression, life
safety, and emergency management services. Furthermore,
the federal government often enters into small business loans
and small business innovation research grants with such
participants. Accordingly, due to prior work experience in
emergency management, you are a participant, as defined by
2 C.F.R. § 180.980, because you could reasonably be expected
to receive federal assistance, loans or scholarships with the
federal government as a participant, or as an agent for, or a
representative of, a participant as defined under 2 C.F.R. §
180.910. Additionally, while incarcerated, inmates are still
entitled to federal assistance including small business loans,
scholarships, grants, and other forms of federal assistance.
AR 36. As for the nexus between Plaintiff’s convictions and the debarment, Russell
DHS considers a wide variety of cases for suspension and
debarment and evaluates each proposed debarment based on
the unique facts presented. In your case, you were
investigated as part of Project Safe Childhood (PSC), a
nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child
sexual exploitation and abuse. ICE is one of many federal,
state, and local law enforcement partners in the PSC task
force. Pursuant to 2 C.F.R. § 180.860, I specifically
considered the nature of the felony for which you were
adjudicated guilty and the harm to the government’s business
interests based on the misuse of interstate commerce under
which the relevant criminal statute is predicated.
Furthermore, I considered the harm to the minors who were
in the visual depictions of the sexually explicit conduct. See
2 C.F.R. § 180.860(a). As it is in the government’s interest
to protect such minors, your lack of cooperation with the
investigation as demonstrated by the destruction of evidence
is especially aggravating. See 2 C.F.R. § 180.860(i). In
addition, your failure to report the criminal misconduct to the
appropriate government agency is troubling. See 2 C.F.R. §
180.860(n). All of these facts indicate a lack of business
integrity or business honesty that seriously and directly
Case 1:18-cv-00961-TSC Document 34 Filed 10/14/20 Page 6 of 11
affects your present responsibility and are aggravating factors
contributing to the Agency’s determination.
4. Court Proceedings
Plaintiff filed this case on April 19, 2018, naming as defendants DHS, agency
component ICE, ICE Division Director Sawyer, and DHS Debarment Official Russell.
The individuals were dismissed from the case, see May 29, 2019 Order, ECF No. 21,
and the proceedings continued under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), 5
U.S.C. § 702. Defendants now argue that the claims against ICE should be dismissed
because APA review is limited to DHS’ final action. See Mem. at 9-10. The court
agrees; therefore, the complaint against ICE is hereby dismissed.
II. LEGAL STANDARD
On a motion for summary judgment in a suit seeking APA review, the standard
under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a) does not apply. Coe v. McHugh, 968 F. Supp. 2d 237, 239
(D.D.C. 2013). Instead the court must decide as a matter of law “whether the agency
action is supported by the administrative record and otherwise consistent with the APA
standard of review.” Id. at 240 (citing Richards v. INS, 554 F.2d 1173, 1177 & n. 28
(D.C. Cir. 1977)). The Court’s review is “highly deferential” and begins with a
presumption that the agency’s actions are valid. Envtl. Def. Fund, Inc. v. Costle, 657
F.2d 275, 283 (D.C. Cir. 1981).
Pursuant to the APA, a court must set aside any agency action that is “arbitrary,
capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.” 5 U.S.C. §
706(2). “In evaluating a debarment under this standard, the court must consider the
entire administrative record and determine ‘whether the decision was based on a
Case 1:18-cv-00961-TSC Document 34 Filed 10/14/20 Page 7 of 11
consideration of the relevant factors and whether there has been a clear error of
judgment.’” Burke v. U.S. Envtl. Protection Agency, 127 F. Supp. 2d 235, 238 (D.D.C.
2001) (quoting Citizens to Preserve Overton Park, Inc. v. Volpe, 401 U.S. 402, 416
(1971)). The court is “not empowered to substitute its judgment for that of the agency,”
Citizens to Preserve Overton Park, Inc., 401 U.S. at 416, but instead must consider only
“whether the agency acted within the scope of its legal authority, whether the agency
has explained its decision, whether the facts on which the agency purports to have
relied have some basis in the record, and whether the agency considered the relevant
factors.” Fulbright v. McHugh, 67 F. Supp. 3d 81, 89 (D.D.C. 2014) (citing Fund for
Animals v. Babbitt, 903 F. Supp. 96, 105 (D.D.C. 1995)); see Clark County, Nev. v.
FAA, 522 F.3d 437, 441 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (“so long as the agency engaged in reasoned
decision making and its decision is adequately explained and supported by the record,”
its action will be upheld) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted)). The
plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the invalidity of the agency’s action.
Fulbright, 67 F. Supp. 3d at 89.
1. Subject Matter Jurisdiction
Defendants assert “in the alternative” that the complaint should be dismissed for
lack of standing. Because standing is “a defect in subject matter jurisdiction,” Haase v.
Sessions, 835 F.2d 902, 906 (D.C. Cir. 1987), the court must resolve this potential
barrier first. See Ctr. for Law & Educ. v. Dep't of Educ., 396 F.3d 1152, 1162 (D.C.
Cir. 2005) (“Without jurisdiction the court cannot proceed at all in any cause.”)
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted)).
Case 1:18-cv-00961-TSC Document 34 Filed 10/14/20 Page 8 of 11
Federal courts are vested with the power of judicial review extending only to
“Cases” and “Controversies.” U.S. Const. art. III, § 2. Courts have, in interpreting this
limitation on judicial power, “developed a series of principles termed ‘justiciability
doctrines,’ among which are standing, ripeness, mootness, and the political question
doctrine.” Nat’l Treasury Emps. Union v. United States, 101 F.3d 1423, 1427 (D.C.
Cir. 1996) (citing Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 750 (1984)). The “core component of
standing is an essential and unchanging part of the case-or-controversy requirement of
Article III.” Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992). In order to satisfy
the standing requirement, a plaintiff must establish at a minimum (1) that he has
“suffered an injury in fact—an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a)
concrete and particularized; and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or
hypothetical”; (2) that “a causal connection” exists “between the injury and the
conduct complained of . . ., and [is] not the result of the independent action of some
third party not before the court”; and (3) that the injury will “likely” be redressed by a
favorable decision. Id. at 560-61 (alterations, internal quotation marks, and citations
omitted). A “person suing under the APA must satisfy not only Article III's standing
requirements, but an additional test: The interest he asserts must be ‘arguably within the
zone of interests to be protected or regulated by the statute’ that he says was violated.”
Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians v. Patchak, 567 U.S. 209,
224 (2012) (citation omitted).
Defendant posits that because Plaintiff disputes in his complaint that he is a
“participant” for purposes of debarment, he “effectively pleads him[self] out of court as
it strongly suggests that he lacks constitutional standing.” Mem. of Law at 1. Given
Case 1:18-cv-00961-TSC Document 34 Filed 10/14/20 Page 9 of 11
the current record, this argument is untenable. In resolving the jurisdictional question,
the “court 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) (citing Herbert v. Nat'l
Acad. of Scis., 974 F.2d 192, 197 (D.C. Cir. 1992)). It “is well-settled that there is
standing to seek judicial review of agency action in the district courts under . . . 5
U.S.C. § 706(2)(A) when arbitrary or capricious agency conduct is claimed.” In re
Smith & Wesson, 757 F.2d 431, 433 (1st Cir. 1985) (citing Chrysler Corp. v. Brown,
441 U.S. 281 (1978)); see Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 573 n.7 (1992)
(“The person who has been accorded a procedural right to protect his concrete interests
can assert that right without meeting all the normal standards for redressability and
immediacy.”); Trudeau v. Fed. Trade Comm'n, 456 F.3d 178, 188 (D.C. Cir. 2006)
(“[I]t is clear that the APA suppl[ies] a generic cause of action in favor of persons
aggrieved by agency action.”) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)
(alteration in original)).
DHS’ debarment is premised on Plaintiff’s current ability to qualify for “federal
assistance, loans or scholarships with the U.S. Federal Government,” AR 36, and it
effectively disqualifies him from such programs for the duration of his incarceration.
Therefore, the Court finds that Plaintiff has Article III standing, as well as prudential
standing under “the APA’s generous review provisions.” Bennett v. Spear, 520 U.S.
154, 163 (1997) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Case 1:18-cv-00961-TSC Document 34 Filed 10/14/20 Page 10 of 11
2. The Merits
As discussed above, an agency’s decision will stand if it “is rational, based on
consideration of the relevant factors[,] within the scope of the authority delegated to the
agency by the statute,” Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass’n of U.S. v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins.
Co., 463 U.S. 29, 30 (1983), and responds to all plaintiff’s non-frivolous arguments,
Frizelle v. Slater, 111 F. 3d 172, 177 (D.C. Cir. 1997). DHS’ decision meets these
As one of many “enforcement partners” of Project Safe Childhood, AR 37, ICE
participated in the criminal investigation of Plaintiff, AR 18, and has “expertise in [the]
subject matter,” AR 3. That incarcerated individuals like Plaintiff are “still entitled to
federal assistance including small business loans, scholarships, grants, and other forms
of federal assistance,” AR 36, rationally supports the agency’s selection of Plaintiff for
debarment. In addition, the administrative record contains ample evidence of a nexus
between the debarment and Plaintiff’s convictions. Most notably is the conviction for
knowingly altering, destroying, and falsifying evidence with the intent of impeding the
criminal investigation, see AR 7, which falls squarely within the qualifying convictions
listed in 2 C.F.R. §§ 180.800(a)(3) and indicates “a lack of business integrity or
business honesty.” AR 37.
In pleading guilty, moreover, Plaintiff admitted (1) to coercing “a minor to
engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction”
with “materials that had been mailed, shipped, and transported in interstate and foreign
commerce,” AR 5, and (2) knowingly possessing “images of child pornography” on a
“computer hard drive, and other digital storage materials” that were “shipped and
Case 1:18-cv-00961-TSC Document 34 Filed 10/14/20 Page 11 of 11
transported in interstate and foreign commerce.” AR 6. Such evidence adequately
supports the debarring officials’ findings under 2 C.F.R. § 180.860 of “numerous
aggravating factors” and “minimal mitigating factors,” AR 2, the former of which
“significantly outweigh” the latter, AR 37. And “an agency’s interpretation of its own
regulations is entitled to considerable deference.” Burke, 127 at 239 (citing Chevron,
U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, 467 U.S. 837, 844 (1984) (other
For the foregoing reasons, Defendant’s motion for summary judgment will be
GRANTED. A corresponding order will issue separately.
Date: October 14, 2020
Tanya S. Chutkan
TANYA S. CHUTKAN
United States District Judge
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?