STONE v. U.S. EMBASSY TOKYO et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION denying 171 Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend his third amended complaint; denying 154 Plaintiff's motion for joinder; and granting 186 Defendants' motion to dismiss. See document for details. Signed by Judge Rudolph Contreras on 11/16/2020. (lcrc1)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
U.S. EMBASSY TOKYO, et al.,
Civil Action No.:
Re Document Nos.:
154, 171, 186
DENYING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR LEAVE TO AMEND THIRD AMENDED COMPLAINT;
DENYING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION TO JOIN; GRANTING DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS
In this case, Plaintiff Jack Stone, proceeding pro se, claims that the United States
Embassy in Tokyo and the Department of State (“Defendants”) have unlawfully refused to issue
citizenship and immigration documents that he requested for his family. He recently filed a third
amended complaint. See Pl.’s Third Am. Compl., ECF No. 171-1. It includes more claims than
Plaintiff had leave to add, so the Court treats the pleading in part as a new motion for leave to
amend his complaint. Plaintiff also seeks to join Jennifer Wooton, U.S. Senator Brian Schatz’s
Director of Constituent Services, as a defendant. See Pl.’s Mot. to Join Jennifer Wooton as a
Def. (“Pl.’s Mot. to Join”), ECF No. 154. Finally, Defendants move to dismiss a claim that the
Court permitted Plaintiff to add to his complaint. See Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss & Opp’n to Pl.’s
Third Am. Compl. (“Defs.’ Mot. & Opp’n”), ECF Nos. 186-1, 187-1. 1 For the reasons explained
below, the Court will deny Plaintiff’s motions and grant Defendants’ motion.
Defendants’ Opposition to Plaintiff’s Third Amended Complaint and Defendants’
Motion to Dismiss are contained in the same filing. For clarity, the Court will refer to the
document as “Defs.’ Mot. & Opp’n.”
II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
The Court presumes familiarity with its prior opinions in this case. See Mem. Op.
Granting Defs.’ Mot. for Summ. J. and Denying Pl.’s Mots. for Summ. J., ECF No. 227; Stone v.
U.S. Embassy Tokyo, No. 19-3273, 2020 WL 5775196 (D.D.C. Sept. 28, 2020); Stone v. U.S.
Embassy Tokyo, No. 19-3273, 2020 WL 5653699 (D.D.C. Sept. 23, 2020); Stone v. U.S.
Embassy Tokyo, No. 19-3273, 2020 WL 4260711 (D.D.C. July 24, 2020). Accordingly, this
opinion will briefly describe only the facts and allegations relevant to the pending motions.
On July 24, 2020, this Court granted in part Plaintiff’s motion to amend his Second
Amended Complaint to include a claim for an order to compel citizenship for Plaintiff’s putative
second minor child, S.S. See Stone, 2020 WL 4260711, at *5. The Court “d[id] not grant leave
to amend the complaint to include all of Plaintiff’s other filings and requests.” Id. at *8.
On August 24, 2020, Plaintiff filed a Third Amended Complaint including four separate
sections: (1) “Plaintiff Sues Defendants to Obtain Consular Report of Birth Abroad and Social
Security Card for Minor Child S.S., a U.S. Citizen,” Pl.’s Third Am. Compl. at 1; (2) “Plaintiff
Demands Defendants Issue Passport to S.S.,” id. at 13; (3) “Plaintiff Joins Scott Renner, Gary
Gardner, David Brizzee, Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty and Michael Pompeo as
Defendants,” id. at 15; and (4) “Plaintiff Joins United States Citizens and Immigration Services
(USCIS) as Defendant,” id. at 16. Defendants then moved to dismiss the first claim and opposed
the addition of the three latter claims in the new amended complaint. See Defs.’ Mot. & Opp’n.
III. LEGAL STANDARD
A. Motion for Leave to Amend a Complaint
A party may amend its pleading once as a matter of course within twenty-one days after
serving its pleading, or within certain time periods if the pleading is one to which a responsive
pleading is required. Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1); see Bode & Grenier, LLP v. Knight, 808 F.3d 852,
860 (D.C. Cir. 2015). Otherwise (such as here, when a party has already filed amended
pleadings), a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party’s consent or the court’s
leave. Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2); see also Knight, 808 F.3d at 860. The decision to grant or deny
leave to amend “is committed to a district court’s discretion,” Firestone v. Firestone, 76 F.3d
1205, 1208 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (per curiam), and should be freely given “when justice so requires,”
Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2). However, the court may deny a motion to amend if the proposed
amendment would be futile. De Sousa v. Dep’t of State, 840 F. Supp. 2d 92, 113 (D.D.C. 2012)
(citing Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962); James Madison Ltd. v. Ludwig, 82 F.3d 1085,
1099 (D.C. Cir. 1996)). A motion to amend is futile “if the proposed claim would not survive a
motion to dismiss.” Ludwig, 82 F.3d at 1099. Of course, a court must be mindful that a pro se
litigant’s complaint is “construed liberally and is held to ‘less stringent standards than formal
pleadings drafted by lawyers.’” Lemon v. Kramer, 270 F. Supp. 3d 125, 133 (D.D.C. 2017)
(quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam)).
B. Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss
Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that a complaint contain “a
short and plain statement” that gives the defendant fair notice of the claim and the grounds upon
which it rests. See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A motion to dismiss
under Rule 12(b)(6) “tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint” under that standard; it asks
whether the plaintiff has properly stated a claim. Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C.
Cir. 2002). To defeat such a motion, 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 Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “Threadbare recitals of the elements
of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements,” are therefore insufficient. Id. A
court need not accept a plaintiff’s legal conclusions as true, see id., nor presume the veracity of
legal conclusions that are couched as factual allegations. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Finally,
a court need not accept as true factual allegations that “contradict exhibits to the complaint or
matters subject to judicial notice.” See Kaempe v. Myers, 367 F.3d 958, 963 (D.C. Cir. 2004).
A. Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to Further Amend the Complaint
In construing Stone’s newly amended complaint, the Court agrees with Defendants that
Plaintiff asserts three new claims: a claim to compel the issuance of a U.S. Passport for S.S., a
request to join certain Department of State officials as defendants, and a claim concerning the
denial of Plaintiff’s wife’s Form I-485 Application. 2 See Defs.’ Mot. & Opp’n at 16–22.
Because the Court’s July 24, 2020, opinion “[did] not grant leave to amend the complaint to
include all of Plaintiff’s other filings and requests,” Stone, 2020 WL 4260711, at *8, the Court
will construe these claims as a motion for leave to further amend the complaint. The Court will
also address Plaintiff’s motion to join Jennifer Wooton, U.S. Senator Brian Schatz’s Director of
Constituent Services, as a defendant. See Pl.’s Mot. to Join. The Court addresses each claim in
Claim to Compel the Issuance of a U.S. Passport for S.S.
Plaintiff first “demands a passport to be issued to S.S.” Pl.’s Third Am. Compl. at 13.
Under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), “[a] person suffering legal wrong because of
agency action, or adversely affected or aggrieved by agency action . . . is entitled to judicial
The Court permitted Plaintiff to bring the fourth claim relating to an order to compel
citizenship for Plaintiff’s putative second minor child, S.S. This claim is the subject of
Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss.
review thereof.” 5 U.S.C. § 702. The APA generally limits causes of action to those challenging
final agency action. Trudeau v. FTC, 456 F.3d 178, 188–89 (D.C. Cir. 2006). “Final agency
action ‘mark[s] the consummation of the agency’s decision making process’ and is ‘one by
which rights or obligations have been determined, or from which legal consequences will flow.’”
Reliable Automatic Sprinkler Co. v. Consumer Prod. Safety Comm’n, 324 F.3d 726, 731 (D.C.
Cir. 2003) (quoting Bennett v. Spear, 520 U.S. 154, 177–78 (1997)). “With a few exceptions, if
there is no final agency action, there is no basis for review of the government’s decision or
policy.” Cobell v. Norton, 240 F.3d 1081, 1095 (D.C. Cir. 2001).
Here, Plaintiff alleges no agency action, inaction, or involvement at all. It does not
appear from Plaintiff’s proposed amended complaint that he has undertaken any steps to obtain a
passport for S.S., the application for which, as noted in Plaintiff’s own exhibit, “must be
completed” on a Form DS-11, U.S. Passport Application. Pl.’s Third Am. Compl. Ex. E.
Plaintiff also states that he “will pay” the required fee for a passport for S.S., id. at 14, suggesting
that he has not done anything besides file the instant motion to obtain a passport for S.S. To the
extent that Plaintiff challenges wrongful agency inaction, that sort of claim can proceed “only
where a plaintiff asserts that an agency failed to take a discrete agency action that it is required
to take.” Norton v. S. Utah Wilderness All., 542 U.S. 55, 64 (2004). Surely an agency is not
legally required to take action on an application that, like S.S.’s passport application, has not
even been filed. Given Plaintiff’s lack of efforts to obtain a passport for S.S. through the
Department of State, “there is no basis for review of the government's decision.” Cobell, 240
F.3d at 1095.
Furthermore, even if Plaintiff had taken steps with the Department of State to obtain a
passport for S.S., the Court can only direct an agency to “take action upon a matter, without
directing how [the agency] shall act.” S. Utah Wilderness All., 542 U.S. at 64. At most, the
Court could merely issue a mandamus to order the Department of State to take action on the
passport application, but it could not order the Department of State to approve the application
and issue S.S. a passport. However, given the lack of any agency action or wrongful agency
inaction, the Court will deny as futile Plaintiff’s request for leave to amend his complaint to
include a motion to compel issuance of a passport for S.S.
ii. Requests to Join Department of State Officials and Jennifer Wooton
as Defendants for Unspecified Tort Claims and Privacy Act Claim
Plaintiff next seeks to add several Department of State officials—Scott Renner, Gary
Gardner, David Brizee, former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty, and Secretary of State
Michael Pompeo—as defendants in their official capacities. See Pl.’s Third Am. Compl. at 15–
16. In a separate motion, Plaintiff seeks to join Jennifer Wooton, U.S. Senator Brian Schatz’s
Director of Constituent Services, as a defendant. See Pl’s Mot. to Join. Based on the language
of Plaintiff’s filings, the Court agrees with Defendants that Plaintiff is asserting tort claims under
the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 2671–2680. See Pl.’s Third Am. Compl. at
15 (stating that proposed Department of State defendants “owed a duty” to Plaintiff and his
children and “failed to act”); Pl.’s Mot. to Join at 1 (describing Wooton’s conduct as “tortious”). 3
The FTCA is a “limited waiver of the Government’s sovereign immunity,” permitting
plaintiffs to “sue the United States in federal court for state-law torts committed by government
employees within the scope of their employment.” Harbury v. Hayden, 522 F.3d 413, 416 (D.C.
Plaintiff seems to suggest that Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658
(1978) is relevant to his claims against Wooton. See Pl.’s Mot. to Join at 1–2. However, Monell
relates to a municipal entity’s liability in a § 1983 suit. 436 U.S. at 701. Moreover, § 1983
provides a cause of action “against state actors who violate an individual’s rights under federal
law.” Filarsky v. Delia, 566 U.S. 377, 380 (2012) (emphasis added). No municipal entity or
state actor is named as a defendant by Plaintiff, and thus Monell and § 1983 are inapposite.
Cir. 2008). As such, the only proper defendant in an action brought under the FTCA is the
United States. See Davis v. United States, 196 F. Supp. 3d 106, 110 n.2 (D.D.C. 2016); see also
Johnson v. Veterans Affairs Med. Ctr., 133 F. Supp. 3d 10, 16 (D.D.C. 2015) (“FTCA suits ‘must
name the United States as defendant.’” (quoting Goddard v. D.C. Redevelopment Land Agency,
287 F.2d 343, 345–46 (D.C. Cir. 1961))).
All of the “tortious” conduct alleged by Plaintiff appears to fall within the scope of the
proposed defendants’ employment. Indeed, the allegations against the Department of State
employees appear to involve consular business, such as “refus[ing] to issue [a] passport,” failing
to “initiate return order proceedings,” and responding to Plaintiff’s letters about consular matters,
Pl.’s Third Am. Compl. at 15. Likewise, it appears that Wooton took no actions outside of her
responsibilities to handle constituent interactions. See Pl.’s Mot. to Join at 2. Thus, Plaintiff
cannot bring his FTCA suit against these individuals because “the United States is the only
proper defendant.” Davis, 196 F. Supp. 3d at 110 n.2.
Even if the United States was properly named as the correct Defendant, Plaintiff’s request
to join these six defendants would be futile for several additional reasons. First, much of the
“tortious” conduct Plaintiff alleges appears to have occurred in Japan and thus is independently
barred by the FTCA’s foreign country exception, see 28 U.S.C. § 2680(k), which provides that
the limited sovereign immunity waiver in the FTCA “does not extend to acts or omissions arising
in territory subject to the sovereign authority of another nation,” Macharia v. United States, 334
F.3d 61, 69 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (holding that FTCA foreign country exception applied to injuries
occurring at a United States embassy). Second, the tort claims alleged against Wooton involve
libel and slander, see Pl.’s Mot. to Join at 2, for which the United States has not waived
sovereign immunity under the FTCA. See 28 U.S.C. § 2680(h); Council on Am. Islamic
Relations v. Ballenger, 444 F.3d 659, 666 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (holding that the FTCA barred an
organization’s defamation claims because the United States had not waived sovereign immunity
as to those claims). Third, Plaintiff also has not alleged that he complied with the FTCA’s
exhaustion requirement. See 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a). Under D.C. Circuit precedent, a failure to
exhaust administrative remedies under the FTCA is a jurisdictional defect. See Smith v. Clinton,
886 F.3d 122, 127 (D.C. Cir. 2018) (per curiam). Plaintiff’s “fail[ure] to allege that [he] satisfied
the requirement that [he] exhaust administrative remedies before filing an FTCA claim” would
require dismissal. Achagzai v. Broad. Bd. of Governors, 109 F. Supp. 3d 67, 69–70 (D.D.C.
2015). Fourth, Plaintiff fails to demonstrate how the alleged conduct, such as failing to issue a
passport or respond to letters, constitute legally cognizable torts. “While a complaint should not
be dismissed unless the court determines that the allegations do not support relief on any legal
theory, the complaint nonetheless must set forth sufficient information to suggest that there is
some recognized legal theory upon which relief may be granted.” District of Columbia v. Air
Fla., Inc., 750 F.2d 1077, 1078 (D.C. Cir. 1984). The Court is under no duty to recognize “a
novel theory of recovery unaided by the plaintiff.” Kugel v. United States, 947 F.2d 1504, 1508
n.3 (D.C. Cir. 1991). Because “the complaint does not adequately inform the court of the
plaintiff’s legal theory supporting” a valid cause of action, joining the six defendants for Plaintiff
to assert these myriad unrecognized claims would be futile. Id. Finally, many of Plaintiff’s
allegations are entirely conclusory. See, e.g., Pl.’s Third Am. Compl. at 15 (“[Renner] engaged
in a scheme to commit fraud on the court, falsigying records, and engaging in a systemic scheme
to harm Plaintiff, harm that flows directly to his children.”); id. (“Hagerty’s inaction . . . results
in irreparable harm to Plaintiff and his children.”). A court is “not bound to accept as true a legal
conclusion couched as a factual allegation,” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, and this Court will not do so
Plaintiff also raises a Privacy Act claim against Wooton, alleging that Wooton disclosed
documents with Plaintiff’s personal information to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo before Plaintiff
signed a “Privacy Act authorization.” See Pl.’s Mot. to Join at 3–5. However, like the FTCA,
the Privacy Act “does not allow a person to seek civil remedies against individuals.” Armstrong
v. U.S. Bureau of Prisons, 976 F. Supp. 17, 23 (D.D.C. 1997). Rather, a suit under the Privacy
Act must be brought against an “agency,” meaning “any executive department, military
department, Government corporation, Government controlled corporation, or other establishment
in the executive branch of the Government . . . or any independent regulatory agency.” 5 U.S.C.
§ 552(f)(1). Thus, the Privacy Act does not encompass entities “clearly outside the executive
branch.” Dong v. Smithsonian Inst., 125 F.3d 877, 879 (D.C. Cir. 1997). Here, Plaintiff’s
Privacy Act claim cannot proceed against Wooton as an individual or against the Office of
Senator Schatz, which, as an office in the legislative branch, is “clearly outside the executive
branch.” Id. Although Plaintiff describes the release-of-information form Wooton requested he
sign as a “Privacy Act authorization,” Pl.’s Mot. to Join at 5, Wooton never characterized it as
such, instead calling it a “Privacy Release Form,” Pl.’s Mot. to Join, Ex. C. While Senator
Schatz’s office may have a policy of obtaining consent from constituents before sharing their
personal information with agencies, it is not a policy regulated by the Privacy Act.
In sum, there is ample reason to deny as futile Plaintiff’s request to join the six proposed
defendants in their official capacities to assert FTCA and Privacy Act claims.
Claim Concerning Defendant’s Wife’s Form I-485 Application
Finally, Plaintiff complains of actions taken by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration
Services (“USCIS”) concerning USCIS’s denial of his wife’s Form I-485, the application to
register or adjust status to legal permanent residence. 4 Pl.’s Third Am. Compl. at 20–26.
Plaintiff seems to challenge an underlying determination of his wife’s eligibility for adjustment;
namely, whether USCIS received a federal income tax return for the sponsor (here, Plaintiff) on
the required Affidavit of Support (Form I-864). Id. at 22, Ex. V. Plaintiff additionally seeks to
join USCIS as a defendant. Id. at 16–17.
At first glance, 8 U.S.C. § 1252(a)(2)(B)(i) seems to deny this Court’s jurisdiction to hear
Plaintiff’s claim. That provision provides that “no court shall have jurisdiction to review . . . any
judgment regarding the granting of relief under section . . . 1255 of this title [the section relating
to adjustment of status].” 8 U.S.C. § 1252(a)(2)(B)(i). However, the proper interpretation of this
provision is a matter of debate in this district and between the circuits. Some courts have held
that it completely divests district courts of the authority to review any decisions that either grant
or deny adjustment of status pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1255. See, e.g., Lee v. U.S. Citizenship &
Immigration Servs., 592 F.3d 612, 620 (4th Cir. 2010) (holding that the exclusive means of
judicial review of a legal issue related to the denial of an adjustment of status is by petition for
review to the court of appeals from a final order of removal); Djodeir v. Mayorkas, 657 F. Supp.
2d 22, 24 (D.D.C. 2009). Other courts have held that the provision divests district courts only of
the authority to review discretionary decisions, while permitting district courts to review an
agency’s nondiscretionary, or purely legal, decisions. See, e.g., Hosseini v. Johnson, 826 F.3d
Plaintiff refers to this denial as a “visa denial.” Pl.’s Third Am. Compl. at 20.
However, given the documentary evidence Plaintiff submitted in his complaint, see id. Ex. V, the
Court understands that he is referring to the denial of his wife’s Form I-485 application.
354, 359 & n.6 (6th Cir. 2016) (finding that “courts can review non-discretionary decisions in
this context,” including “eligibility determinations underlying the agency’s decision”); ReyesVasquez v. Ashcroft, 395 F.3d 903, 906 (8th Cir. 2005) (noting that a court may “consider the
predicate legal question whether the [agency] properly applied the law to the facts” in making an
eligibility determination); Mawalla v. Chertoff, 468 F. Supp. 2d 177, 181 (D.D.C. 2007).
The Court need not wade into this debate, however, because even assuming the Court has
jurisdiction to hear Plaintiff’s claim and that the eligibility determination that USCIS did not
receive a federal income tax return for Plaintiff is “nondiscretionary,” Plaintiff’s claim would
still be futile because the agency “properly applied the law to the facts” in making that eligibility
determination. See Reyes-Vasquez, 395 F.3d at 906.
In order for an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen (such as Plaintiff’s wife) to
demonstrate eligibility for adjustment, a sponsor must submit an affidavit of support, see 8
C.F.R. § 213a.2(a)(2)(i)(A), and the “sponsor must include with an affidavit of support either a
photocopy or an Internal Revenue Service-issued transcript of his or her complete Federal
income tax return for the most recent taxable year,” id. § 213a.2(c)(2)(i)(A). USCIS’s Notice of
Decision indicates that the agency concluded that Plaintiff’s wife was not eligible for adjustment
of status because she did not submit a copy of her sponsor’s—i.e., Plaintiff’s—federal income
tax returns. Pl.’s Third Am. Compl. at 123. Plaintiff concedes that he did not comply with the
requirement of § 213a.2(c)(2)(i)(A). See id. at 22. Plaintiff counters, though, that he “did not
owe taxes to the IRS” for 2017 and therefore submitted a Japanese tax document for that year,
along with a translation. Id. However, “[i]f the sponsor had no legal duty to file a Federal
income tax return for the most recent tax year, the sponsor must explain why he or she had no
legal duty to a file a Federal income tax return for that year,” along with “evidence of the amount
and source of the income that the sponsor claims was exempt from taxation and a copy of the
provisions of any statute, treaty, or regulation that supports the claim that he or she had no duty
to file an income tax return.” 8 C.F.R. § 213a.2(c)(2)(i)(B). Plaintiff does not allege that he
complied with that requirement. Without this explanation to USCIS, the Court concludes that
USCIS “properly applied the law to the facts” in determining that Plaintiff’s wife was not
eligible for adjustment of status. Reyes-Vasquez, 395 F.3d at 906. Consequently, the Court will
deny as futile Plaintiff’s motion for leave to amend his complaint to include a claim challenging
the denial of his wife’s Form I-485 application and alleged monetary damages emanating from
that denial. 5 Because there are no other remaining claims against USCIS, the Court will also
deny as futile Plaintiff’s motion to join USCIS as a defendant.
B. Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss
Defendants move to dismiss the claim relating to an order to compel citizenship for
Plaintiff’s putative second minor child, S.S, which the Court did permit Plaintiff to add to his
complaint. See Defs.’ Mot. & Opp’n at 6–15. Defendants argue that there is no final agency
action for this Court to review. Id.
As discussed above, the APA generally limits causes of action to those challenging final
agency action. Trudeau, 456 F.3d at 188–89. “Final agency action ‘mark[s] the consummation
of the agency’s decision making process’ and is ‘one by which rights or obligations have been
determined, or from which legal consequences will flow.’” Reliable Automatic Sprinkler Co,
324 F.3d at 731 (quoting Bennett, 520 U.S. at 177–78). In evaluating finality, courts look to “the
Plaintiff has also not demonstrated that the United States waived sovereign immunity
and allowed him to sue for monetary damages, given that 5 U.S.C. § 702, the APA section
relating to judicial review of agency action, “waives the Government’s immunity from actions
seeking relief other than money damages.” Dep’t of Army v. Blue Fox, Inc., 525 U.S. 255, 260–
61 (1999) (internal quotation marks omitted) (emphasis added).
way in which the agency subsequently treats the challenged action.” Sw. Airlines, Co. v. U.S.
Dep’t of Transp., 832 F.3d 270, 275 (D.C. Cir. 2016). Although the court does not lose
jurisdiction solely because a claim under the APA lacks final agency action, that claim might not
survive a motion to dismiss. Reliable Automatic Sprinkler Co, 324 F.3d at 731 (determining that
lack of final agency action “was no basis for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1)” but the trial court’s
dismissal of the case “may [be] properly affirm[ed] . . . pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)”). Courts may
review a delay in agency action when it is “extremely lengthy” or when “‘exigent circumstances
render it equivalent to a final denial of petitioners’ request.’” Pub. Citizen Health Research Grp.
v. Comm’r, FDA, 740 F.2d 21, 32 (D.C. Cir. 1984) (quoting Envtl. Def. Fund, Inc. v. Hardin,
428 F.2d 1093, 1098 (D.C. Cir. 1970)).
In its opinion dated July 24, 2020, this Court granted Plaintiff’s motion to amend his
complaint to include an order to compel Defendants to grant citizenship for S.S. See Stone, 2020
WL 4260711, at *5. Opposing Plaintiff’s proposed amendment to his complaint, defendants
made a similar nonfinality argument there, arguing that Plaintiff’s Consular Report of Birth
Abroad (“CRBA”) application was deficient because the application contained blank signature
blocks, because Plaintiff had not appeared at a U.S. embassy to complete the application, and
because Plaintiff had not presented the original passport of S.S.’s mother. Id. For his part,
Plaintiff claimed that “he completed a valid CRBA application and that any additional in-person
interview or documentation requirements [were] unnecessary or illegal, at least while COVID-19
makes an in-person appointment at the Embassy impossible.” Id. Finding the parties at a legal
and factual impasse, this Court was not convinced by Defendant’s non-finality argument, noting
that “[w]hile the Department of State has not formally ‘denied’ the citizenship application, the
agency has considered the CRBA application and found it deficient,” which struck the Court as
“a decision from which legal consequences flow.” Id. The animating concern for this Court was
that the Government “could indefinitely avoid judicial review of its actions here by postponing a
‘formal’ decision.” Id. The Court noted that Defendants did not address in their briefing
“whether the Department of State requires that the child’s mother be present at an embassy or
provide certain documentation to complete the CRBA process” or “whether the in-person
requirement can or should be waived under present circumstances.” Id. The Court further
directed Plaintiff to adequately explain in his amended complaint “why Defendants’ actions here
qualify as final under the APA or why finality is not required.” Id.
In their present motion to dismiss, Defendants offer a more thorough explanation of the
in-person appearance requirement. Defendants point out that the U.S. Embassy in Japan’s
website makes clear that in-person appointments are required for CRBA applications and that the
Department of State “cannot accept incomplete applications.” Defs.’ Mot. & Opp’n at 7.
Furthermore, they note that Plaintiff was informed on multiple occasions that an in-person
appointment was required to complete the CRBA application and that Plaintiff concedes that he
knew of the in-person requirement. Id. at 7–8. Defendants explain that “waiver of the personal
appearance requirement . . . [is] rarely provided,” id. at 12, given that the in-person requirement
is essential to ensuring “the standards for citizenship and issuance of a CRBA have been met,”
id. at 11. See 22 C.F.R. §§ 50.5, 50.7(a) (requiring that the applicant submit proof of the child’s
“birth, identity, and citizenship” to the satisfaction of the consular officer in order to issue a
CRBA). According to Defendants, the concerns animating the in-person requirement are
heightened in this case, where there is some question whether Plaintiff is the biological father of
S.S. Defs.’ Mot. & Opp’n at 7, 11. In sum, Defendants conclude, there is no actual or
constructive final agency action here because “the Department of State has maintained the
application and advised Plaintiff of the additional steps necessary to complete the process,” but
Plaintiff refuses to complete the process. Id. at 14.
As to whether the Department of State requires original documentation of S.S.’s mother’s
passport, Defendants note that “communications from the U.S. Embassy make this request, but
do not state categorically that Plaintiff’s application will be denied on this basis.” Id. at 11–12.
In response, Plaintiff states that the COVID-19 pandemic makes an in-person appearance
at a U.S. embassy dangerous and impossible and thus any in-person appearance requirements are
“unreasonable.” Pl.’s Third Am. Compl. at 5–9. He notes that he does not have access to S.S.,
and therefore cannot bring S.S. to a U.S. embassy for an in-person appearance. Id. at 5. And he
has filed correspondence from the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo indicating that the Embassy
considered and denied a waiver of the in-person requirement for Plaintiff and S.S. See ECF No.
216, Ex. A. In addition, Plaintiff challenges the suggested requirement of providing S.S.’s
mother’s original passport to the Department of State to obtain citizenship for his child,
considering that he is unable to obtain his wife’s passport and that the Department of State
already reviewed S.S.’s mother’s original passport when Plaintiff applied for citizenship for his
first-born child. Pl.’s Third Am. Compl. at 4–5.
With the benefit of additional briefing, the Court concludes that the Department of State’s
determination that Plaintiff’s CRBA application is deficient is not an actual or constructive final
denial subject to judicial review. In evaluating how the agency “treats the challenged action,”
Sw. Airlines Co., 832 F.3d at 275, it is clear that the Department of State does not treat the
present application as the “consummation of the agency’s decision making process,” Bennett,
520 U.S. at 177–78. As Defendants note, the Department of State has maintained an active
application and advised Plaintiff of the additional steps necessary to complete the process, but
Plaintiff has refused to complete the process. Defs.’ Mot. & Opp’n at 14. Indeed, recent
correspondence from the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo to Plaintiff label the application as “pending”
and give Plaintiff the choice of appearing in person with S.S. at the embassy or having the
“pending application” adjudicated based on the information already received. See id. at 8 n.3;
ECF No. 216, Ex. A. The Department of State has also advised Plaintiff that if he does not make
an appointment and appear at a U.S. embassy by December 18, 2020, the CRBA application will
be denied and Plaintiff’s evidence will be returned to him. See Defs.’ Mot. & Opp’n at 8 n.3;
ECF No. 181, Ex. A. Thus, while the Court was concerned in its July 24, 2020 opinion that the
Government “could indefinitely avoid judicial review of its actions here by postponing a
‘formal’ decision,” Stone, 2020 WL 4260711, at *5, it appears from the additional briefing that
the Department of State stands ready to promptly adjudicate Plaintiff’s CRBA application or
deny it on December 18, 2020, negating any suggestion that the Government has already
consummated its decisionmaking process. See Bennett, 520 U.S. at 177–78. Rather, it appears
that the actions of Plaintiff have postponed a final decision on the CRBA application. Plaintiff
has not completed the in-person requirement, which the Government now explains, in greater
detail than before, is a fundamental component of the CRBA application process. Defs.’ Mot. &
Opp’n at 7–8, 10–12. Plaintiff has also not provided the original passport of S.S.’s mother,
which, as Defendants now explain, is not necessarily fatal to Plaintiff’s CRBA application. Id. at
Plaintiff protests that Defendants’ insistence on the in-person requirement and obtaining
the original passport of S.S.’s mother is “unreasonable,” “irrational,” and “arbitrary and
capricious” in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and his familial disputes. 6 Pl.’s Third Am.
Compl. at 3–5. Perhaps that is so. But these arguments have nothing to do with finality, the
narrow issue that Plaintiff was directed by this Court to explain in his amended complaint. See
Stone, 2020 WL 4260711, at *5. Indeed, this Court can evaluate if agency action is arbitrary and
capricious only if that agency action is final. See, e.g., Ctr. for Law & Educ. v. Dep’t of Educ.,
396 F.3d 1152, 1165 (D.C. Cir. 2005) (Edwards, J., concurring in the judgment in part) (“[T]he
APA . . . bars review prior to final agency action.”). However, because it does not appear that
the Department of State has taken any final agency action or action “equivalent to a final denial”
of the CRBA application, see Pub. Citizen Health Research Grp., 740 F.2d at 32, and because
the Court is reassured that the Department of State is not indefinitely withholding agency action
to avoid judicial review, judicial review of agency action related to the CRBA application is
premature at this juncture. Given the lack of finality, Plaintiff has failed to “state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. Thus, the Court will grant
Defendants’ motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s claim for an order to compel citizenship for S.S. and
the associated claims for damages. 7
The Court questions the sincerity of Plaintiff’s COVID-19 exigent circumstances
argument, considering that Plaintiff states that “under no circumstances” will he appear at a U.S.
embassy, “[e]ven if there was no pandemic.” Pl.’s Third Am. Compl. at 9.
Plaintiff also adds a claim for an order to compel issuance of a Social Security card for
S.S.—a claim that, as Defendants note, is arguably beyond the scope of what this Court
permitted Plaintiff to add in its July 24, 2020 opinion. See Defs.’ Mot. & Opp’n at 13 n.5.
However, as noted in Plaintiff’s Third Amended Complaint, a CBRA is a necessary predicate to
the issuance of a Social Security card. See Pl.’s Third Am. Compl., Ex. Q. Because the Court
dismisses Plaintiff’s claim regarding the issuance of the CBRA, the Court must necessarily
dismiss Plaintiff’s claims related to the issuance of a Social Security card.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court denies Plaintiff’s motion for leave to amend the third
amended complaint (ECF No. 171) and Plaintiff’s motion to join Jennifer Wooton as a defendant
(ECF No. 154). It grants Defendants’ motion to dismiss (ECF No. 186). An order consistent
with this Memorandum Opinion is separately and contemporaneously issued.
Dated: November 16, 2020
United States District Judge
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