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Randolph Porter v. andrea J. Quarantillo

December 7, 2012

RANDOLPH PORTER,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
ANDREA J. QUARANTILLO, DISTRICT DIRECTOR, NEW YORK DISTRICT OF U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES; U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dora L. Irizarry, U.S. District Judge:

OPINION AND ORDER

Randolph Porter ("Plaintiff") brings this action seeking a declaratory judgment that he has been a United States ("U.S.") citizen since the time of his birth in order to receive compensation for the death of his brother in the December 21, 1988 Lockerbie bombing. Plaintiff has moved for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 ("Rule 56"). (Mem. of Law in Supp. of Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("Pl. Mem."), Docket Entry No. 20-2; Mem. of Law in Further Supp. of Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. and in Opp'n to Defs.' Cross-Mot. for J. on the Pleadings ("Pl. Reply Mem."), Docket Entry No. 22.) Defendants oppose Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and have separately moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) ("Rule 12(c)"), seeking dismissal of Plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or, in the alternative, dismissal on the basis that the Court should exercise its discretion to decline jurisdiction over the action. (Defs.' Mem. of Law in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. for J. on the Pleadings and in Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def. Mem."), Docket Entry No. 21-2; Defs.' Reply Mem. of Law in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. for J. on the Pleadings ("Def. Reply Mem."), Docket Entry No. 25.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court has considered Plaintiff's request for declaratory relief and, in doing so, denies Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. Additionally, Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings for failure to state a claim is converted into a cross-motion for summary judgment and is granted. As such, this action is dismissed.

BACKGROUND

On May 13, 1929, Mary Louise Diamond ("Mary"), Plaintiff's mother, was born in Brooklyn, New York. (Pl.'s 56.1 Statement in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. ("Pl. 56.1") ¶ 1, Docket Entry No. 20-1; Defs.' Statement in Resp. to Pl.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts Purusant to Local Rule 56.1 ("Def. 56.1") ¶ 1, Docket Entry No. 21-1.) Mary was a U.S. citizen at the time of her birth. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 2; Def. 56.1 ¶ 2.) According to Plaintiff, Mary moved to St. Vincent and the Grenadines ("St. Vincent") Islands at some point after Mary's first birthday in 1930, although the precise date of travel has not been identified. (Pl. Mem. at 2, 14.) On July 13, 1955, Mary gave birth to Plaintiff in St. Vincent. (Compl. ¶ 26, Docket Entry No. 1.) On July 25, 1969, when Plaintiff was fourteen years old, Plaintiff entered the United States as a lawful permanent resident, based on a visa petition filed on his behalf by Mary. (Decl. of Margaret M. Kolbe ("Kolbe Decl.") Ex. A, A126-33, Docket Entry No 21-3.)

On or about September 7, 1976, Plaintiff filed his initial application for naturalization (Form N-400). (Kolbe Decl. Ex. A, A85-86.) After Plaintiff failed to appear at least once for a re-examination on his petition, Plaintiff's application was deemed abandoned. (Kolbe Decl. Ex. A, A118, A123.) On September 20, 1994, Plaintiff filed another application for naturalization (Form N-400), and received a certificate of naturalization on June 14, 1995, thereby becoming a U.S. citizen. (Pl. 56.1 ¶¶ 6, 7; Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 6, 7; Kolbe Decl. Ex. A, A74-77.)

On December 21, 1988, before Plaintiff had received a certificate of naturalization, Plaintiff's brother, Walter Porter ("Walter"), was killed on Pan Am Flight 103, when a bomb planted on a plane by Libyan agents exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 16; Def. 56.1 ¶ 16.) In the following years, Plaintiff, along with other relatives of people killed in the bombing, filed lawsuits against the government of Libya in U.S. courts. On August 4, 2008, as part of the process of restoring normal relations between Libya and the United States, Congress approved the Libyan Claims Resolution Act. Pub. L. No. 110--301, 122 Stat. 2999 (2008). On October 31, 2008, the President of the United States issued Executive Order 13,477, Settlement of Claims Against Libya, which ordered all claims of U.S. nationals against Libya settled according to the terms of a claims settlement agreement between the United States and Libya. Exec. Order 13,477, 73 Fed. Reg. 65,965 (Oct. 31, 2008). Accordingly, Plaintiff's pending cases against Libya pertaining to the Lockerbie bombing were dismissed, and his claims were referred to the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission (the "FCSC"), which has the authority to adjudicate claims for the Libya Claims Program. (Declaration of Zoe Salzman ("Salzman Decl.") ¶ 6, Docket Entry No. 20-3.)

The FCSC has held that claimants must show they were U.S. citizens on or before December 21, 1988-the date of the Lockerbie bombing-as a prerequisite for receiving compensation. (Kolbe Decl. Ex. D.) Although Plaintiff is currently a U.S. citizen, on April 22, 2010, the FCSC informed Plaintiff's attorney that Plaintiff would need to establish that he was a U.S. citizen at the time of his brother's death in order to receive compensation from the Libya Claims Program. (Id.) Additionally, on January 31, 2011, the FCSC suggested that Plaintiff file an N-600 application for certificate of citizenship with the Department of Homeland Security to determine whether Plaintiff was, in fact, a U.S. citizen on December 21, 1988. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 20; Def. 56.1 ¶ 20.)

On February 16, 2011, Plaintiff filed an N-600 application for certificate of citizenship with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS"). (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 21; Def. 56.1 ¶ 21.) USCIS denied the application on May 25, 2011 (the "May 25, 2011 Decision") on the ground that Plaintiff had not established that his mother had been present physically in the United States for one year prior to his birth. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 22; Def. 56.1 ¶ 22.) The May 25, 2011 Decision informed Plaintiff that he could appeal the decision to the Administrative Appeals Office (the "AAO") within 30 days, and that failure to do so would result in the decision becoming final. (Salzman Decl. Ex. 17.) Plaintiff did not appeal the decision to the AAO, but instead filed an I-290B motion to reopen a decision with USCIS on July 27, 2011 in order to present additional documentation in support of his claim.*fn1 On November 22, 2011, Defendants issued a decision (the "November 22, 2011 Decision") that denied Plaintiff's motion to reopen and upheld the denial of Plaintiff's application for a certificate of citizenship, but did not state that Plaintiff had any further right to appeal. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 24; Def. ¶ 24.) Plaintiff did not appeal the November 22, 2011 Decision.

On February 8, 2012, Plaintiff commenced the instant action. Plaintiff contends that he has conducted extensive searches for any written records documenting when Mary left the United States, which included searches of census, passport, and archive records. (Salzman Decl. ¶¶ 25-37.) The parties have also engaged in discovery as part of this action.

On July 5, 2012, the FCSC provided Plaintiff a copy of its proposed decision denying Plaintiff's compensation claim on the basis that "the U.S. government does not recognize [Plaintiff] to have been a national of the United States on December 21, 1988, the date the claim arose." (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 25; Def. 56.1 ¶ 25; Salzman Decl. Ex. 19 at RP 521.) Plaintiff filed a notice of objection to the proposed decision, and the FCSC has scheduled a hearing on this objection for December 13, 2012. (Salzman Decl. Ex. 22.) According to Plaintiff, the FCSC has indicated that Plaintiff's compensation claim will likely be denied unless he obtains a certificate of citizenship before the December 13, 2012 hearing. (Pl. Mem. at 8-9.)

In light of the imminently approaching deadline, the parties filed the instant motions on an expedited basis. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's requests for declaratory and summary judgments are denied, and Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings, which the Court has converted to a motion for summary judgment, is granted.

DISCUSSION

I.Discretion Under the Declaratory Judgment Act

8 U.S.C. § 1503(a), titled "Proceedings for declaration of United States nationality," permits an individual to institute an action in district court, under the Declaratory Judgment Act, for a judgment declaring the individual to be a national of the United States.*fn2 Defendants do not argue that Plaintiff's suit must be dismissed for failure to satisfy subject matter jurisdictional prerequisites or any other mandatory requirements. Instead, Defendants argue that the Court should exercise the discretion vested to district courts under the Declaratory Judgment Act and refrain from hearing the action. (Def. Mem. at 5-8; Def. Reply Mem. at 2-5.) Section 2201 of the Declaratory Judgment Act provides in pertinent part as follows:

In a case of actual controversy within its jurisdiction, . . . any court of the United States, upon the filing of an appropriate pleading, may declare the rights and other legal relations of any interested party seeking such declaration . . . . 28 U.S.C. ยง 2201(a) (emphasis added); see also Wilton v. Seven Falls Co., 515 U.S. 277, 282 (1995) ("[D]istrict courts possess discretion in determining whether and when to entertain an action under the Declaratory Judgment Act, even when the suit otherwise satisfies subject matter jurisdictional prerequisites."). The factors to guide the exercise of discretion in Declaratory Judgment Act cases are: (1) whether the judgment will serve a useful purpose in clarifying or settling the ...


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