By filing a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas on February 6, 2008, which they amended on April 7, 2008, and again on September 16, 2008, nine named plaintiffs brought a class action lawsuit naming, as defendants, the U.S. State Department and the United States. The plaintiffs alleged that each had been born in the U.S. years earlier, with the births occurring not in a medical facility but typically attended by a midwife who, for some, registered the birth as occurring in the U.S. Recently, each plaintiff had applied for a U.S. passport. Rather than adjudicate their applications by granting or denying each a passport, the State Department requested additional proof of U.S. citizenship from each. After supplying additional proof, the plaintiffs alleged that, usually, the agency did not acknowledge its receipt and, instead, advised the plaintiffs that their applications would be filed "without further action." To the plaintiffs, this kind of stalling non-decision was how the agency avoided legal formalities and approvals required to actually deny a passport application and constituted, effectively, denial. The plaintiffs' U.S. citizenship assertions were often complicated by their having also been registered in Mexico as having been born there. Bogus Mexican birth registrations, filed by their parents, typically made the plaintiffs eligible for health benefits or school in that country when, at times, the parents resided there.
Represented by the ACLU and private counsel, the plaintiffs sought to represent a national class consisting of "all persons who have filed or will in the future file applications for United States passports, in whose cases, on or after April 8, 2003, the defendants did, or will in the future, 'file' or 'close' their applications without formally adjudicating them." The plaintiffs alleged that their inability to travel freely, resulting from the effective denial of their passport applications, significantly and unlawfully restricted their liberty. They sought a declaratory judgment under 8 U.S.C. § 1503 that the named plaintiffs were, in fact, U.S. citizens; a class-wide declaratory judgment that defendants had violated due process by failing to adjudicate and otherwise obstructing the class's applications, and corresponding injunctive relief; a class-wide declaratory judgment that defendants had violated equal protection by treating the class differently from similarly situated U.S. citizens of different race, ethnicity or ancestry, and corresponding injunctive relief; a class-wide declaration that defendants had violated the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 703, by acting arbitrarily and capriciously, and corresponding injunctive relief; a writ of mandamus compelling the defendants to actually adjudicate the applications and issue the passports; and attorneys' fees and costs. Plaintiffs also initially sought habeas relief, but dropped this cause of action in their second amended complaint.
On October 15, 2008, the defendants filed a partial motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Over the course of the following six months, several individual plaintiffs obtained their passports and voluntarily dismissed their claims.
On June 26, 2009, the parties informed the District Court that they had come to a agreement. Under the terms of their proposed settlement, the defendants agreed to re-adjudicate the applications of the class without denying them solely because an applicant had been birthed by a midwife on defendants' list of suspected or known birth certificate forgers, and to waive fees if the class member made a request by June 1, 2010. Defendants also agreed to train their employees on re-adjudication under the terms of the settlement, to give notice to the class, and to pay attorneys' fees of $150,000. The Court was to retain only contingent jurisdiction to mediate disputes over the settlement should the other dispute resolution mechanisms listed be exhausted, and the settlement was to last for two years and eleven months.
The parties moved for preliminary approval and class certification for settlement purposes, and the Court (Judge Randy Crane) granted their motion on July 7, 2009.
After hearing objections from individuals who wanted to be covered by the settlement but who had been denied passports and were thus not part of the class, and responses from the parties, who pointed out that the objectors were not bound by the settlement and could thus still bring their own claims, the Court (Judge Crane) gave its final approval to the settlement on August 14, 2009.
(Note that on July 2, 2009, the Court approved the motion of three plaintiffs to sever their individual claims under 8 U.S.C. § 1503 for declarations that they were U.S. citizens, and created the separate case of Castelano v. Rice, No. 7:09-cv-00177, to address these claims. By October 25, 2010, all three plaintiffs had received their passports and dismissed their claims, reserving the right to file future 8 U.S.C. § 1503 claims should the need arise.)Christopher Schad - 06/13/2012