University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Doe v. Nielsen IM-CA-0123
Docket / Court 5:18-cv-02349-BLF ( N.D. Cal. )
State/Territory California
Case Type(s) Immigration and/or the Border
Attorney Organization International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP)
Case Summary
On April 18, 2018, a group of five unnamed plaintiffs filed this class action lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The plaintiffs sought to represent a class of Iranian refugees and their U.S.-based family ... read more >
On April 18, 2018, a group of five unnamed plaintiffs filed this class action lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The plaintiffs sought to represent a class of Iranian refugees and their U.S.-based family members who applied for refugee resettlement through the Vienna, Austria-based Lautenberg-Specter program and were denied. The plaintiffs alleged that they had applied for refugee resettlement through the Lautenberg program for members of Iranian religious minorities and had traveled to Vienna for processing. But they received mass denial notices in February 2018 with the sole explanation that the applications were denied “as a matter of discretion.” They sought declaratory and injunctive relief, claiming that the denial notices violated the Lautenberg Amendment, the Accardi doctrine (agency cannot violate its own regulations), and Fifth Amendment due process. The plaintiffs were represented by counsel from the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) and the law firm Latham and Watkins LLP.

The Lautenberg Amendment designates certain vulnerable groups, including certain persecuted religious minorities, for whom less evidence is needed to establish refugee status. If an application for refugee status submitted under the provision is denied, the Lautenberg Amendment requires that the denial be made in writing and “state, to the maximum extent feasible, the reason for the denial.” Under the Lautenberg-Specter program, which extends the protections of the Lautenberg Amendment to Iranian religious minorities, U.S. residents submit an application on behalf of refugee applicants in Iran. Once applicants pass an initial screening, they travel to Vienna where their applications can be processed by the U.S. government. In the years prior to the events at issue in this case, applications submitted through the program had had a near 100 percent admittance rate. The plaintiffs' denials came after many of them had been waiting in Vienna for nearly a year, and now many of them are at risk of deportation back to Iran.

On April 20, 2018, the plaintiffs sought class certification and partial summary judgment on their Lautenberg Amendment, Accardi doctrine, and Fifth Amendment due process claims. In response, DHS argued that all three claims were nonjusticiable because decisions over whether to admit or deny noncitizens outside the U.S. are immune from judicial review. In the alternative, DHS opposed class certification on the grounds that the Iranian plaintiffs and the U.S. plaintiffs were in fundamentally different positions, and that the wide array of familial relationships between the U.S. and Iranian class members meant that the five plaintiffs could not adequately represent the interests of the class. DHS also opposed partial summary judgment on the grounds that the “as a matter of discretion” language in the notices complied with the Lautenberg Amendment’s requirement to explain the reason for the denial to the maximum extent feasible, and that the DHS regulations cited by the plaintiffs did not apply to this case.

On July 10, 2018, the district court (Judge Beth Labson Freeman) granted the motion for class certification, and granted partial summary judgment as to the plaintiffs’ Lautenberg Amendment and Accardi claims, while declining to rule on their due process claim. Judge Freeman explained that DHS’s nonjusticiability arguments were not on point, because the plaintiffs were not challenging the decisions to admit or deny the applications, but were rather alleging that DHS failed to comply with the Lautenberg Amendment and the applicable regulations. She sided with the plaintiffs’ arguments that the “as a matter of discretion” explanation contained in the notices did not comply with the Lautenberg Amendment’s mandate to give the reasons for the denial “to the maximum extent feasible,” because it effectively prevented plaintiffs from requesting agency review. With respect to the Accardi doctrine claim, Judge Freeman also pointed out that DHS’ own regulations require it to advise refugee applicants of any derogatory facts on which an adverse decision is based; she rejected DHS’s arguments that the regulations at issue were inapplicable to the plaintiffs. Citing the fact that she already fully disposed of plaintiff’s claims on statutory grounds, she declined to reach the plaintiff’s due process claim. Judge Freeman thus set aside the February 2018 notices of denial as unlawful, and ordered DHS to re-issue new notices within 14 days containing their determinations to re-open processing or deny the plaintiffs’ refugee applications.

As of July 18, 2018, a case management conference was scheduled for October 4.

Alexander Walling - 07/18/2018

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Content of Injunction
Required disclosure
National origin discrimination
Religion discrimination
Family reunification
Public benefits (includes, e.g., in-state tuition, govt. jobs)
Admission - procedure
Asylum - procedure
Visas - procedures
National Origin/Ethnicity
Arab/Afgani/Middle Eastern
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 551 et seq.
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Ex parte Young (federal or state officials)
Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101 et seq.
Mandamus, 28 U.S.C. § 1361
Defendant(s) Department of Homeland Security
Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
Plaintiff Description All Iranian refugees who (1) applied for refugee admission to the United States under the Lautenberg Amendment, whether as a principal applicant or derivative relatives; (2) traveled to Vienna, Austria, for processing; and (3) received denials from the United States government in or after February 2018 with the sole explanation that: “After review of all information concerning your case, including your testimony, supporting documentation, background checks, country conditions, and other availabl
Indexed Lawyer Organizations International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP)
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Declaratory Judgment
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Order Duration 2018 - n/a
Filing Year 2018
Case Ongoing Yes
5:18-cv-2349 (N.D. Cal.)
IM-CA-0123-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/19/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint for Declaratory, Injunctive, and Mandamus Relief [ECF# 1]
IM-CA-0123-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/18/2018
Press Release: Groups File Class Action Challenge to Unprecedented Mass Denials of Iranian Refugees in the Lautenberg-Specter Program
IM-CA-0123-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/19/2018
Order (1) Granting Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification; and (2) Granting Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [ECF# 87] (N.D. Cal.)
IM-CA-0123-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/10/2018
Judges DeMarchi, Virginia K. Court not on record [Magistrate]
Freeman, Beth Labson (N.D. Cal.)
IM-CA-0123-0002 | IM-CA-0123-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Golding, Thomas E. (California)
IM-CA-0123-0001 | IM-CA-0123-9000
Hirose, Mariko (New York)
IM-CA-0123-0001 | IM-CA-0123-9000
Lee, Belinda S. (California)
IM-CA-0123-0001 | IM-CA-0123-9000
Meyer, Kathryn Claire (New York)
IM-CA-0123-0001 | IM-CA-0123-9000
Rocos, Oliver (California)
IM-CA-0123-0001 | IM-CA-0123-9000
Rogers, Ariel E. (California)
IM-CA-0123-0001 | IM-CA-0123-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Chung, Daniel Paul (District of Columbia)
Hollis, Christopher W. (District of Columbia)
Young, Stacey Ilene (District of Columbia)

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