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Singh v. Trump

United States District Court, D. Oregon

April 15, 2019

DONALD TRUMP, President of the United States; KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, Secretary, Department of Homeland Security; RONALD D. VITIELLO, Acting Director, Immigration and Customs Enforcement; RICHARD L. MILLER, Field Officer Director, Portland Field Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement; JEFFERSON BEAUREGARD SESSIONS III, United States Attorney General; HUGH J. HURWITZ, Acting Director, Federal Bureau of Prisons; and RICHARD IVES, Warden, FCI Sheridan, in their official capacities, Defendants.



         Plaintiffs Pachattar Singh (“PS”) and Gurpreet Singh (“GS”) initiated this action under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”). Defendants Donald Trump, Kirstjen Nielson, Ronald Vitiello, Richard Miller, Hugh Hurwitz, William Barr, and Josias Salazar[1] move to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). In response, plaintiffs move for an extension of time to file an amended complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a). For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion should be denied and plaintiffs' motion should be granted.


         Plaintiffs are both asylum seekers in the United States due to the persecution they faced in their home countries for practicing the Sikh religion. Compl. ¶¶ 7-8 (doc. 1). Beginning on May 31, 2018, plaintiffs were detained in the Federal Detention Center (“FDC”) at Federal Correctional Institution Sheridan pursuant to a “zero tolerance” presidential policy requiring placement of unlawful immigrants in federal prisons. Id. at ¶¶ 16-19. PS was released on June 18, 2018.[2] Id. at ¶ 7. GS was released on September 20, 2018. Id. at ¶ 8.

         According to defendants, “the last Sikh detainee left FDC Sheridan on or about September 20, 2018, and the last ICE detainee left the FDC on November 28, 2018, ” and “[t]here are currently no ICE detainees housed at the FDC.” Newman Decl. ¶ 3 (doc. 12-1).

         Plaintiffs commenced this putative class action on November 1, 2018, alleging that, while detained at the FDC, defendants denied them access to a vegetarian diet, a turban or kara, religious texts, and a sanitary and respectful setting in which to conduct prayers in violation of their Sikh beliefs and the RFRA. Compl. ¶¶ 7-8, 21-27, 30-31 (doc. 1). Plaintiffs seek monetary damages and an injunction preventing defendants from: “imprisoning Plaintiffs, or any member of the Class, at Sheridan, and set a date certain by which all such detainees must be removed therefrom, ” and “depriving Plaintiffs of their constitutional and statutory rights to exercise their freedom of religion.” Id. at ¶¶ 32-37 & pg. 11-12.


         Where the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the action must be dismissed. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). The party who seeks to invoke the subject matter jurisdiction of the court bears the burden of establishing that such jurisdiction exists. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992). The court may hear evidence regarding subject matter jurisdiction and resolve factual disputes where necessary. Kingman Reef Atoll Invs., LLC v. United States, 541 F.3d 1189, 1195 (9th Cir. 2008).

         Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1), “[a] party may amend its pleading once as a matter of course within . . . 21 days after service of a motion under Rule 12(b).” Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2), leave to amend pleadings “shall be freely given when justice so requires.” Courts apply Rule 15 with “extreme liberality.” Eminence Capital, LLC v. Aspeon, Inc., 316 F.3d 1048, 1051 (9th Cir. 2003) (citations omitted).


         Defendants filed the present motion on March 21, 2019, arguing that dismissal is warranted because: (1) the “RFRA does not authorize monetary damages”; and (2) plaintiffs lack Article III standing. Defs.' Mot. Dismiss 7-10 (doc. 12). Concerning the latter, defendants maintain that, because plaintiffs were released from the FDC prior to filing this lawsuit, there is no immediate threat and, by extension, no redressable injury. Id. at 8-9.

         Plaintiffs did not file a timely opposition to defendants' motion. Instead, on April 11, 2019 (21 days after the filing of defendants' Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) motion), plaintiffs moved for a 60-day extension of time to amend their pleadings as a matter of course pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P.15(a)(1).[3] Pls.' Mot. Extension 3-6 (doc. 14). Plaintiffs “strongly disagree” with defendants' motion and represent they have facts within their possession that can “cure any alleged deficiencies.” Id. at 5-6. As such, plaintiffs indicate that, should the Court deny their motion, they will seek leave to amend in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2) or simply file a new lawsuit. Id. at 6.

         Given plaintiffs' representations and the parameters of Fed.R.Civ.P. 15, the Court finds that plaintiffs' requested extension should be allowed, thereby foreclosing consideration of defendants' pending motion. See S.D. v. Sakai, 2018 WL 7108063, *2 (D. Or. Oct. 11, 2018), adopted by 2019 WL 309759 (D. Or. Jan. 22, 2019) (issues relating to the merits or administration of a case are best resolved following the filing of dispositive complaint). This finding is consistent with the Ninth Circuit's “longstanding policy in favor of deciding cases on the merits.” Jones v. Las Vegas Metro. Police Dep't, 873 F.3d 1123, 1128 (9th Cir. 2017) (citations omitted); see also De Franco v. United States, 18 F.R.D. 156, 159 (S.D. Cal. 1955) (“[t]he general purpose of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is to see that actions are tried on the merits . . . To fall back on a technicality and refuse to permit a case to come to issue on the merits is to sap the very heart out of the rules and to obviate the very purpose for which they are intended”).

         RECO ...

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