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Morales-Alfaro v. United States Department of Homeland Security

United States District Court, S.D. California

January 15, 2020

RUBIA MABEL MORALES-ALFARO Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, et al. Defendants.

          ORDER OF DISMISSAL

          LARRY ALAN BURNS, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Rubia Mabel Morales-Alfaro, who is represented by counsel, filed a complaint against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, various federal officers in their official capacities, and CoreCivic, sued as the Corrections Corporation of America, Inc.

         Morales-Alfaro, a Salvadoran national who is currently in the U.S. on immigration bond, brings claims arising from conditions of confinement at the Otay Mesa ICE Detention Center. She was pregnant when she applied for asylum, and suffered a miscarriage while in custody. The complaint identifies diversity as the basis of jurisdiction, alleging that Defendants are citizens of the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Tennessee and that Morales-Alfaro currently resides in Arkansas.

         Morales-Alfaro brings claims against all Defendants based on violations of the U.S. Constitution's Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments (claims one and two), and against CoreCivic based on various theories of negligence under California law (Claims three, four, and five). She seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as unspecified injunctive and equitable relief.

         The Court is inquired to confirm its own jurisdiction, sua sponte if necessary, whenever a doubt arises. Mt. Healthy City School Dist. Bd. of Ed. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 278 (1977). As the party invoking the Court's jurisdiction, Morales-Alfaro bears the burden of establishing it. See Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 103-04 (1998). Among other things, she is required to include in her complaint a “short and plain statement of the grounds for the court's jurisdiction . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a).

         Jurisdiction

         Diversity

         Diversity jurisdiction is impossible here, in part because diversity jurisdiction does not lie against federal agencies, which are not citizens of any state. See Hancock Fin. Corp. v. Fed. Sav. & Loan Ins. Corp., 492 F.2d 1325, 1329 (9th Cir. 1974).

         Sovereign Immunity

         Absent a waiver, the United States and its agencies enjoy sovereign immunity from suit. Loeffler v. Frank, 486 U.S. 549, 554 (1988). The same is true of federal officers sued in their official capacities. Nurse v. United States, 226 F.2d 996, 1004 (9th Cir. 2000). Sovereign immunity is jurisdictional, and the government's consent to being sued is a prerequisite for jusidiction. United States v. Mitchell, 463 U.S. 206, 212 (1983). Because the complaint does not allege waiver of sovereign immunity for the Department of Homeland Security or any of the officers - all of whom are sued in their official capacities - the complaint fails to establish subject matter jurisdiction over any claims against them.

         Although Morales-Alfaro seeks injunctive relief, she has not pled facts reasonably suggesting she has standing to do so. See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992). She had already been released on bond when she filed this action, and has not alleged facts she is reasonably likely to be returned to a detention center at all, much less one operated by CoreCivic. See City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 111 (1983) (standing requires showing of “real or immediate threat” of being subject to challenged practices). Nor has she alleged she is reasonably likely to be in need of medical care in such a facility. She has not brought this as a class action, nor is it clear she could do so. See Dilley v. Gunn, 64 F.3d 1365, 1368 (9th Cir. 1995) (holding that a prisoner's release from custody generally moots claim for injunctive relief based on prison conditions, unless a class action has been certified); Lierboe v. State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co., 350 F.3d 1018, 1022-23 (holding that class representatives must have standing to bring all claims by the putative class they purport to represent).

         Other Defects

         The Court might have jurisdiction over claims against CoreCivic, although the complaint fails to articulate a comprehensible theory of liability against it. While the Court is not conducting a screening, Morales-Alfaro should consider these issues if she amends her complaint.

         CoreCivic was allegedly acting on behalf of the federal government, not under color of state law. The complaint does not clearly explain whether it CoreCivic being sued as a federal actor or as a private corporation, or under what theory it would be liable. According to the complaint, the claims arise under both the U.S. and California ...


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