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Valorem Consulting Group v. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

July 18, 2014

VALOREM CONSULTING GROUP, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES, et al., Defendants.

ORDER AND OPINION GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

ORTRIE D. SMITH, Senior District Judge.

Pending is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. The Court concludes one of Plaintiff's claims may survive Defendants' motion. Accordingly, the motion (Doc. # 16) is denied but the case is limited to Plaintiff's challenge to the duration of the H-1B visa issued on Amit Olkar's behalf.

I. BACKGROUND

The Amended Complaint and the Record[1] establish the following facts: Plaintiff is a business headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri that is "engaged in Business and Information Technology Solutions." Amended Complaint, ¶ 6. Amit Olkar is a citizen of India. Olkar has been in the United States since August 2007, at which time he was a student at the University of Alabama and was in this country lawfully as a student with an F1 visa. He graduated in December 2009 with a Master's Degree in electrical engineering and thereafter was employed by various companies and lawfully remained in the United States while on H-1B status (which is an employment-based, temporary, non-immigrant visa).

A non-citizen's visa is issued by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS"), which operates within the Department of Homeland Security. Lori Scialabba is the Acting Director of USCIS[2] and Jeh Johnson is the Secretary of Homeland Security.

In May 2013, Plaintiff filed a petition for an H-1B visa on Olkar's behalf. The Immigration and Naturalization Act ("INA") does not specify the duration of an H-1B visa, see 8 U.S.C. § 1184(g)(4), and Plaintiff's application sought issuance of an H-1B visa that would be valid until May 19, 2016. In September 2013, USCIS issued a Request for Additional Evidence ("RFE") seeking additional information about the employer/employee relationship between Plaintiff and Olkar. Plaintiff responded in early October. On November 20, USCIS denied the H-1B visa petition. The denial characterized[3] Plaintiff as being "in the business of locating persons with computer related backgrounds and placing these individuals in positions with firms that use computer trained personnel to complete their projects, " and described Plaintiff as indicating Olkar's eventual duties would involve working for Microsoft. According to the denial letter, (1) the information and documents provided by Plaintiff did not establish Olkar's duties with sufficient particularity, (2) "the statement of work with YRC Enterprise Services, Inc." (apparently, a prior employer) lacked Plaintiff's signature and failed to sufficiently describe his duties or the skills required for that job, and (3) "the statement of work from Microsoft did not include" Plaintiff's or Microsoft's signatures and failed to sufficiently describe the job or the skills required. The denial continued by explaining that as Plaintiff was locating employees for others and was not the actual employer, the statements from the applicant's actual and ultimate employer was more relevant and more important in ascertaining Olkar's eligibility for an H-1B visa. Defendants' Exhibit E.

Plaintiff initiated this suit in December 2013, invoking the Administrative Procedures Act ("APA") to seek judicial review of USCIS's denial of an H-1B visa to Olkar. On February 5, 2014, USCIS reversed its decision and approved the visa, but the visa is valid only until February 4, 2015. Plaintiff then filed an Amended Complaint, challenging the decision to grant a visa only until February 2015 and not for the three years originally requested. The Amended Complaint also alleges the initial denial contains accusations of fraud. For relief Plaintiff seeks (1) a declaration that the initial denial was arbitrary and capricious, (2) a declaration that the subsequent granting of a visa for only one year was arbitrary and capricious, (3) an order directing that USCIS issue Olkar a visa that will expire in May 2016, and (4) a declaration that there was no basis for USCIS's accusation that Plaintiff engaged in fraud. The Amended Complaint does not seek monetary relief (other than attorney fees and costs pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA")).

I. DISCUSSION

Defendants start by contending Plaintiff lacks standing to pursue its claims. Plaintiff's responses inevitably lead to consideration of the legal viability of its claims. The Court starts its discussion with Defendants' jurisdictional challenge.

A.

A plaintiff must have standing to assert its claims; otherwise the Court lacks jurisdiction. Plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating that standing exists. E.g., Center for Special Needs Trust Admin., Inc. v. Olsen , 676 F.3d 688, 697 (8th Cir. 2012). The minimum requirements for standing are "an injury in fact, meaning the actual or imminent invasion of a concrete and particularized legal interest; a causal connection between the alleged injury and the challenged action of defendant; and a likelihood that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision of the court." Sierra Club v. Kimbell , 623 F.3d 549, 556 (8th Cir. 2010). Defendants contend Plaintiff has not suffered an injury because the H-1B petition was approved. Defendants further contend Plaintiff cannot demonstrate that the denial of future H-1B applications is actual or imminent. In countering this argument, Plaintiff first argues that it was injured by being deprived of the opportunity to employ Olkar. Even if this is a legally cognizable injury (an issue the Court need not address) it is not one that Plaintiff is suffering because Plaintiff is presently able to employ Olkar. Regardless of whether one views this as a matter of standing (because Plaintiff can employ Olkar) or an issue of mootness, this theory will not support jurisdiction.

Plaintiff expands this argument by contending it had to "shift work and duties" while it was unable to employ Olkar. This injury (if it is one) will not support standing because it is not redressable. The Court cannot go back in time and relieve Plaintiff of this burden, and Plaintiff does not seek (and the Court likely cannot award) monetary compensation for the time Plaintiff was unable to employ Olkar.

Plaintiff also argues it was injured by having to file this lawsuit and incur legal fees before USCIS changed its decision. This argument also fails to bestow Plaintiff with standing. Even if Plaintiff's fees are recoverable under EAJA, Plaintiff is entitled to those fees only if it prevails - and to prevail, Plaintiff must first have standing. "Obviously... a plaintiff cannot achieve standing to litigate a substantive issue by bringing suit for the cost of bringing suit. The litigation must give the plaintiff some other benefit besides reimbursement of costs that are a by product of the litigation itself. An interest in attorney's fees is... insufficient to create an Article III case or controversy where none exists on ...


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