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Saldana v. Lahm

United States District Court, Eighth Circuit

October 11, 2013

RHONDA LAHM, Defendant.


LAURIE SMITH CAMP, Chief District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim (Filing No. 19) and the Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction (Filing No. 17). For the reasons discussed below, the Motion to Dismiss will be granted in part, and the Motion for Preliminary Injunction will be denied.


For purposes of the pending motions, all well-pled facts alleged in the Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (Filing No. 16) are accepted as true, though the Court need not accept the Plaintiff's conclusions of law. The following is a summary of those factual allegations.

Plaintiff Mayra Saldana is a 24-year-old resident of Lincoln, Nebraska, who came to the United States from Mexico when she was two years old. On December 3, 2012, she was granted "deferred action" through a program implemented by the Secretary of Homeland Security, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals ("DACA"). Deferred action is a long-standing form of prosecutorial discretion, through which immigration authorities make a discretionary determination not to remove an individual from the United States during a specified period.

After Saldana was granted deferred action, she was issued an employment authorization document ("EAD") and a Social Security Number. In January 2013, she attempted to apply for a Nebraska driver's license and was told by employees of Nebraska's Department of Motor Vehicles ("DMV") that she was ineligible. She tried twice more to obtain a driver's license, and each time she was denied. DMV processes drivers license applications submitted by other persons who have obtained deferred action status and EADs, but refuses to process applications of those who received deferred action status through the DACA program.

Defendant Rhonda Lahm is the Director of the DMV, and has the authority to adopt rules necessary to carry out DMV's responsibilities. Saldana has sued Lahm in her official capacity, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. Saldana contends that the DMV policy denying her a driver's license violates the United States Constitution, specifically the Supremacy Clause (art. VI, cl. 2) and the Equal Protection Clause (amend. XIV, sec. 1).

Lahm has moved to dismiss Saldana's action under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), asserting sovereign immunity, and under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), asserting that Saldana does not have lawful status in the United States and therefore cannot state a claim upon which relief can be granted under either the Supremacy Clause or the Equal Protection Clause.


Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1)

A motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) challenges whether the Court has subject matter jurisdiction to hear the matter. The party asserting jurisdiction bears the burden of proving that jurisdiction is proper. Great Rivers Habitat Alliance v. FEMA, 615 F.3d 985, 988 (8th Cir. 2010). The Court, however, has "wide discretion'" to decide the process with which its jurisdiction can best be determined. Johnson v. United States, 534 F.3d 958, 964 (8th Cir. 2008) (quoting Holt v. United States, 46 F.3d 1000, 1003 (10th Cir. 1995)). It "has the authority to dismiss an action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on any one of three separate bases: (1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts.'" Id. at 962 (quoting Williamson v. Tucker, 645 F.2d 404, 413 (5th Cir. 1981)); see also Jessie v. Potter, 516 F.3d 709, 712 (8th Cir. 2008) ("Motions to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction can be decided in three ways: at the pleading stage, like a Rule12(b)(6) motion; on undisputed facts, like a summary judgment motion; and on disputed facts").

Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6)

A complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). "[A]lthough a complaint need not include detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" C.N. v. Willmar Pub. Sch., Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 347, 591 F.3d 624, 629-30 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). "Instead, the complaint must set forth enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. at 630 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

"A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'" Ritchie v. St. Louis Jewish Light, 630 F.3d 713, 716 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677 (2009)). "Courts must accept... specific factual allegations as true but are not required to accept... legal conclusions." Outdoor Cent., Inc. v., Inc., 643 F.3d 1115, 1120 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting Brown v. Medtronic, Inc., 628 F.3d 451, 459 (8th Cir. 2010)). "A pleading that merely pleads labels and conclusions, ' or a formulaic recitation' of the elements of a cause of action, or naked assertions' devoid of factual enhancement will not suffice." Hamilton v. Palm, 621 F.3d 816, 817-18 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). The complaint's factual allegations must be "sufficient to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'" Williams v. Hobbs, 658 F.3d 842, 848 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting Parkhurst v. Tabor, 569 F.3d 861, 865 (8th Cir. 2009)).

When ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must rule "on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true, " and "a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and that a recovery is very remote and unlikely.'" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 & 556 (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)). The complaint, however, must still "include sufficient factual allegations to provide the grounds on which the claim rests." Drobnak v. Andersen Corp., 561 F.3d 778, 783 (8th Cir. 2009).

"Two working principles underlie... Twombly. First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. at 679 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will... be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id.

Preliminary Injunctive Relief

When considering a motion for preliminary injunctive relief, a district court should weigh "(1) the threat of irreparable harm to the movant; (2) the state of balance between this harm and the injury that granting the injunction will inflict on other parties litigant; (3) the probability that movant will succeed on the merits; and (4) the public interest." Dataphase Sys, Inc. v. C.L. Sys Inc., 640 F.2d 109, 114 (8th Cir.1981) ( en banc ). A preliminary injunction is considered an extraordinary remedy, and the burden of proving each of the Dataphase factors lies with the party seeking the injunction. Watkins Inc. v. Lewis, 346 F.3d 841, 844 (8th Cir. 2003).


I. Sovereign Immunity

The Defendant argues that Saldana's action should be dismissed under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), because Saldana, in essence, is asking the Court to order Lahm to comply with a Nebraska state statute: Neb. Rev. Stat. § 60-484.05 (2012 Cum. Supp.). The Defendant notes that federal courts lack subject matter jurisdiction to direct state officials to conform their conduct to state law. Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 106 (1984) ("[I]t is difficult to think of a greater intrusion on state sovereignty than when a federal court instructs state officials on how to conform their conduct to state law."). The Defendant asserts that the state of Nebraska has not waived its sovereign immunity from suits challenging the denial of state driver's licenses, except to the extent Neb. Rev. Stat. § 60-4, 105(1) (Reissue 2010) permits an aggrieved party to bring such action in state district court, which Saldana has not done.

In her First Amended Complaint, Saldana claims that Lahm is following state law (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 60-484.05(1) (Cum. Supp. 2012)) with respect to persons having non-DACA deferred-action status, but not with respect to those having DACA deferred-action status. (First Amended Complaint, ¶¶ 15-17.) Saldana is not asking this Court to direct Lahm to follow state law, nor is Saldana asserting any claim based on a violation of due process. Instead Saldana asserts that Lahm's policy and practice violates the Supremacy Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. The fact that Saldana could have pursued a state-law claim, over which this Court might lack jurisdiction, does not prevent her from pursuing other claims over which this Court does have subject matter jurisdiction.

The Defendant's Motion to Dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) will be denied, and this Court will address only Saldana's Supremacy Clause and Equal Protection Clause claims, and not any ...

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