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Sonethanong v. Tillerson

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

December 1, 2017

KHONGSOUVANKHAM SONETHANONG, Plaintiff,
v.
REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          John J. McConnell, Jr. United States District Judge

         Khongsouvankham Sonethanong has brought suit against Rex Tillerson, the United States Secretary of State, and Elaine Duke, the Acting United States Secretary of Homeland Security[1] (collectively, the "Government"), seeking a declaration that he is a citizen of the United States, as well as damages, fees, and costs, ECF No. 1. The Government has moved to dismiss (ECF No. 8), which Mr. Khongsouvankham[2] opposes (ECF No. 14). For the following reasons, the Government's motion is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Mr. Khongsouvankham was born on January 6, 1978. It is unclear whether he was born in Thailand or Laos; in any event, it is undisputed that he was born outside of the United States to married non-citizens. Mr. Khongsouvankham entered the United States with his mother, father, and family on January 28, 1981, as refugees of the Vietnam War. Mr. Khongsouvankham was just three years old at the time. He and his family became permanent residents upon entry.

         On May 19, 1989, Mr. Khongsouvankham's mother naturalized as a United States citizen. Mr. Khongsouvankham was eleven years old. On November 4, 1996, Mr. Khongsouvankham's father naturalized as a United States citizen. Mr. Khongsouvankham was eighteen years old. Mr. Khongsouvankham has never been recognized as a United States citizen.

         In January of 2012, Mr. Khongsouvankham was sentenced for crimes involving drugs, firearms, and forgery. See United States v. Khongsouvankham, No. 11-042 (D.R.I. Jan. 26, 2012). He is currently incarcerated.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), a complaint must be dismissed if the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction. The plaintiff bears the burden of proving that subject-matter jurisdiction exists. Aversa v. United States, 99 F.3d 1200, 1209 (1st Cir. 1996).

         Under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must be dismissed where it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The Court accepts factual allegations as true, but disregards legal conclusions couched as facts. Bell Atl Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555(2007).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Mr. Khongsouvankham's Complaint brings five counts against the Government. For the following reasons, the Court must dismiss each of them, A. Count One: Declaratory Relief The first count in the Complaint seeks declaratory relief under 28 U.S.C, § 2201(a). Section 2201 provides for the declaratory judgment remedy; however, it does not independently confer jurisdiction on federal courts. Skelly Oil Co. v. Phillips Petroleum Co., 339 U.S. 667, 671 (1950). Thus, the invocation of section 2201 is not enough to confer jurisdiction on federal courts; some independent source is required. See Id. at 672; see also Colonial Penn Grp., Inc. v. Colonial Deposit Co., 834 F.2d 229, 232 (1st Cir. 1987) ("Federal jurisdiction does not lie simply because relief is requested under the federal Declaratory Judgment Act.").

         The most logical source of jurisdiction here is 8 U.S.C. § 1503(a), which governs proceedings for a declaration of United States nationality. See Correia v. Dulles, 129 F.Supp. 533, 533 (D.R.L 1954). An action under section 1503(a) "may be instituted only within five years after the final administrative denial of such right or privilege." 8 U.S.C. § 1503(a). Here, Mr. Khongsouvankham admits that he "never sought [administrative remedies] in the first place, " ECF No. 14 at 7. Because Mr. Khongsouvankham has not exhausted his administrative remedies, the Court lacks jurisdiction to hear Count One. Accordingly, it must be dismissed.

         B. Count Two: Injunctive Relief

         Count Two asks this Court to "enjoin Defendants from withholding federal citizenship documentation from Plaintiff." ECF No. 1 at 7. Mr. Khongsouvankham appears to claim that he automatically derived citizenship under 8 U.S.C. §§ 1431(a) or 1432(a) via the naturalization of his parents, As an initial matter, it is questionable whether either section 143l(a) or 1432(a) provides a private right of action. Statutes must expressly or impliedly create a cause of action, " "the fact that a federal statute has been violated and some person harmed does not automatically give rise to a private cause of action." Cannon v. Univ. of Chi,441 U.S. 677, 688 (1979). Here, there is no express private right of action in either provision, and given courts' reluctance to infer private rights of action in other immigration provisions, it is ...


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