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Guthula v. Johnson

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

September 6, 2017

PHANI K. GUTHULA Plaintiff,
v.
JEH JOHNSON, Secretary of U.S. Department of Homeland Security, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER-MEMORANDUM

          C. Darnell Jones, II J.

         AND NOW, this 6th day of September, 2017, upon consideration of the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment (ECF Nos. 16 and 17), and Plaintiff's Response (ECF No. 18), it is hereby ORDERED that said motions are DENIED as moot.

         It is further ORDERED that this case is DISMISSED without prejudice for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction for the reasons set forth herein. The Clerk of Court is directed to CLOSE this case for statistical and all purposes.

         Analysis

         Because Plaintiff does not satisfy the “case or controversy” requirement under Article III, section 2, of the U.S. Constitution, this Court cannot adjudicate the merits of this case and must dismiss it for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

         I. Relevant Factual and Procedural Background

         The following facts are not disputed by the parties. Phani Guthula, an Indian national, holds an H-1B visa, which entitles him to reside and work in the United States for six years so long as he is fully employed by a sponsoring employer. Guthula first obtained H-1B status on October 1, 2013, at the request of his former employer. That H-1B visa was valid until September 25, 2016.

         Before his H-1B status expired, Guthula experienced a work-related accident and decided to return to school. On February 18, 2015, he applied for a change of status from H-1B to F-1, a visa for non-immigrant, full-time students at accredited, academic institutions. He submitted that application on the proper Form I-539. Six months later, while his Form I-539 was still pending, Guthula accepted a job offer and his new employer applied on his behalf to extend, or revert to, his H-1B status. That application is known as the Form I-129. The new employer filed the Form I-129 with expedited processing service.

         Before adjudicating Guthula's Form I-539 for a change to F-1 (student) status, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approved his new employer's Form I-129 on October 7, 2015, extending his H-1B until September 9, 2018. On March 5, 2016, more than a year after submitting his Form I-539, USCIS denied that application because he was no longer a student at that time.

         Guthula is dissatisfied with the USCIS's decision to deny his Form I-539, a denial that deprived him of F-1 status while he was a student for about seven months from March 2, 2015, to October 7, 2015. He claims that, as a result of that decision, the time he can expect to remain in this country has been shortened by that seven-month period; had he been granted F-1 status for those seven months, then that time period would not count against the time he could stay on his H-1B visa.

         To redress this alleged injury, Guthula brings this action for a declaratory judgment reversing the USCIS's decision and an order directing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to state that he was on F-1 status during the seventh-month period he was unemployed and attending an accredited institution. Guthula had also sought an order directing DHS to state that he had not accrued unlawful status during that seven-month period, but this concern is no longer an issue because USCIS has agreed that he maintained lawful presence during that time.

         Because this action raises a purely legal question pertaining to an administrative agency's decision, the parties appropriately filed cross-motions for summary judgment without engaging in any discovery other than the production of the administrative record. See Lun Kwai Tsui v. Attorney Gen. of U.S., 445 F.Supp. 832, 835 (D.D.C. 1978) (citing Richards v. Immigration & Naturalization Serv., 554 F.2d 1173, 1177 (D.C. Cir. 1977), and Doraiswamy v. Secretary of Labor, 555 F.2d 832 (D.C. Cir. 1976)).

         II. This Court Lacks Subject-matter Jurisdiction to Adjudicate the Merits

         As a threshold matter, a federal court must always satisfy itself of its own subject-matter jurisdiction. Storino v. Borough of Point Pleasant Beach, 322 F.3d 293, 296 (3d Cir. 2003) (“the first and fundamental question is that of jurisdiction . . . . This question the court is bound to ask and answer for itself, even when not otherwise suggested”) (citing Soc'y Hill Towers Owners' Ass'n v. ...


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