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Obioha v. Whitaker

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

March 11, 2019

STELLA ADAOBI OBIOHA, Plaintiff,
v.
MATTHEW G. WHITAKER et at, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PAUL W. GRIMM UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Dr. Stella Adaobi Obioha, an immigrant from Nigeria, has lived in the United States for more than 30 years, remaining in the country long after an immigration judge ordered her removal. In August 2018, following years of efforts to stave off her deportation, she urged U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") to stay her removal on humanitarian grounds. The application asserted her removal to Nigeria "would be a sure death warrant" because physicians in Nigeria are not equipped to treat her serious medical conditions, which include "late renal disease, kidney cancer and a brain tumor." Appl. for Stay 2, ECF NO.1-.. ICE denied the application.

         Dr. Obioha brought this lawsuit against then-Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker and other federal officials[1] in January 2019, alleging ICE's brief and undated letter denying her application "violated her due process right to a meaningful decision." Compl. 2, ECF NO.1. The question before me is whether Dr. Obioha has properly invoked this Court's jurisdiction.

         I conclude she has not. Section 1252(g) of Title 8 of the U.S. Code bars this Court from hearing "any cause or claim by or on behalf of any alien arising from the decision or action by the Attorney General to . . . execute removal orders." 8 U.S.C. S 1252(g). Dr. Obioha's claim falls into this category. See Moussa v. Jenijer, 389 F.3d 550, 554 (6th Cir. 2004); Candra v. Cronen, No. 18-10823-PBS, 2019 WL 764752, at *4 (D. Mass. Feb. 21, 2019). The case, accordingly, must be dismissed.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         This is by no means Dr. Obiohass first encounter with the federal courts. As it happens, the Fourth Circuit has already had occasion to chronicle much of the backstory that sets up this case. See generally Obioha v. Gonzales, 431 F.3d 400, 403-04 (4th Cir. 2005). I will not repeat the court's account here, except to note that Dr. Obioha conceded her removability in 2000 and, after failing to voluntarily depart, was ordered removed to Nigeria. See 2004 BIA Decision 6, ECF No. 18-1; Obioha, 431 F.3da4 403-04.

         In the years since, Dr. Obioha has repeatedly sought to persuade authorities that her removal to Nigeria would endanger her life. In 2005, she argued that her abusive ex-husband, with the acquiescence of Nigerian officials, would torture her for divorcing him and exposing his criminal activities. See April 2006 BIA Decision 3-4, ECF No. 18-2. In 2012, she argued the militant Islamist group Boko Haram might target her because of her Western education and Christian faith. 2014 BIA Decision 5, ECF No. 18-5. Her requests for relief were denied each time.

         Her Form 1-246 application for a stay of removal, dated August 27, 2018, echoed her previous claims that removal to Nigeria would put her life in jeopardy; this time, though, the stated concern was not a risk of violence, but a threat to her health. See Appl. for Stay 1. The application asserted she was suffering from kidney cancer, late renal disease, and a brain tumor.[2] See Id. It suggested, first, that she was not likely to receive adequate treatment in Nigeria for her renal problems and kidney cancer. See Id. at 2. It also said there was a chance she would need a radiation treatment called CyberKnife if her brain tumor grows. See Id. That treatmen,, it said, is unavailable in Nigeria, as is advanced surgical care. See id.

         ICE denied the application. See Suppl., ECF No. 17. In an undated letter, Acting Deputy Field Office Director Craig Fohl wrote that he had "carefully considered" the application and "did not find a compelling reason that would warrant a favorable exercise of discretion in [Dr. Obiohas]] case." Id. The letter did not provide any further explanation for the denial.

         On October 12, 2018, ICE officers in Baltimore issued a warrant to seize Dr. Obioha and take her into custody. See Warrant of Removal, ECF No. 1-3. Three days later, the agency picked her up and flew her to New York en route to Nigeria. See Compl. ¶ 41. Her attorney swiftly filed a petition and emergency motion in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, advising the court that she had "just learned this afternoon that Ms. Obioha will be deported tonight." Emergency Motion 2, Obioha v. Sessions, No. 18-2211 (4th Cir. Oct. 15, 2088), ECF NO.1-.. The court immediately granted the motion, staying the deportation "pending appeal." Oct. 15, 2018 Order, Obioha, No. 18-2211 (4th Cir. Oct. 15, 2018), ECF NO.6.

         The case proceeded to briefing. Ultimately, on November 19, 2018, the Fourth Circuit dismissed it for lack of jurisdiction. Dismissal Order, Obioha, No. 18-2211 (4th Cir. Nov. 19, 2018), ECF No. 21. The court's brief order explained that the Department of Homeland Security's ("DHSss") denial of her application for a stay of removal was not a "final order of removal," as would be required to invoke the appellate court's jurisdiction under 8 U.S.C. S 1252(a)(1). Id.

         This lawsuit soon followed. On February 11, 2019, nearly six weeks after Dr. Obioha filed her Complaint in this Court, her attorney moved for an emergency stay of her removal. Emergency Mot., ECF NO.9. The motion, filed shortly before close of business, stated that counsel "just learned this afternoon that Defendant intends to remove Ms. Obioha tomorrow." Id. ¶ 3. It warned that the consequences of removal "may indeed be fatal to the Plaintiff in light of her alleged medical problems and repeated hospitalization.. Id. ¶ 4-5.

         I promptly granted the motion and scheduled a telephone conference call with counsel for all parties. See ECF Nos. 11, 15. During the call, which was held the following day, defense counsel indicated it would seek to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction. Counsel further noted that Dr. Obiohass travel papers expire on March 14, 2019. See Defs.' Reply 1, ECF No. 22.

         I directed the parties to brief the jurisdictional question on an expedited basis. See ECF No. 15. The issue has now been fully briefed. See ECF Nos. 18, ...


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