University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Human Rights Watch v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security IM-CA-0117
Docket / Court 4:18-cv-01842-DMR ( N.D. Cal. )
State/Territory California
Case Type(s) Immigration and/or the Border
Special Collection Trump Administration FOIA cases
Case Summary
On March 26, 2018, Human Rights Watch filed this lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Represented by private counsel, the ... read more >
On March 26, 2018, Human Rights Watch filed this lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Represented by private counsel, the plaintiff filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The plaintiff alleged that the defendants failed to provide it with records relating to due process violations towards people seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexican border as required by the FOIA and the APA. It sought declaratory and injunctive relief.

According to the complaint, the Human Rights Watch is a "non-profit, non-partisan international human rights organization." It sought information on USCIS officers' knowledge of Customs and Border Protection (CBP)'s alleged due process violations toward asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexican border. Human Rights Watch stated that it had submitted a FOIA request to the defendants on November 17, 2015, seeking the following records from October 1, 2006 to the present:

"[A]ll records held by the USCIS Asylum Division and prepared by USCIS asylum officers relating to, and/or mentioning or referring to alleged due process violations or other alleged misconduct by Customs and Border Protection (CBP)[,] [specifically] any alleged or asserted due process Violations; alleged conduct inconsistent or in violation of agency policy or regulations; alleged conduct outside the scope of the law, allegations that CBP failed to record fear of return expressed by migrants at the border; and alleged intimidation, coercion and physical abuse. This request include[s] all Records referring to due process violations by CBP agents discovered by Asylum officers during credible fear interviews with noncitizens."

The complaint alleged that the defendants' original productions—around 110 heavily-redacted documents—were insufficient. The plaintiff further alleged that it had constructively exhausted all required administrative remedies, and that the defendants violated the APA by failing to timely respond. The plaintiff sought a disclosure order under FOIA, legal fees, and expedited action.

On March 26, 2018, this case was assigned to Magistrate Judge Donna M. Ryu.

The parties participated in an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) phone conference on August 14, 2018. On August 29, the parties met before Judge Ryu, who ordered them to continue to hold conferences to resolve the disagreement. The parties continued to meet and confer on a court-monitored schedule until they filed a joint motion to vacate case management conferences on February 13, 2019. On July 23, 2019, the parties filed a joint status update saying that the discussions had been “productive” and requesting additional time to resolve the conflict.

In a September 9, 2019 status report, the parties stated that they had reached an initial settlement agreement. This initial agreement has not been publicized; as of April 30, 2020, the parties remain in negotiation over the attorney compensation prong of the agreement. The case is ongoing.

Ava Morgenstern - 04/07/2018
Elizabeth Helpling - 06/01/2020

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Government Services (specify)
Inadequate citizen complaint investigations and procedures
Incident/accident reporting & investigations
Records Disclosure
Plaintiff Type
Non-profit NON-religious organization
Causes of Action Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 551 et seq.
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552
Defendant(s) U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Plaintiff Description Human Rights Watch, a research and advocacy focused human rights organization.
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Filed 03/26/2018
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  See this case at (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  Rights Group Sues DHS For Info On Asylum Seekers
Date: Mar. 26, 2018
By: Kevin Penton (Law360)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
N.D. Cal.
IM-CA-0117-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
N.D. Cal.
Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief [ECF# 1]
IM-CA-0117-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Ryu, Donna Miae Court not on record show/hide docs
Plaintiff's Lawyers Fletes, Christina E. (California) show/hide docs
IM-CA-0117-0001 | IM-CA-0117-9000
Howard, Brianna Ricque (California) show/hide docs
Richards, Matthew A. (California) show/hide docs
IM-CA-0117-0001 | IM-CA-0117-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Davis, Julie Bibb (California) show/hide docs
Falk, Rebecca Ann (California) show/hide docs
Perada, David Alejandro (California) show/hide docs

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