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Amiri v. Board of Trustees of University of Alabama

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division

July 24, 2019

ALI AMIRI., Plaintiff,



         This case is before the court on pro se Plaintiff Ali Amiri's Motion to Stop Detention and Deportation by Homeland Security (Doc. # 58), which the court construes as a motion for a preliminary injunction, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 65. The court heard argument on the motion by telephone on July 23, 2019. After careful consideration, and for the reasons explained below, the court concludes that the motion is due to be denied.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff is an Iranian national who began a PhD program in physics at the University of Alabama in August 2011. (Doc. # 28 at ¶ 5). Following the spring 2017 academic semester, Plaintiff was dismissed from the physics graduate program based on his “demonstrated lack of progress in research and disrespectful conduct towards faculty advisers, colleagues and members of the academic community.” (Doc. # 45-6 at 45). Plaintiff subsequently sued the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama, claiming that the University failed to afford him procedural due process in dismissing him from the PhD program. (Doc. # 28).

         Plaintiff and the University have been litigating this lawsuit since March 2018. The University moved to dismiss Plaintiff's procedural due process claim, but the court denied the motion and held that Plaintiff had plausibly alleged a procedural due process violation. (Doc. # 33 at 7-8). The parties have since engaged in discovery, and the Board has filed a motion for summary judgment that is currently pending before the court. (Doc. # 43). The parties have briefed the summary judgment motion and submitted evidence in support of their positions. (Docs. # 44, 45, 48, 50, 52, 53, 56).

         On July 17, 2019, after briefing on the summary judgment motion was complete, a federal agent from the Department of Homeland Security contacted Plaintiff regarding his immigration status. (Doc. # 58 at ¶ 2). On July 22, 2019, Plaintiff met with the Homeland Security agent to review his immigration documents. (Id. at 1, ¶ 3). Plaintiff represents that all of his immigration documents were valid and up to date except for one document issued by the University-Immigration and Customs Enforcement Form I-20. (Id. at 1-2, ¶ 3). That form is used to show that Plaintiff is an enrolled student at the University of Alabama, a status which is a condition of his continued lawful presence in the United States. (Id. at 11). Plaintiff's Form I-20, however, expired on July 31, 2018-just over a year after Plaintiff was dismissed from his PhD program, and about four months after he filed this lawsuit. (Id.). The Homeland Security agent informed Plaintiff that, unless he presents documentation showing that he has been reinstated as a student at the University of Alabama, he will be detained without bond beginning Friday, July 26, 2019, and subsequently removed from the United States. (Id. at 2, ¶ 5).

         The day after his meeting with Homeland Security, Plaintiff filed the emergency motion currently before the court. (Doc. # 58). The court interprets the motion to seek a court order directing the University of Alabama to provisionally reinstate him as a student at the University pending a final determination regarding whether the University violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment when it dismissed him from his PhD program. (Doc. # 58 at 2-3). Further, the court deems the motion to seek this preliminary relief so that Plaintiff may avoid being arrested and deported before the court adjudicates his procedural due process claim on the merits. Given the highly time-sensitive nature of Plaintiff's motion, the court treats his request as a motion for a preliminary injunction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65.

         II. Legal Standard

         The posture of Plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction is somewhat unique. Motions for temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions are typically filed at the outset of a case, before a court has much of an evidentiary record before it. Plaintiff's motion, by contrast, comes after the completion of initial discovery and summary judgment briefing in this case. Given the unique posture of this case, it is especially important to review the governing legal standard.

         “A district court may grant injunctive relief only if the moving party shows that: (1) it has a substantial likelihood of success on the merits; (2) irreparable injury will be suffered unless the injunction issues; (3) the threatened injury to the movant outweighs whatever damage the proposed injunction may cause the opposing party; and (4) if issued, the injunction would not be adverse to the public interest.” FF Cosmetics FL, Inc. v. City of Miami Beach, 866 F.3d 1290, 1298 (11th Cir. 2017) (internal quotation marks omitted). “A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary and drastic remedy and should not be granted unless the movant clearly establishes the burden of persuasion as to each of the four prerequisites.” Id. (brackets and internal quotation marks omitted).

         Importantly, a preliminary injunction provides for extraordinary relief. If entered, it awards a plaintiff injunctive relief before that plaintiff carries his burden of proof to show he is entitled to any relief at all. For this reason, a plaintiff seeking a preliminary injunction must establish he is entitled to that extraordinary relief, including making the merits showing required to obtain a preliminary injunction. That showing is significantly higher than what is required to survive a motion for summary judgment. To obtain a preliminary injunction, a plaintiff must show that he “has a substantial likelihood of success on the merits.” Id. (emphasis added). By contrast, to survive a summary judgment motion and get to a jury on a claim, a plaintiff need only offer evidence from which a reasonable jury could return a verdict in his favor. Hinson v. Bias, 927 F.3d 1103, 1115 (11th Cir. 2019). Thus, even where a plaintiff creates a genuine issue of material fact for a jury to resolve, he may still fall short of showing that it is substantially likely a jury would resolve the issue in his favor. And, in that circumstance, the plaintiff is not entitled to a preliminary injunction.

         III. Analysis

         Plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction is due to be denied because he cannot establish the first required showing: that he is substantially likely to prevail on his claim that the University of Alabama denied him procedural due process when it dismissed him from the physics graduate program.

         “[A] § 1983 claim alleging a denial of procedural due process requires proof of three elements: (1) a deprivation of a constitutionally-protected liberty or property interest; (2) state action; and (3) constitutionally-inadequate process.” Grayden v. Rhodes, 345 F.3d 1225, 1232 (11th Cir. 2003). The University concedes that it is a state actor. (Doc. # 44 at 19). Additionally, the University does not dispute that Plaintiff had a constitutionally protected liberty or property interest in continued enrollment in his PhD program, and the court assumes Plaintiff had such an interest for purposes of its decision. However, Plaintiff has not shown a substantial likelihood of ...

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