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Perrier-Bilbo v. United States

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

October 2, 2018

UNITED STATES and FRANCIS CISSNA, Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Defendants.




         In 2000, Olga Paule Perrier-Bilbo PPerrier-Bilbo") emigrated from France and settled in Scituate, Massachusetts. In due course, she applied to become a United States citizen. Having completed all the necessary requirements, she is fully eligible for United States citizenship.

         She balks, however, at the words "so help me God" which conclude the oath of allegiance administered at United States naturalization ceremonies. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services PUSCIS") offered her a private induction which would omit the words she finds offensive. Not surprisingly, she wishes to participate in the public ceremony with other new citizens and their families and friends. USCIS welcomed her at such a ceremony, assuring her she need not herself say those four words and her oath of allegiance and United States citizenship would nonetheless be fully valid.

         Perrier-Bilbo will have none of it. Evidently, she seeks a ceremony where neither the official administering the oath nor the new citizens will conclude by uttering the phrase "so help me God."

         Perrier-Bilbo alleges that the phrase's inclusion in the oath violates the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment, Compl. ¶¶ 153-70, ECF No. 1; the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000bb-2000bb-4, Compl. ¶¶ 171-82; and her rights to equal protection and procedural due process under the Fifth Amendment, Compl. ¶¶ 183-97. Perrier-Bilbo seeks a declaration that these provisions have been violated and an injunction permanently enjoining the government "from placing "so help me God' in future naturalization oath ceremonies," as well as reimbursement of the cost of her second naturalization application. Id. at 41.

         The United States and Francis Cissna, the Director of USCIS (collectively, the "Defendants"), move to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim and lack of standing. Defs.' Mot. Dismiss & Mem. Supp. ("Defs.' Mot."), ECF No. 10.

         A. Procedural History

         On November 2, 2011, Perrier-Bilbo filed a complaint against the Defendants in this Court.[1] See ECF No. 1. The complaint includes claims for violations of the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment; the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000bb-2000bb-4; and the Fifth Amendment. Id. ¶¶ 153-97.

         The Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on February 22, 2018. Defs.' Mot., ECF No. 10. On May 8, 2018, this Court heard oral argument on the motion, during which it advised the parties that it would treat the motion as cross-motions for summary judgment and took the motion under advisement. See Electronic Clerk's Notes, ECF No. 20.

         B. Undisputed Facts

         Perrier-Bilbo is a citizen of France who moved to Scituate, Massachusetts in 2000. Compl. ¶ 56. In 2002, she became a permanent resident of the United States, and in 2004, she was issued a green card. Id. ¶ 57. In 2008, she applied for naturalization, fulfilling the necessary paperwork and interview requirements, and her application was approved. Id. ¶¶ 58-66. She then received a form indicating that she was to take the oath of citizenship on March 4, 2009. Id. ¶ 67.

         In January 2009, Perrier-Bilbo wrote to USCIS requesting that she be permitted to take the oath without the phrase "so help me God." Id. ¶ 69. USCIS informed her that she could either participate in the oath ceremony and omit the "so help me God" language, or schedule a private oath ceremony in which the government would omit the phrase in administering the oath. Id. ¶ 70. A few months later, Perrier-Bilbo received a letter from USCIS stating that she had fifteen days to notify USCIS of her decision, and that if she declined to respond or choose one of the two options, USCIS would reopen her application and deny it for lack of prosecution. Id. ¶ 73.

         Perrier-Bilbo retained counsel, who informed USCIS that neither of the two options provided were satisfactory to Perrier-Bilbo. Id. ¶ 74. Further attempts to negotiate were unsuccessful, and USCIS eventually denied Perrier-Bilbo's application as abandoned, informing her that she could file a new application in the future. Id. ¶ 80. After years of trying and failing to obtain a waiver of the application fee, Perrier-Bilbo filed a second application in December 2014, which was granted. Id. ¶¶ 83-84, 103, 108. She was again sent a form indicating that she was scheduled for a naturalization oath ceremony to be held on April 6, 2017. Id. ¶ 122.

         That day, Perrier-Bilbo arrived at the United States District Court in Boston, where the ceremony was to take place, and attempted to explain her objection to an individual at the courthouse. Id. ¶¶ 123-25. That person told her that she didn't "have to say anything.'' Id. ¶ 125. Perrier-Bilbo further objected, and was eventually told to forgo the ceremony that day and contact USCIS. ¶ 126.

         After speaking to someone at USCIS, Perrier-Bilbo was sent a letter in August 2017, notifying her that she was scheduled to participate in a naturalization oath ceremony taking place on September 14, 2017. Id. ¶ 132. The letter stated that due to her religious objections, she may take a modified oath in which she may decline to recite the portion of the oath to which she objects. Id. ¶ 133. "[H]owever," the letter continued, "please note that the full oath of allegiance will be administered on this day." Id. The letter informed her that the court could instead schedule a "private naturalization ceremony to take the modified oath of allegiance as you have requested." Id. ¶ 134. Perrier-Bilbo did not attend the ceremony. Id. ¶ 136.

         II. ANALYSIS

         The Defendants move to dismiss Perrier-Bilbo's complaint under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). Defs.' Mot. 1. Because Rule 12(b)(1) implicates this ...

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