Those who want to file a mandamus case due to a delayed immigration application often don’t know how crucial it is to pick the right location, or “venue”, for their lawsuit. There are 94 federal district courts in the US, and in many instances, there are several options for where to file your case. You can choose to file where you live (if you live in the US), where the office handling your case is located, or where the agencies you’re suing are based.
Since immigration law, the involved government agencies, and the legal reasons for pushing a decision from these agencies are all federal matters, it’s clear that the case will go to a US federal court. The question is: which of the 94 federal district courts should you choose for your case? The answer lies in a law, 28 U.S.C. § 1391(e), that states such a case can be brought in a district where the defendant “lives”, where “most of the events or inactions that led to the claim happened”, or where the plaintiff “lives”.
There are exceptions though. For some immigration benefits, a specific law can determine the venue. For instance, in post interview naturalization cases, any delay litigation must be filed where the applicant lives, according to 8 U.S.C. 1447(b).
Many mandamus cases related to immigration delays have historically been filed in the district court of Washington D.C. or the District of Maryland because that is where the Departments of State, Justice, and Homeland Security (which are often defendants in these cases), have their headquarters. Anecdotally, in an attempt to lessen the quantity of cases filed in these jurisdictions, the Department of Justice has taken a more hostile posture against delay cases filed there unless the plaintiff lives there.
Usually, the best district to file your action might be where you live. Courts are frequently unwilling to move or dismiss a case brought by a resident of their district. However, it’s important to remember that courts have a lot of discretion in this area and some have found that noncitizen plaintiffs, even those who are legal residents, do not “reside” in the US for venue purposes.
Because mandamus cases are all about timing, you should try to file your case where you’re likely to get the fastest result. This means trying to work well with the government lawyer on your case and trying to avoid having your case moved or facing strong government opposition.
Experience can be valuable here. Lawyers who are skilled in federal court will instinctively examine the venue options and current filing trends in each potential district court. These trends can change quickly. Your lawyer should also try to understand how local US Attorney’s offices (these are the lawyers who represent the government in immigration lawsuits) are defending mandamus cases. A skilled lawyer will also take into account the case law in various courts to see how they might affect your case.
Choosing the right venue can significantly affect your chances of success. The process of planning a mandamus lawsuit is not complete without a thorough and thoughtful consideration of where to file it.