Maniulit v. Majorkas et al

Filing 11

ORDER by Judge Joseph C. Spero granting 7 Motion to Remand (jcslc2, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 11/9/2012)

Download PDF
1 2 United States District Court 3 Northern District of California 4 5 6 Wilfredo L. Maniulit, Plaintiff, 7 Case No.: 3:12-cv-04501-JCS ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO REMAND [Dkt. No. 7]. v. 8 9 Alejandro Majorkas, et al., 10 Defendants. United States District Court Northern District of California 11 12 13 I. INTRODUCTION On August 27, 2012, Plaintiff Wilfredo L. Maniulit (“Plaintiff”) petitioned this Court to 14 conduct a hearing on his application for naturalization pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1447(b), which 15 authorizes district courts to decide or remand an application for citizenship if the United States 16 Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) does not make a decision within 120 days of the 17 applicant’s examination. Plaintiff’s eldest daughter turned 21-years-old on August 28, 2012, thus 18 Plaintiff requests the Court to grant him citizenship nunc pro tunc to avoid a delay in his 19 daughter’s immigration to the United States by ten years. Defendants1 have filed a Motion to 20 Remand the matter to the USCIS, contending the agency is prepared to adjudicate Plaintiff’s 21 Naturalization Application within thirty days from the issuance of this Order. The Motion came 22 on for hearing on November 9, 2012, at 9:30a.m. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants’ 23 Motion to Remand is GRANTED in its entirety.2 24 25 26 27 28 1 Defendants in this matter are Alejandro Majorkas, Director of USCIS; Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security; Robin Barret, USCIS San Francisco Field Office Director; Eric H. Holder, Jr., Attorney General of the United States; Robert Mueller, III, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. 2 The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). 1 2 II. BACKGROUND Plaintiff is a native of the Philippines and has been a lawful permanent resident of the 3 United States since December 25, 1995. Dkt. No. 1 (“Petition”) ¶¶ 6, 12. Plaintiff entered the 4 United States with an immigrant visa based on a petition filed on his behalf as the unwed child of 5 a lawful permanent resident. Id. ¶ 12 n. 1. However, Plaintiff was in fact married and concealed 6 his marriage from U.S. immigration authorities. Id. Plaintiff’s wife and three children (currently 7 ages 21, 15 and 11) reside in the Philippines. Id. ¶¶ 13-14. 8 Plaintiff first applied for naturalization on September 25, 2000, but his application was 9 denied on September 26, 2008. Declaration of Randall Ricks (“Ricks Decl.”) ¶ 3. On or about September 6, 2011, Plaintiff was placed in removal proceedings on the basis of his initial 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 ineligibility for permanent resident status. Id. ¶ 4; Petition ¶ 12 n. 1. On October 13, 2011, at the 12 conclusion of these proceedings, an immigration judge granted Plaintiff’s application for relief 13 from removal pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(1)(H), which grants the Attorney General 14 discretionary authority to waive certain misrepresentations. Ricks Decl. ¶ 6; Petition ¶ 12 n. 1; 8 15 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(1)(H). Plaintiff’s permanent resident status thus remained undisturbed as of the 16 date it was initially granted. Petition ¶ 12 n. 1. 17 On November 18, 2011, Plaintiff filed his second application for naturalization. Ricks 18 Decl. ¶ 7. According to Plaintiff, he is statutorily eligible to naturalize because he has been a 19 lawful permanent resident for five years, has been physically present in the United States for at 20 least thirty of the past sixty months, has resided in the District of the Service in the United States 21 where the application was filed for at least three months, and has been a person of good moral 22 character during the statutorily required period. Id. ¶ 18; see 8 U.S.C. § 1427(a)(3). On March 23 19, 2012, USCIS interviewed Plaintiff regarding his application for naturalization at the San 24 Francisco field office. Petition ¶ 21. Plaintiff alleges he passed the required history/civics, 25 reading and writing tests at this interview. Id. ¶ 22. 26 During the March 19, 2012 interview, Plaintiff’s counsel informed the examining officer 27 of the importance of naturalizing prior to August 28, 2012. Id. ¶ 23. Plaintiff’s eldest daughter 28 turned 21-years-old on August 28, 2012. Id. ¶ 1. According to Plaintiff, when USCIS grants an 2 1 individual’s application for naturalization and he becomes a United States citizen, his spouse and 2 any children under the age of twenty-one are considered immediate relatives and are eligible to 3 immigrate to the United States immediately. Id. ¶ 16. Also according to Plaintiff, children over 4 the age of twenty-one are not eligible for immediate relative status and instead fall within the 5 unmarried sons or daughters category, for which there is a significant wait time to obtain an 6 immigrant visa. Id. ¶ 17. If Plaintiff’s application is granted after August 28, 2012, his eldest 7 daughter will most likely have to wait ten years before immigrating to the United States. Id. ¶ 17 8 n. 2. After Plaintiff’s interview, Plaintiff’s counsel inquired about the status of the application 10 on several occasions. On April 19, 2012, Plaintiff’s counsel mailed a letter to USCIS indicating 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 9 the urgency of Plaintiff’s application. Id. ¶ 25. Plaintiff’s counsel also appeared in person at the 12 USCIS San Francisco field office on May 15, 2012 and June 13, 2012. Id. ¶¶ 26-27. On June 21, 13 2012, USCIS requested further evidence that Plaintiff had been supporting his dependents 14 residing in the Philippines. Id. ¶ 28. Plaintiff provided this evidence to USCIS on July 3, 2012. 15 Id. ¶ 29. Plaintiff’s counsel appeared in person at the USCIS field office again on July 20, 2012 16 and August 6, 2012. Id. ¶¶ 30-31. 17 On August 15, 2012, Plaintiff’s counsel received an email from USCIS indicating that the 18 application for naturalization was being reviewed, but the decision could take up to an additional 19 six months. Id. ¶ 32. Plaintiff’s counsel went to the USCIS field office after receiving this email, 20 and was told there was an issue with the case which USCIS was unable to disclose. Id. ¶ 33. 21 USCIS also indicated that Plaintiff would need to be fingerprinted again at the USCIS support 22 center. Id. Plaintiff was fingerprinted again on August 16, 2012. Id. Plaintiff’s application 23 remains pending. Ricks Decl. ¶ 7. 24 On August 27, 2012, Plaintiff filed the instant action under 8 U.S.C. § 1447(b) alleging 25 failure to render a decision on naturalization within 120 days of examination. Plaintiff requests 26 the Court to (1) assume exclusive jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s application for naturalization; (2) 27 conduct a de novo review of Plaintiff’s application; (3) grant Plaintiff citizenship status nunc pro 28 tunc to a date prior to August 28, 2012, or, in the alternative, remand the application to USCIS 3 1 with instructions to adjudicate the application by a date certain, and, should the application be 2 granted, afford Plaintiff citizenship status nunc pro tunc to a date prior to August 28, 2012; and 3 (4) grant Plaintiff attorneys’ fees and costs. Petition at 7-8. 4 On October 2, 2012, Defendants filed the instant Motion to Remand this matter to the 5 USCIS. Dkt. No. 7 (“Motion”). Defendants assert USCIS was unable to adjudicate Plaintiff’s 6 application previously because of the incomplete file and the need for additional evidence, but is 7 now prepared to adjudicate Plaintiff’s application within thirty days from the date of an Order 8 from this Court remanding the matter. Id. at 5. Defendants contend remand is appropriate 9 because USCIS has expertise to adjudicate naturalization issues and judicial deference to the executive branch is favored in the immigration context. Id. Defendants also contend nunc pro 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 tunc relief is inappropriate in this case because any harm Plaintiff may suffer when USCIS 12 adjudicates his application after August 28, 2012 does not rise to the exceptional level required to 13 award such relief. Id. at 7-8. 14 Plaintiff opposes Defendants’ Motion and requests the Court to retain jurisdiction so 15 Plaintiff can establish that the delay in Plaintiff’s case resulted from Defendants’ intentional or 16 negligent conduct. Dkt. No. 8 (“Opposition”) at 1. Plaintiff contends Defendants have failed to 17 inform the Court of any issue which would necessitate USCIS’s expertise. Id. at 2. Plaintiff also 18 contends judicial deference in not warranted here because Plaintiff maintains USCIS’s conduct 19 was negligent or intentional, and USCIS will not seriously consider this argument or give Plaintiff 20 access to the information necessary to properly assess this argument. Id. Plaintiff also argues that 21 nunc pro tunc relief is appropriate in this case because the delay in processing Plaintiff’s 22 application will result in a harm that warrants exceptional relief. Id. at 4-6. 23 III. DISCUSSION 24 A. Remand to USCIS 25 The USCIS is the division of the Department of Homeland Security responsible for 26 adjudicating naturalization applications. See 6 U.S.C. § 271(b). If the USCIS fails to adjudicate 27 an application for citizenship within 120 days from the date USCIS initially interviews the 28 applicant, the applicant may petition a United States district court for a hearing on the matter. See 4 1 8 U.S.C. § 1447(b); United States v. Hovsepian, 359 F.3d 1144, 1160 (9th Cir. 2004) (holding the 2 initial interview date triggers the 120-day period under § 1447(b)). Once the applicant files a 3 petition, the “court has jurisdiction over the matter and may either determine the matter or remand 4 the matter, with appropriate instructions, to the [USCIS] to determine the matter.” 8 U.S.C. § 5 1447(b). In this case, over 120 days have passed since Plaintiff’s initial interview on March 19, 6 2012. Accordingly, this Court has jurisdiction to either determine or remand the matter. See id. 7 The Court finds that remand to the USCIS, rather than judicial determination of the 8 naturalization application, is appropriate in this case. The executive branch is in a better position 9 than this Court to decide Plaintiff’s application for immigration. See I.N.S. v. Orlando Ventura, 537 U.S. 12, 17 (2002) (“The agency can bring its expertise to bear upon the matter; it can 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 evaluate the evidence; it can make an initial determination; and, in doing so, it can, through 12 informed discussion and analysis, help a court later determine whether its decision exceeds the 13 leeway that the law provides.”). Although district courts have jurisdiction to decide applications 14 for naturalization, the vast majority of courts remand these matters to the USCIS to decide in the 15 first instance whether to grant or deny citizenship. See Roberts v. Holder, No. 11-1941, 2012 WL 16 2563880, at *2 (D. Md. June 29, 2012) (“[The] vast majority of courts that have exercised 17 jurisdiction over a case pursuant to § 1447(b) have remanded the matter back to CIS”) (citation 18 omitted); Volovnikov v. DHS, No. 07-3607 (EDL), 2008 WL 666023, at *3 (N.D. Cal. March 6, 19 2008) (listing district courts which remanded to the USCIS); Paten v. Hansen, No. 07-0792, 2008 20 WL 148947, at *1 (S.D. Ohio Jan. 4, 2008) (“Almost without exception, courts have elected to 21 remand [naturalization] questions to the USCIS.”)); see also Deng v. Chertoff, No. 06-7697 (SI), 22 2007 WL 1501736 (N.D. Cal. May 22, 2007) (“The Court finds it appropriate to remand this 23 action to USCIS because that agency has considerably more expertise than the Court in 24 adjudicating naturalization petitions.”). Plaintiff argues that USCIS’s expertise is unnecessary in 25 this case. However, unlike district courts, USCIS is charged with deciding naturalization 26 applications frequently and is therefore better equipped to apply immigration laws thoroughly and 27 consistently. Moreover, if Plaintiff is unsatisfied with the agency’s decision on his application, he 28 may return to this Court after a hearing before an immigration officer pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 5 1 1421(c) for review of that decision. This Court would then at least have the benefit of reviewing 2 Plaintiff’s application after the agency has applied its expertise. 3 Plaintiff argues the cases cited above should be distinguished because in most instances, 4 the plaintiffs’ background checks were still pending, which is not the case here. However, even 5 in cases where the background checks were still pending, the courts also considered USCIS’s 6 general expertise on immigration matters to be an important reason why the agency should be the 7 first to determine an individual’s application. See, e.g., Volovnikov, 2008 WL 666023, at *34 8 (“[T]he Court does not have particular expertise in conducting background checks or adjudicating 9 naturalization applications”) (emphasis added). A background check is just one of many factors USCIS looks into before deciding whether to grant or deny an application for naturalization.3 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 Although Plaintiff alleges that he has satisfied all the requirements to be granted citizenship, the 12 Court finds it more prudent to allow the USCIS to make this decision in the first instance. 13 Plaintiff urges the Court to follow the two other district courts which declined to remand a 14 naturalization application. See Astafieva v. Gonzales, No. 06-4820 (JW), 2007 WL 1031333 15 (N.D. Cal. April 3, 2007); Lifshaz v. Gonzales, No. 06-1470 (MJP), 2007 WL 1169169 (W.D. 16 Wash. April 19, 2007). However, in both of these cases, the naturalization applications were 17 pending for a much longer period of time than is the case here. See Lifshaz, 2007 WL 1169169, 18 *2 (“Over 900 days elapsed between the date of [the plaintiff’s] interview and the filing of his 19 complaint”); Astafieva, 2007 WL 1031333, *3 (“Plaintiff’s application has been pending for 20 thirty-five months since her naturalization interview was completed”). Here, Plaintiff’s 21 examination occurred on March 12, 2012 and the decision on Plaintiff’s application has only been 22 delayed for several weeks after the 120 days expired in July of 2012. Unlike Plaintiff’s 23 application, many applications for naturalization are delayed for several months or years. 24 Moreover, USCIS is prepared to adjudicate Plaintiff’s application within thirty days of this 25 26 27 28 3 A lawful permanent resident is eligible for naturalization if he or she (1) satisfies a fiveyear statutory residency requirement; (2) has resided continuously in the United States from the date of the application to the time of admission as a citizen; and (3) is of good moral character. 8 U.S.C. § 1427(a). USCIS then conducts a background investigation of the applicant, including a review of immigration and police records. 8 U.S.C. § 1446(a); 8 C.F.R. § 335.1. 6 1 Court’s Order. Ricks Decl. ¶ 9. Thus, the delays in Astafieva and Lifshaz which prompted the 2 district courts to diverge from the normal course of remanding these matters is not present here. 3 B. Nunc Pro Tunc Relief 4 Plaintiff requests in the alternative for the Court to remand the matter to USCIS with 5 instructions to grant Plaintiff citizenship status nunc pro tunc to a date prior to August 28, 2012, 6 should USCIS grant Plaintiff’s application at all. “Nunc pro tunc, Latin for ‘now for then,’ refers 7 to a court’s inherent power to enter an order having retroactive effect.” Iouri v. Ashcroft, 487 8 F.3d 76, 87 (2nd Cir. 2007) (citing Black’s Law Dictionary 1100 (8th Ed. 2004)). “When a 9 matter is adjudicated nunc pro tunc, it is as if it were done as of the time that it should have been done.” Edwards v. INS, 393 F.3d 299, 308 (2nd Cir. 2004). Nunc pro tunc relief “should be 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 granted or refused as justice may require.” Mitchell v. Overman, 103 U.S. 62, 65 (1882). “In the 12 immigration context, the purpose of the nunc pro tunc doctrine is ‘to return aliens to the position 13 in which they would have been, but for a significant error in their immigration proceedings.’” 14 Panchishak v. US Department of Homeland Security, 446 Fed.Appx. 361, 362-63 (2nd Cir. 2011) 15 (quoting Edwards, 393 F.3d at 309). Thus, courts should award nunc pro tunc relief “where 16 agency error would otherwise result in an alien being deprived of the opportunity to seek a 17 particular form of … relief.” Edwards, 393 F.3d at 311. However, such relief may be rendered 18 inappropriate “by the existence of unclean hands, or other equitable factors.” Id. at 311 n. 15. 19 The parties disagree with regard to whether nunc pro tunc relief is warranted in this case. 20 On the one hand, Plaintiff contends that USCIS’s “intentional or negligent conduct” in delaying 21 Plaintiff’s application constitutes a “significant error,” and “assuming” the delay to be caused by 22 USCIS’s error, the ten-year delay which his eldest daughter will likely face before she is able to 23 immigrate to the United States warrants nunc pro tunc relief. On the other hand, Defendants 24 contend USCIS’s error in this case is not of the “exceptional” character which would generally 25 warrant nunc pro tunc relief. Defendants argue that such relief is intended to remedy a situation 26 where the immigrant is deprived of an opportunity to seek a particular form of relief, see 27 Edwards, 393 F.3d at 311, and here, Plaintiff is not deprived of any particular form of relief 28 7 1 bec cause his dau ughter will st have a ch till hance to imm migrate to th United Sta and become a U.S. he ates 2 citi izen, despite any delay caused by US SCIS. 3 The Cou does not disregard th hardship P urt he Plaintiff may face when his eldest da y aughter is delayed from im mmigrating to the United States for t years. H t d ten However, this is not the s of case sort 5 which warrants this Court to specificall instruct U s t ly USCIS to gra Plaintiff c ant citizenship s status nunc 6 pro tunc. Such relief is gen o h nerally reserv for exce ved eptional circu umstances o significant agency of t 7 erro See Edw or. wards, 393 F. at 309. Here, any “e .3d H error” which may have o h occurred was the delay s 8 in Plaintiff’s ap P pplication by several wee y eks. Consid dering the fre equency with which such h h 9 app plications are delayed, th Court cann plausibly infer that t delay in P e he not y the Plaintiff’s ap pplication 10 was caused by any “intentio or negli s onal igent conduc on part o USCIS. P ct” of Plaintiff has n cited not 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 4 any case in whi a court re y ich emanded suc specific in ch nstructions t the USCIS and the Se to S, econd 12 Cir rcuit denied nunc pro tun relief in a very similar case. See P n nc r Panchishak, 446 Fed.Ap , ppx. at 362- 13 63. This is an unfortunate situation, an if USCIS deems it pro u nd oper to grant Plaintiff’s t 14 uralization application nunc pro tunc, that decisi would ce a n ion ertainly repr resent a com mpassionate natu 15 exe ercise of the Service’s di iscretion. No onetheless, f the same reasons this Court will not decide for e s 16 Pla aintiff’s natur ralization ap pplication in the first inst tance, the Co also finds it improp to ourt per 17 rem mand with sp pecific instru uctions to gra nunc pro tunc relief on these facts. ant o 18 IV. . 19 CONCL LUSION For the foregoing re easons, Defe endants’ Mot tion to Rema is GRAN and NTED in its entirety. s 20 USCIS is hereb ordered to adjudicate Plaintiff’s a by o application fo naturaliza for ation within thirty (30) 21 day of this Ord ys der. 22 23 IT IS SO ORDERE O ED. Dat Novemb 9, 2012 ted: ber 24 __________ ___________ ________ ___ Jos seph C. Sper ro Un nited States M Magistrate Ju udge 25 26 27 28 8

Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.

Why Is My Information Online?