Kawai v. UaCearnaigh
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S 7 MOTION TO DISMISS. Signed by Honorable Mary Geiger Lewis on 4/14/2017.(cbru, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA
' CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:17-00492-MGL
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS
Plaintiff filed this action to enforce an affidavit of support pursuant to the Immigration and
Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. ' 1183a(a). The Court has jurisdiction over the matter under 28 U.S.C.
' 1331. Pending before the Court is Defendant=s motion to dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment (Defendant’s
motion). Having carefully considered Defendant’s motion, the response, the reply, the record,
and the applicable law, the Court will grant Defendant’s motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) to
the extent it will abstain from exercising jurisdiction under the Younger abstention doctrine.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
The factual history of this case is substantially undisputed. Plaintiff is a citizen of Japan
residing in the United States on a student visa. Defendant is a United States citizen. On August
10, 2013, Plaintiff and Defendant married, and they now have two children of the marriage, both
born in the United States. In 2014, Plaintiff applied for permanent residency in the United States,
securing Defendant to act as her sponsor. In support of Plaintiff’s application, on March 21, 2014,
Defendant completed and executed an I-864 Affidavit of Support (I-864 Affidavit). Pursuant to
the I-864 Affidavit, Defendant committed to provide any support necessary to Plaintiff to ensure
an income equal to at least 125% of the federal poverty line. Since the time of the sponsorship,
Plaintiff has been a full-time graduate student seeking a Ph.D. Consequently, she is currently
unemployed. The parties separated on or about June 28, 2016.
At that time, Defendant brought an action in the Family Court for Richland County (Family
Court Action), seeking to prevent Plaintiff from leaving the United States with his children. The
Family Court held multiple hearings, which culminated in written instructions on October 17,
2016. These instructions, among other things, denied Plaintiff’s request for temporary spousal
support from Defendant.
On November 22, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence by
Form I-751 (I-751 Petition) with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS),
wherein she acknowledged her conditional residency status and requested changes in the same.
The USCIS extended her conditional resident status for one year, presumably until November 24,
The Family Court then filed its Temporary Order on December 13, 2016, confirming its
denial of Plaintiff’s request for temporary spousal support from Defendant. The Family Court
Action remains pending as the parties seek a divorce. The parties disagree regarding whether the
I-864 Affidavit has been raised as a basis for support in the Family Court Action.
Plaintiff subsequently filed this case seeking to enforce the I-864 Affidavit executed by
Defendant under 8 U.S.C. ' 1183a(a). Defendant then filed his motion to dismiss or in the
alternative for summary judgment, to which Plaintiff filed her response in opposition and
Defendant filed his reply. The Court, having been fully briefed on the relevant issues, is now
prepared to discuss the merits of Defendant’s motion.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Federal courts have limited jurisdiction, possessing Aonly that power authorized by
Constitution and statute.@ Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994).
A motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction must be granted if the court lacks
statutory authority at any time to hear and decide the dispute. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). AThe
burden of proof for a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss is on the party asserting jurisdiction.@
Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001). If the defendant contends the
pleading fails to allege facts upon which subject matter jurisdiction can be based, then Aall the facts
alleged in the complaint are assumed to be true and the plaintiff, in effect, is afforded the same
procedural protection as he would receive under a Rule 12(b)(6) consideration.@ Adams v. Bain,
697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1989). “In resolving a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1), a district court . . . may refer to evidence outside the pleadings.”
Makarova v. United States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir. 2000).
CONTENTIONS OF THE PARTIES
In Defendant’s motion, he contends he is entitled to a dismissal of this action under both
the Younger abstention doctrine and the Colorado River abstention doctrine due to the pending
Family Court Action. Defendant, in support of his Younger abstention argument, avers the
Family Court Action involves matters of support and property in the context of the parties’
anticipated divorce and encompasses this action because the I-864 Affidavit is a contract for
support entered into during the parties’ marriage. Defendant stresses the Family Court has
jurisdiction to consider the I-864 Affidavit in the context of determining support in the Family
Court Action. Thus, Defendant seeks dismissal pursuant to Younger abstention due to the pending
Family Court Action.
Defendant also requests dismissal under Colorado River abstention
because the Family Court and this Court exercise concurrent jurisdiction, and the factors weigh in
favor of abstention. In addition, Defendant desires dismissal under 8 C.F.R. ' 213a.2(e)(2)
because Plaintiff ostensibly has forfeited any right to rely upon the I-864 Affidavit in light of her
I-751 Petition before the USCIS. Finally, Defendant urges dismissal under the pending action
Plaintiff disputes Defendant’s assertions regarding Younger and Colorado River
abstention, but fails to respond to Defendant’s arguments for dismissal under ' 213a.2(e)(2) or the
pending action doctrine. In Defendant’s reply, he alternatively seeks a stay of this action pending
resolution of the Family Court Action.
DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS
As a threshold matter, the Court must determine whether it properly has subject matter
jurisdiction over the action.
Plaintiff seeks to enforce the I-864 Affidavit executed by Defendant, which creates an
enforceable contract wherein the sponsor promises to financially support the sponsored alien at
125% of the poverty level.
See 8 U.S.C. § 1183a. The Immigration and Nationality Act forbids
admission to the United States of any alien who “is likely at any time to become a public charge.”
8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(4); 8 C.F.R. § 213a.2(a).
“Persons who would be inadmissible for this reason
may become admissible if a sponsor executes the affidavit of support.” Erler v. Erler, 824 F.3d
1173, 1175 (9th Cir. 2016) (citing 8 U.S.C. § 1183a(a)(1)).
“Once executed, the affidavit
becomes a contract between the sponsor and the U.S. Government for the benefit of the sponsored
immigrant . . . .” Id. (citing 8 C.F.R. § 213a.2(d)).
The Immigration and Nationality Act authorizes suit “in any appropriate court . . . by a
sponsored alien” “to enforce an affidavit of support executed under” section 1183a(a).
“The suit thus arises under federal law, making the federal district court an
appropriate court in which to bring the suit.” Liu v. Mund, 686 F.3d 418, 419 (7th Cir. 2012)
(internal quotation marks omitted). Notably, this “right of support conferred by federal law exists
apart from whatever rights [a sponsored alien] might or might not have under [state] divorce law.”
Id. at 419-20.
Thus, § 1183a(e) authorizes Plaintiff, as the sponsored alien of the I-864 Affidavit executed
by Defendant, to bring suit to enforce the I-864 Affidavit, and this action therefore arises under
federal law pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ' 1331.
Also relevant to this inquiry, though, is whether the applicable abstention doctrines raised
by Defendant bar this Court’s review of Plaintiff’s action. The Court first turns to Defendant’s
argument the Court should dismiss the case under the Younger abstention doctrine.
In Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), the United States Supreme Court held a federal
court should not interfere with ongoing state criminal proceedings “except in the most narrow and
extraordinary of circumstances.”
Gilliam v. Foster, 75 F.3d 881, 903 (4th Cir. 1996).
abstention applies “as well ‘to noncriminal judicial proceedings when important state interests are
involved.’” Harper v. Pub. Serv. Comm’n of W. Va., 396 F.3d 348, 351 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting
Middlesex Cty. Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar Ass’n, 457 U.S. 423, 432 (1982)).
of family relations is a core source of state authority and thus is an “important” state interest.
From Younger and its progeny, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has derived the
following test to determine when abstention is appropriate: (1) “there are ongoing state judicial
proceedings”; (2) “the proceedings implicate important state interests”; and (3) “there is an
adequate opportunity to raise federal claims in the state proceedings.” Martin Marietta Corp. v.
Md. Comm’n on Human Relations, 38 F.3d 1392, 1396 (4th Cir. 1994) (citing Middlesex, 457 U.S.
In weighing the application of Younger, the Court heeds the “basic proposition that
‘abstention from the exercise of federal jurisdiction is the exception, not the rule.’” Emp’rs Res.
Mgmt. Co. v. Shannon, 65 F.3d 1126, 1134 (4th Cir. 1995) (quoting Haw. Hous. Auth. v. Midkiff,
467 U.S. 229, 236 (1984)).
Even where Younger abstention is at issue, federal courts have a
“‘virtually unflagging obligation . . . to exercise the jurisdiction given.’”
Deakins v. Monaghan,
484 U.S. 193, 204 (1988) (quoting Colo. River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424
U.S. 800, 817 (1976)).
Applying the above standards to the instant matter, it is undisputed the parties are currently
embroiled in divorce proceedings in the Family Court Action.
As noted above, the Family Court
Action has been pending since on or about June 28, 2016.
Consequently, the Family Court
Action predates this action, and the first factor is met because there are ongoing state judicial
proceedings involving the parties.
Additionally, it is uncontroverted the Family Court Action implicates important state
As stated, the Family Court Action involves divorce, an area of family law, which is a
core source of state authority and thus is an “important” state interest. See Harper, 396 F.3d at
Moreover, the Family Court Action involves the issue of spousal support, as seen in the
Temporary Order issued by the Family Court on December 13, 2016.
Thus, the second factor is
The final factor, whether there is an adequate opportunity to raise the federal claim in the
Family Court Action, is likewise met.
The parties have failed to provide any indication the
Family Court would avoid appropriately considering Plaintiff’s claim for support under the I-864
Although the Family Court entered a Temporary Order on December 13, 2016,
denying Plaintiff’s request for temporary spousal support, the divorce proceedings remain
ongoing, and Plaintiff certainly has the opportunity to raise her claim for support under the I-864
Affidavit in the Family Court Action.
Plaintiff, in opposing Defendant’s motion, relies on Montgomery v. Montgomery, 764 F.
Supp. 2d 328 (D.N.H. 2011), for the proposition Younger abstention does not apply unless a federal
proceeding would interfere with an ongoing state proceeding by either enjoining the state
proceeding or having the practical effect of doing so.
See id. at 333 (citing Rio Grande Cmty.
Health Ctr., Inc. v. Rullan, 397 F.3d 56, 70 (1st Cir. 2005)).
As explained above, however, the
Fourth Circuit utilizes a different test in determining whether Younger abstention is appropriate,
in which the element of interference is absent.
Plaintiff’s opposition is therefore unavailing.
See Martin Marietta Corp., 38 F.3d at 1396.
For all the foregoing, the Court determines, although it has subject matter jurisdiction over
this matter, the best course of action is to allow the Family Court to consider all claims of spousal
support in the Family Court Action.
The Court notes Defendant appears to have raised the issue
of Plaintiff’s claim for support under the I-864 Affidavit in the Family Court Action, see ECF No.
12-2 at 2, and the Court has no reason to doubt the competence of the state tribunal to appropriately
consider federal questions in determining matters of paramount state interest, as those presented
in this matter.
Therefore, the Court holds abstention to be proper with regard to Plaintiff’s claim
for support under the I-864 Affidavit, and the Court will thus grant Defendant’s motion under Rule
12(b)(1) to the extent it will abstain from exercising its jurisdiction under Younger.
Given these holdings are dispositive of the issues before the Court, the Court need not
address the parties= remaining arguments. See Karsten v. Kaiser Found. Health Plan of Mid-Atl.
States, Inc., 36 F.3d 8, 11 (4th Cir. 1994) (“If the first reason given is independently sufficient,
then all those that follow are surplusage; thus, the strength of the first makes all the rest dicta.”).
Wherefore, based on the foregoing discussion and analysis, it is the judgment of the Court
Defendant’s motion under Rule 12(b)(1) is GRANTED to the extent the Court abstains from
exercising jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s claims pursuant to the Younger abstention doctrine.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Signed this 14th day of April, 2017, in Columbia, South Carolina.
s/Mary Geiger Lewis
MARY GEIGER LEWIS
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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