United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
For MELVIN MEDINA, CATHERINE MEDINA, Plaintiffs: JOSEPH C HOHENSTEIN, LEAD ATTORNEY, The Law Office Of Joseph C. Hohenstein, PHILADELPHIA, PA; MARY A. KENNEY, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, AMERICAN IMMIGRATION COUNCIL, WASHINGTON, DC.
For RAND BEERS, ACTING SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, EVANGELINE KLAPAKIS, FIELD OFFICE DIRECTOR, U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES, JEH JOHNSON, SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, LORI SCIALABA, ACTING DIRECTOR U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES, Defendants: ASHLEY YOUNG MARTIN, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. DEPT OF JUSTICE, WASHINGTON, DC; ANTHONY ST. JOSEPH, GREGORY B. DAVID, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, PHILADELPHIA, PA.
For AMERICAN IMMIGRATION COUNCIL, NORTHWEST IMMIGRANT RIGHTS PROJECT, Movants: MARY A. KENNEY, PRO HAC VICE, AMERICAN IMMIGRATION COUNCIL, WASHINGTON, DC.
RONALD L. BUCKWALTER, Senior United States District Judge.
Currently pending before the Court is (1) the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and Motion to Partially Dismiss by Defendants Rand Beers, Acting Secretary, Department of Homeland of Security; Jeh Johnson, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; Lori Scialaba, Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (" USCIS" ); and Evangelia Klapakis, Director of the Philadelphia USCIS District Office (collectively " Defendants" ); and (2) the Motion for Summary Judgment by Plaintiffs Melvin Medina and Catherine Medina. For the following reasons, Plaintiffs' Motion is granted and Defendants' Motion is denied.
I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
The factual record in this case is closed and the parties agree to the facts pertinent to this dispute. Plaintiff Melvin Medina, a native and citizen of Honduras, entered the United States without inspection on October 9, 1992. (Administrative Record (" AR" ) 306-07.) On January 5, 1999, the United States Attorney General designated Honduras under the Temporary Protected Status (" TPS" ) program after the country experienced a hurricane. Department of Justice Notice 64 Fed.Reg. 524-02 (January 5, 1999). In 1999, Plaintiff Medina applied for and was granted Temporary Protected Status. (AR 213-24.) As a TPS beneficiary, he remains both protected from removal and eligible for employment in the United States. 8 U.S.C. § 1254a(a)(1). Over the ensuing years, the Attorney General periodically extended TPS eligibility for Honduran nationals, with the latest extension being given on October 16, 2014. Dept. of Homeland Security Notice, 79 FR 62170-02 (Oct. 16, 2014). Plaintiff Medina has re-registered as necessary. (AR 367-72.)
On January 2, 2002, Plaintiff married Catherine Medina, a United States citizen, and they currently have three children together. (AR 37, 97.) In December 2011, Mrs. Medina filed a Form I-130 " Petition for Alien Relative" on Plaintiff's behalf with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (" USCIS" ). (AR 92.) Concurrently with that petition, Medina filed a Form I-485 to adjust his status to " lawful permanent resident." (AR 34-41.) Section 1255(a) of Title 8 of the United States Code provides that " [t]he status of an alien who was inspected and admitted or paroled into the United States . . . may be adjusted by the Attorney General, in his discretion and under such regulations as he may prescribe, to that of an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence if (1) the alien makes an application for such adjustment, (2) the alien is eligible to receive an immigrant visa and is admissible to the United States for permanent residence, and (3) an immigrant visa is immediately available to him at the time his application is filed." 8 U.S.C. § 1255(a).
USCIS made several requests for additional evidence to address Plaintiff's eligibility for adjustment of status, all of which were responded to by Plaintiff. (Compl., Exs. 3-5.) In addition, on May 8, 2012, Plaintiff appeared for a scheduled interview to provide sworn testimony in connection with his application. (AR 25.) After approximately five months of no action on the two petitions, Plaintiff visited the local USCIS office in Philadelphia to inquire into the status of his case. (Compl. ¶ 20.) Shortly thereafter, on October 18, 2012, USCIS issued a notice of its intent to deny (" NOID" ) Plaintiff's adjustment status under 8 U.S.C. § 1255(a). (AR 25-26.) This notice stated, in pertinent part:
While Section 245(i) of the Act allows those who entered the United States without inspection to adjust their status, you have provided no evidence that you were physically present in the United States on December 21, 2000, or that a petition for classification under section 204 was filed with the Attorney General on or before April 30, 2001.
In addition, Title 8, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 244.10(f)(2) determines that an alien shall be issued a notice with regards to his or her rights under temporary protective status. Title 8, Code of Federal Regulations Part 244.10(f)(3) also limits the benefits under this status. The benefits contained in the notice are the only benefits the alien is entitled to under Temporary Protective Status. The temporary protective status accorded you allowed you to remain in the United States during the time that such status was in affect [sic], and to have such regarded as lawful stay in this country. However, such accorded status did not remedy the fact that you were not properly inspected and admitted or paroled into the United States.
Therefore, you appear to be statutorily ineligible for adjustment of status under Section 245(a) because you entered without inspection. In addition, you appear to be ineligible to adjust your status under the provisions of Section 245(i) of the Act because no proof of physical presence on December 21, 2000, was provided and no petition appears to be filed on your behalf on or prior to April 30, 2001. As such, USCIS is providing you with this notice of its intent to deny your case or present evidence to support your eligibility under section 245(i).
On November 15, 2012, Plaintiff responded to the NOID, arguing that the plain language of the statute in question authorized his classification as an individual in and maintaining lawful status as a non-immigrant, and thus eligible for adjustment of status. (AR 22-24.) He specifically relied on the provision at 8 U.S.C. § 1254a(f)(4), which provides that " for purposes of adjustment of status under section 245 and change of status under section 248, the alien shall be considered as being in, and maintaining, lawful status as a nonimmigrant." (AR 22 (citing 8 U.S.C. § 1254a(f)(4)).) Six months after Plaintiff's response, on May 16, 2013, the USCIS finally issued a denial of the adjustment of status application. (AR 7-9.) This denial reiterated the reasons set forth in the NOID. (Id.) In addition, it stated that, " [i]n that you failed to respond to the Notice of Intent to Deny mailed to you by the USCIS on October 18, 2012, your application that was filed on December 8, 2011, is considered abandoned and is hereby denied." (Id. at 9.)
On June 5, 2013, Plaintiff sent a letter to USCIS stating that the application had not been abandoned because he had responded to the Notice of Intent to Deny. (AR 5.) In addition, he attached a copy of a recent Sixth Circuit decision in Flores v. USCIS, 718 F.3d 548 (6th Cir. June 4, 2013), as support for his position. (Id.) USCIS did not respond to this letter.
On February 21, 2014, Plaintiff initiated the current civil proceedings, setting forth claims for relief under the Administrative Procedures Act, the mandamus statute, and the Due Process Clause. Subsequently, USCIS reopened its May 16, 2013 decision and issued a Superseding Decision. (AR 1-4.) In this decision, the Government remarked that the Notice of Denial stating that Plaintiff had abandoned his application to adjust status was issued in error due to the agency's failure to place his November 2012 response in the file. (Id. at 1.) Nonetheless, USCIS still denied his application based on an administrative decision in Matter of Sosa Ventura, 25 I. & N. Dec. 391 (BIA 2010), and an Eleventh Circuit decision in Serrano v. U.S. Attorney General, 655 F.3d 1260, 1265 (11th Cir. 2011).
On February 19, 2014, Plaintiff initiated the current federal action in this Court. Following the Superseding Decision, Plaintiff filed an Amended Petition for Writ of Mandamus and Complaint for Declaratory Judgment. On June 2, 2014, Defendants filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. Plaintiffs responded on August 5, 2014 and filed their own Motion for Summary Judgment on the same date. Also on August 5, 2014, the American Immigration Council and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of Plaintiffs. On August 22, 2014, Defendants responded to Plaintiffs' Motion and objected to the filing of the amicus brief. The case is now ripe for judicial review.
II. CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT ON ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEDURES ACT CLAIM
A. Standards of Review
1. Summary Judgment Standard of Review
Summary judgment is proper " if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2). A factual dispute is " material" only if it might affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). For an issue to be " genuine," a reasonable fact-finder must be able to return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party. Id.
On summary judgment, the moving party has the initial burden of identifying evidence that it believes shows an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 145-46 (3d Cir. 2004). It is not the court's role to weigh the disputed evidence and decide which is more probative, or to make credibility determinations. Boyle v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998) (citing Petruzzi's IGA Supermkts., Inc. v. Darling-Del. Co. Inc., 998 F.2d 1224, 1230 (3d Cir. 1993)). Rather, the court must consider the evidence, and all reasonable inferences which may be drawn from it, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986) (citing United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S.Ct. 993, 8 L.Ed.2d 176 (1962)); Tigg Corp. v. Dow Corning Corp., 822 F.2d 358, 361 (3d Cir. 1987).
Although the moving party must establish an absence of a genuine issue of material fact, it need not " support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). It can meet its burden by " pointing out . . . that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's claims." Id. at 325. If the non-moving party " fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden at trial," summary judgment is appropriate. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Moreover, the mere existence of some evidence in support of the non-movant will not be adequate to support a denial of a motion for summary judgment; there must be enough evidence to enable a jury to reasonably find for the non-movant on that issue.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50.
2. Standard for Judicial Review of Administrative Agency Decision
The scope of judicial review of agency rulemaking under the Administrative Procedures Act " arbitrary and capricious" standard is " narrow, and a court is not to substitute its judgment for that of the agency." Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass'n v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 463 U.S. 29, 43, 103 S.Ct. 2856, 77 L.Ed.2d 443 (1983). Although a reviewing court " may not supply a reasoned basis for the agency's action that the agency itself has not given," it may nevertheless " uphold a decision of less than ideal clarity if the agency's path may reasonably be discerned." Id. A court may conclude that a regulation is arbitrary and capricious only " if the agency relied on facts other than those intended by Congress, did not consider 'an important aspect' of the issue confronting the agency, provided an explanation for its decision which 'runs counter to the evidence before the agency,' or is entirely implausible." Rite Aid of __ Pa. __, Inc. v. Houstoun, 171 F.3d 842, 853 (3d Cir. 1999).
Nonetheless, " [t]he judiciary is the final authority on issues of statutory construction and must reject administrative constructions which are contrary to clear congressional intent." Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Nat'l Res. Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837, 843 n.9, 104 S.Ct. 2778, 81 L.Ed.2d 694 (1984). Chevron deference involves a two-step inquiry. At step one, the court must determine " whether Congress has directly spoken to the precise question at issue" and " unambiguously expressed [its] intent." Id. at 842-43. If so, the inquiry ends, as both the agency and the court must give effect to the plain language of the statute. Id. at 842-43 & n. 9 (" If a court, employing traditional tools of statutory construction, ascertains that Congress had an intention on the precise question at issue, that intention is the law and must be given effect." ). When " the statute is silent or ambiguous with respect to the specific issue," the court proceeds to step two, where it inquires whether the agency's " answer is based on a permissible construction of the statute." Id. at 843. " If a statute is ambiguous [or silent], and if the implementing agency's construction is reasonable, Chevron requires a federal court to accept the agency's construction of the statute, even if the agency's reading differs from what the court believes is the best statutory interpretation." Nat'l Cable & Telecomms. Ass'n v. Brand X Internet Servs., 545 U.S. 967, 980, 125 S.Ct. 2688, 162 L.Ed.2d 820 (2005) (citing Chevron, 467 U.S. at 843-44 & n.11). " [J]udicial deference to the Executive Branch is especially appropriate in the immigration context where officials 'exercise especially sensitive political functions that implicate questions of foreign relations.'" Immigration and Naturalization Serv. v. Aguirre--Aguirre, 526 U.S. 415, 425, 119 S.Ct. 1439, 143 L.Ed.2d 590 (1999) (quoting Immigration and Naturalization Serv. v. Abudu, 485 U.S. 94, 110, 108 S.Ct. 904, 99 L.Ed.2d 90 (1988)). Courts also " afford Chevron deference to the [Board of Immigration Appeal's] reasonable interpretations of statutes which it is charged with administering." Kamara v. Attorney Gen. of U.S., 420 F.3d 202, 211 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Aguirre-Aguirre, 526 U.S. at 424 and
Chevron, 467 U.S. at 842).
Both Plaintiff and Defendants move for summary judgment on Plaintiff's claim for declaratory judgment under the Administrative Procedures Act (" APA" ), 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A) & (B). The parties agree that the sole issue in this matter is one of law: whether the grant of temporary protected status is sufficient to meet the requirement of being " inspected and admitted or paroled into the United States," for purposes of adjustment of status under 8 U.S.C. § 1255(a). For the reasons which follow, the Court finds that the grant of temporary protected ...