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Erler v. Erler

United States District Court, N.D. California

November 15, 2017

AYLA ERLER, Plaintiff,
v.
YASHAR ERLER, Defendant.

          ORDER ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND REFERRING CASE TO MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          CHARLES R. BREYER United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Ayla Erler brought suit against her ex-husband, Defendant Yashar Erler, for failing to maintain his obligation to support Ayla at 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines under the I-864 form, Affidavit of Support. In 2013, the Court filed an order “denying plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and giving parties notice regarding possible summary judgment for defendant.” Erler v. Erler, No. CV-12-2793-CRB, 2013 WL 6139721, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 21, 2013). The Court found that though Yashar's[1]obligation continued irrespective of their divorce proceedings, Ayla, who lived with her adult son, earned above 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. In 2016, the Ninth Circuit vacated the Court's grant of summary judgment to Yashar. The Ninth Circuit remanded the case with instructions to determine Yashar's obligation to Ayla based on a one-person household, disregarding Ayla's adult son's income.

         As explained below, the Court DENIES Yashar's motion for summary judgment and GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Ayla's motion for summary judgment.

         The Court holds that Ayla's food stamps from California and her pension from the Turkish Government are income, which reduces the sum that Yashar owes to Ayla. The Court ORDERS the parties to return to Magistrate Judge Cousins to determine the exact monetary damages consistent with this Order.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Facts

         Ayla emigrated from Turkey in November 2008 to marry Yashar, an American citizen. Erler v. Erler, 824 F.3d 1173, 1175 (9th Cir. 2016). The parties signed a premarital agreement, which stated that “neither party shall seek or obtain any form of alimony or support from the other.” Id. Ayla and Yashar married on April 15, 2009. Id. On April 29, 2009, as a part of Ayla's naturalization process, Yashar signed the I-864 form, Affidavit of Support (“Affidavit”). Id. The Affidavit included a commitment to support Ayla at 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. Id.

         On March 25, 2011, Ayla and Yashar separated. Id. After the separation, in April 2011, Ayla moved in with her adult son, Dogukan Solmaz, a California resident. Id. Yashar paid $3, 500 to Ayla to assist with moving expenses. Id. at 1176. Yashar and Ayla appeared in the Family Law Division of Superior Court of California, County of San Mateo on March 22, 2012, and finalized their divorce on May 4, 2012. Yashar Decl. Ex. D (dkt. 70-5). The court ordered Ayla to reimburse Yashar $10, 242.00 for possession of his property. Id. Yashar claims in his motion that he has yet to collect this payment but does not provide support for his claim. See Yashar Mot. (dkt. 70) at 3. Ayla has not worked since the separation. Ayla 2017 Decl. (dkt. 71-1) ¶ 2.

         From May 2011 to October 2012, Ayla received approximately $200 per month in food stamps from the State of California. Id. ¶ 6. In February 2013, the State of California resumed dispersing food stamps to Ayla. Id.

         Ayla also has a pension from the Turkish government for her prior service in its telecommunications department. Id. ¶ 4. Ayla claims that she can only access the funds in Turkey and must use a Turkish debit card to do so. Id. She does not receive any of the pension funds for use in the United States. Id. In her prior declaration, in 2013, Ayla conceded that her adult “daughter in Turkey accesses the pension funds and uses them to pay for her own living expenses in Turkey.” Ayla 2013 Decl. (dkt. 7) ¶ 17. Ayla's account records show consistent money withdrawals from 2011 to 2016. See Yashar Decl. Ex. I (dkt. 70-10).

         B. Procedural History

         On May 31, 2012, Ayla filed this action, asserting that Yashar has failed to meet his obligation to maintain Ayla at 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines since their separation in March 2011. Erler, 824 F.3d at 1176. Filing for summary judgment, Ayla sought declaratory relief, monetary damages, and legal fees. Id. In response, Yashar filed an opposition and cross-motion for summary judgment, contending that the divorce ended his obligation. Yashar 2013 Mot. (dkt. 12); Erler, 824 F.3d at 1176. He also argued that even if the Affidavit remained valid after their divorce, Ayla had earned at least 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. Id.

         On November 21, 2013, the Court “den[ied] plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and [gave] parties notice regarding possible summary judgment for defendant.” Erler, 2013 WL 6139721, at *1. The Court held that Yashar's obligation extends after the divorce and continues until one of the five circumstances outlined in the Affidavit occurs. Erler, 824 F.3d at 1176. The Court also held that even though Yashar has a continuing obligation, he did not breach the Affidavit, because the financial support Ayla received from her son kept her above 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. Id. Ayla appealed to the Ninth Circuit. Id.

         On June 8, 2016, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the Court's holding that Yashar's obligation continued after the divorce, but vacated the Court's grant of summary judgment for Yashar. Id. at 1180. The Ninth Circuit held that Ayla's adult son's income is irrelevant when calculating Yashar's financial obligation. Id. at 1179-80. The Ninth Circuit remanded the case with instructions to determine Yashar's annual financial obligation to Ayla based on a one-person household. Id. at 1180. Because the Ninth Circuit did not offer any guidance as to what qualifies as “income” under 8 U.S.C. § 1183a, the Court must now determine, largely as a matter of first impression, which sources of financial support, if any, qualify as income that would mitigate or discharge Yashar's liability. See id. (“Rather than address these questions for the first time on appeal, we leave them for the district court to address on remand.”).

         Upon remand, both parties attended a settlement conference with Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins. Settlement Conference (dkt. 67). After the parties could not settle, they filed cross-motions for summary judgment and opposition briefs. Yashar Mot.; Ayla Mot. (dkt. 71); Yashar Opp'n (dkt. 72); Ayla Opp'n (dkt. 73). Ayla claims that she does not have any income as defined by 8 U.S.C. § 1183a, and thus, Yashar owes her 125% of the Federal Poverty Guildelines minus his one-time payment of $3, 500 for her moving expenses. Ayla 2017 Decl. ¶ 2; see Ayla Mot. at 4-5. She seeks declaratory relief and damages in the amount of $79, 493.60, plus attorneys' fees. Id. Yashar argues that even without her son's financial support, Ayla has earned above 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for a one-person household. Yashar Mot. at 2-3. In his opposition, Yashar additionally claims that Ayla has not complied with his discovery requests. See Yashar Opp'n at 2-9.

         The Court must decide whether Ayla earned any money that qualified as income according to 8 U.S.C. § 1183a. See Erler, 824 F.3d at 1179-80. If Ayla earned income, then the Court must determine how much that income reduces Yashar's financial obligation to Ayla from March 2011 through the end of 2016.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is proper when “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). An issue is “genuine” only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable fact finder could find for the nonmoving party, and a dispute is “material” only if it could affect the outcome under governing law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). A principal purpose of the summary judgment procedure “is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). “Where the records taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.'” Matsushita Elec. Ind. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Under 8 U.S.C. § 1183a, immigrants who are deemed likely to become public charges may gain admission to the United States if a sponsor signs United States Citizenship Immigration Services Form I-864 (the Affidavit), thereby promising to maintain the sponsored immigrant at no less than 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for the immigrant's household size. See 8 U.S.C. § 1183a(a)(1)(A); Aff. (dkt. 70-3) at 6. “The requirement under § 1183 a [sic] that a sponsor promise to maintain the immigrant is intended not only to protect the immigrant from poverty, but to protect the government from a public burden.” Carlborg v. Tompkins, 10-CV-187-BBC, 2010 WL 4553558, at *4 (W.D. Wis. Nov. 3, 2010).

         The Affidavit “create[s] a contract between [the sponsor] and the U.S. Government, ” which can be enforced by the sponsored immigrant. Aff. at 6. The sponsor's obligation ends ...


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