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Innova Solutions, Inc. v. Baran

United States District Court, C.D. California

November 5, 2019

KATHY A. BARAN, Defendant.



         Presently before the court are the parties' cross motions for summary judgment. (Dkts. 28, 29.) Having considered the submissions of the parties and heard oral argument, the court grants Plaintiff's motion, denies Defendant's motion, and adopts the following order.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”), an employer may petition for a non-citizen to work in the United States on a temporary basis for a “specialty occupation, ” otherwise known as H-1B status. See 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(H)(i)(b). On June 5, 2018, Plaintiff Innova Solutions, LLC (“Innova”) filed a Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) seeking to sponsor Dhesinghu Alagarsamy (“Beneficiary”) for an H-1B visa. (Certified Administrative Record (“CAR”) 169.) Innova's petition was based on an employment offer to the Beneficiary to work as a “Solutions Architect, ” (CAR 173), “developing [Innova's] proprietary software and hardware.” (CAR 190.) Innova represented that the Beneficiary would work “in-house at [Innova's] corporate headquarters in Santa Clara, California.” (CAR 191.) Further, Innova represented that the employer-employee relationship was traditional, Innova would maintain complete and autonomous control over various aspects of the Beneficiary's employment including, hiring and firing, level of remuneration, hours worked, drug and background screening, approval of overtime, and would assign him to any project of Innova's choosing and assign additional duties as Innova saw fit. (CAR 191.)

         On June 13, 2018, Defendant, USCIS[1], sent Innova a Request for Evidence (“RFE”) requesting additional evidence to establish the requirements for an H-1B visa. (CAR 13.) Specifically, USCIS requested additional information to establish specialty occupation, the Beneficiary's qualifications, and that an employer-employee relationship existed. (CAR 12-22.) Innova timely responded to the RFE. (CAR 23.) Innova's response to the RFE included a cover letter explaining the type of work the Beneficiary would be engaged in, a description of the Beneficiary's typical day, a breakdown of Beneficiary's typical day by percentage, a “Solutions Supervision & Control Letter, an organizational chart, a Proof of Concept for the project the Beneficiary would be involved with, Innova's tax returns, a lease of the space in Santa Clara where the Beneficiary would work, and an overview of Innova. (CAR 20-35; 59-135.)

         On September 17, 2018, USCIS denied Innova's Petition on the grounds that Innova had failed to establish an employer-employee relationship including demonstrating that the Beneficiary would be working in-house, and not placed with third-parties, and demonstrating that Innova had sufficient in-house employment for the duration of the requested visa period. (CAR 7-10.) Plaintiff filed this action challenging USCIS's denial of its Petition as a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”).

         The matter is now before the court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. (Dkts. 28, 29.)


         Under the APA, a reviewing court shall “hold unlawful and set aside agency action, findings, and conclusions found . . . arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with the law. . . .” 5 U.S.C. § 706. While the reviewing court may not “substitute its judgment for that of the agency, ” the court “must conduct a searching and careful inquiry into the facts.” Nw. Motorcycle Ass'n v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 18 F.3d 1468, 1471 (9th Cir. 1994). A court may reverse an agency decision only

if the agency relied on factors Congress did not intend it to consider, entirely failed to consider an important aspect of the problem, offered an explanation that ran counter to the evidence before the agency, or offered one that is so implausible that it could not be ascribed to a difference in view or the product of agency expertise.

Sierra Club v. Bosworth, 510 F.3d 1016, 1023 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting W. Radio Servs. Co. V. Espy, 79 F.3d 896, 900 (9th Cir. 1996)). “Nevertheless, to withstand review the agency must articulate a rational connection between the facts found and the conclusions reached.” Id. (alterations and quotations omitted) (citation omitted). The reviewing court will “defer to an agency's decision only if it is fully informed and well-considered.” Id. (quotations and citation omitted).

         On a motion for summary judgment, the reviewing court's function is “to determine whether or not as a matter of law the evidence in the administrative record permitted the agency to make the decision it did.” Occidental Engineering Co. v. I.N.S., 753 F.2d 766, 769 (9th Cir. 1985).


         As a preliminary matter, Innova invites this court to review its website because USCIS relied on the website in denying Innova's petition. (Plaintiff's MSJ, Dkt. 28, at 10-12.) In reviewing an administrative agency's decision, the court is limited to the administrative record and may review material outside of the record in four narrow circumstances. Cachil Dehe Band of Wintun Indians of Colusa Indian Cmty. v. Zinke, 889 F.3d 584, 600 (9th Cir. 2018). Relevant here, a court may review material outside of the record “where ‘the agency has relied on documents not in the record.'” Id. (quoting Sw. Ctr. For Biological Diversity v. U.S. Forest Serv., 100 F.3d 1443, 1451 (9th Cir. 1996)). USCIS does not dispute the court's ability to review Innova's website. (See Defendant's Opp., Dkt. 31.) The court finds that it is appropriate to review Innova's website because USCIS specifically relied on its contents: “[I]nformation from the petitioner's corporate web-site, indicates that the petitioner's main function is to provide IT solutions and consulting services to other companies, ” and “In light of the ...

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