United States District Court, E.D. California
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR
SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF NO. 14)
LAWRENCE J. O'NEILL UNITED STATES CHIEF DISTRICT JUDGE
PRELIMINARY STATEMENT TO PARTIES AND
in the Eastern District of California carry the heaviest
caseloads in the nation, and this Court is unable to devote
inordinate time and resources to individual cases and
matters. Given the shortage of district judges and staff,
this Court addresses only the arguments, evidence, and
matters necessary to reach the decision in this order. The
parties and counsel are encouraged to contact the offices of
United States Senators Feinstein and Harris to address this
Court's inability to accommodate the parties and this
action. The parties are required to reconsider consent to
conduct all further proceedings before a Magistrate Judge,
whose schedules are far more realistic and accommodating to
parties than that of any District Judge in the Eastern
District of California, who must prioritize criminal and
older civil cases.
trials in the Eastern District of California trail until the
District Judge becomes available and are subject to
suspension mid-trial to accommodate criminal matters. Civil
trials are no longer reset to a later date if the District
Judge is unavailable on the original date set for trial.
the Court is Plaintiff Mohamed Mokhtar Hammami's
(“Plaintiff”) motion for summary judgment in a
case seeking review of the Government's denial of his
application for naturalization. See ECF No. 1.
Plaintiff was granted legal permanent residence in the United
States; however, the Government later denied his application
for naturalization, arguing, in essence, that the previous
grant of permanent residency was improvident and for that
reason cannot satisfy the residency requirement for
naturalization. ECF Nos. 1 at ¶¶ 12, 17, 21; 17 at
11-12. Plaintiff contends the Government is
estopped from denying him naturalization on certain grounds.
The Court finds it appropriate to rule on Plaintiff's
motion without oral argument. See Local Rule 230(g).
For the following reasons, the Court DENIES the motion.
is a citizen of Tunisia who immigrated to the United States,
though his exact date of arrival is unclear from the record.
ECF No. 15 at 2. On November 20, 2000, he married Michele
Thomas,  who shortly after filed an application
with United States Citizenship and Immigration Service
(“USCIS”) for Plaintiff's lawful permanent
residency (“LPR”) based on spousal relationship.
ECF No. 1 at ¶ 4. On June 13, 2001, Plaintiff and Thomas
divorced. ECF No. 15 at 2. Approximately three years later,
on April 16, 2004, Thomas pled guilty and was convicted in a
California state court on multiple counts related to a
marriage fraud scheme. ECF No. 11-1 at 2, 73. During the
investigation of Thomas, she asserted to federal officers
that her marriage to Plaintiff had been fraudulent.
Id. at 1, 248.
4, 2001, three weeks after Plaintiff's finalized divorce
from Thomas but before the criminal case against her had been
filed, Plaintiff married Aracely Fernandez. ECF Nos. 1 at
¶ 6; 16 at Ex. E. On September 17, 2001, Fernandez in
turn filed an application for Plaintiff's LPR based on
their recently formed spousal relationship. ECF Nos. 1 at
¶ 7, 15 at 2. On September 22, 2005, USCIS sent a
“Notice of Intent to Deny” Plaintiff's LPR
application, and on December 21, 2005,  USCIS entered the
denial. ECF Nos. 11-1 at 259, 15 at 2, 16 at Ex. F.
Plaintiff's application for LPR was denied on the basis
of his first marriage to Thomas, which USCIS officials
characterized as fraudulent. ECF Nos. 11-1 at 259-65. On
January 9, 2006, Plaintiff appealed the decision to the Board
of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”). ECF No. 16 at Ex.
H. Such appeals are submitted through the USCIS office
“having administrative control” over the matter.
See 8 C.F.R. § 1003.3.
here, under 8 C.F.R. § 1003.5(b):
If an appeal is taken from a decision of a Service officer,
the record of proceeding shall be forwarded to the Board [of
Immigration Appeals] by the [Citizenship and Immigration]
Service officer promptly upon receipt of the briefs of the
parties, or upon expiration of the time allowed for the
submission of such briefs. A Service officer need not forward
such an appeal to the Board, but may reopen and reconsider
any decision made by the officer if the new decision will
grant the benefit that has been requested in the appeal. The
new decision must be served on the appealing party within 45
days of receipt of any briefs or upon expiration of the time
allowed for the submission of any briefs. If the new decision
is not served within these time limits or the appealing party
does not agree that the new decision disposes of the matter,
the record of proceeding shall be immediately forwarded to
8 C.F.R. § 1003.5(b) (emphasis added).
unclear from the record evidence what, precisely, happened to
Plaintiff's appeal once it was received by the USCIS
office to which it was submitted. However, some thirty-two
months later, USCIS issued a “Service Motion to
Reopen/Reconsider” dated September 15, 2008. ECF No. 16
at Ex. I. While Plaintiff asserts that in approximately 2007,
“USCIS requested that BIA return [Plaintiff's
appeal] back to USCIS, ” ECF No. 1 at 3, which resulted
in the reopening of Plaintiff's case, the Government
states that “rather than submit the appeal to the BIA,
” USCIS “appears to have elected to reopen the
case, ” ECF No. 17-1 at 2. On April 16, 2009, USCIS
granted Plaintiff LPR status, reversing its previous
decision. ECF Nos. 11-1 at 640, 16 at ¶ o.
November 26, 2014, Plaintiff applied for naturalization. ECF
Nos. 11-1 at 13-38, 16 at ¶ q. One of the requirements
of naturalization is lawful residency in the United States
for at least five years prior to application. 8 U.S.C. §
1427. On February 10, 2016, Plaintiff's naturalization
application was approved by USCIS. ECF Nos. 1 at ¶ 11,
16 at Ex. Q. However, on March 10, 2016, USCIS issued another
“Service Motion to Reopen/Reconsider, ” this time
in relation to Plaintiff's naturalization application.
ECF Nos. 1 at ¶ 15, 11-1 at 6. On October 24, 2017,
USCIS reversed its decision and rescinded its approval of
Plaintiff's naturalization application, and on April 8,
2019, USCIS affirmed the reversal after Plaintiff's
request for a hearing. ECF Nos. 11-1 at 1-5, 8-12; 16 at
¶ r. The agency wrote that its denial was based on
Plaintiff's allegedly fraudulent first marriage of
Plaintiff to Thomas. ECF No. 11-1 at 1-5, 8-12. According to
USCIS, as a consequence of the alleged fraudulent marriage,
Plaintiff's years in LPR status in the United States
cannot serve as the residency basis for his naturalization
seeks review of USCIS' decision. ECF No. 1. This Court
has jurisdiction to review the matter under 8 U.S.C. §
1421(c). On September 27, 2019, Plaintiff filed a motion for
summary judgment seeking to estop certain grounds for the
Government's denial on naturalization. ECF No. 14. The
Government filed its opposition on October 15, 2019. ECF No.
17. Plaintiff's reply was submitted on October 21, 2019.
ECF No. 18.
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that a
“court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows
that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and
the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). At summary judgment, a court's
function is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth
but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.
See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242,
249 (1986). The Court must draw all reasonable inferences in
favor of the nonmoving party, and it may not make credibility
determinations or weigh the evidence. See Id. at
255; see also Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods.,
Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). But if the evidence of
the nonmoving party is merely colorable or is not
significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 249-50.
is “material” if its proof or disproof is
essential to an element of a plaintiff's case.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23
(1986). A factual dispute is “genuine” “if
the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party.” Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. at 248. “Where the record 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. Industrial Co., Ltd. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (internal
moving party bears the initial burden of informing the Court
of the basis for its motion, and of identifying those
portions of the pleadings and discovery responses that
demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact
for trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If the moving
party meets its initial burden, the nonmoving party must go
beyond the pleadings and, by its own affidavits or discovery,
set forth specific facts showing that there is some genuine
issue for trial in order to defeat the motion. See
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S.