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Hammami v. Barr

United States District Court, E.D. California

December 9, 2019

MOHAMED MOKHTAR HAMMAMI, Plaintiff,
v.
WILLIAM BARR, Attorney General for the United States, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF NO. 14)

          LAWRENCE J. O'NEILL UNITED STATES CHIEF DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. PRELIMINARY STATEMENT TO PARTIES AND COUNSEL

         Judges 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.

         Civil 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.

         II. INTRODUCTION

         Before 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.[1] 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.

         III. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff 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, [2] who shortly after filed an application with United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”)[3] 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.

         On July 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, [4] 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.

         Relevant 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 the Board.

8 C.F.R. § 1003.5(b) (emphasis added).

         It is 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.

         On 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 application. Id.

         Plaintiff 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.

         IV. LEGAL STANDARD

         Rule 56 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.

         A fact 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 citation omitted).

         The 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. at 250.

         V. ...


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