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Hadi v. Nielsen

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

April 12, 2019

GHASSAN ADNAN HADI, Plaintiff,
v.
KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, SECRETARY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY and MARK SIEGL, FIELD OFFICE DIRECTOR, U.S. CITIZENSHIP & IMMIGRATION SERVICES, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SIM LAKE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Ghassan Adnan Hadi ("Plaintiff" or "Hadi") filed this action on August 3, 2017, against Kirstjen Nielsen, the Secretary of the United States Department of Homeland Security, and Mark Siegl, a Field Office Director for United States Citizenship & Immigration Services ("Defendants") seeking de novo review of his denied application for naturalization. Pending before the court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment ("Defendants' MSJ") (Docket Entry No. 24) . For the reasons explained below, Defendants' MSJ will be granted.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

          Hadi applied for naturalization by submitting a form N-400, Application for Naturalization ("N-400") to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") on November 22, 2013, on the basis of having been a Lawful Permanent Resident for at least five years.[1] Hadi was interviewed by Immigration Service Officer Nancy Kugler ("ISO Kugler") on August 24, 2014.[2] ISO Kugler placed Hadi under oath and conducted and recorded an administrative hearing on his application.[3]

         On January 13, 2015, USCIS denied Hadi's naturalization application because he failed to demonstrate that he had been a person of good moral character during the statutory period.[4] USCIS based this finding on false statements made by Hadi to ISO Kugler during his naturalization interview. USCIS found that Hadi failed to disclose that he had used several other names in the past. USCIS also found that Hadi provided inconsistent testimony about his (and his family's) service in the Iraqi military and his connection to the Ba'ath Party, which was affiliated with the totalitarian regime of Saddam Hussein.[5] Accordingly, USCIS determined that Hadi had given "false testimony to obtain an immigration benefit" at his naturalization interview and was therefore statutorily barred from being found to be a person of good moral character.[6] See 8 U.S.C. § 1101(f)(6) ("No person shall be regarded as, or found to be, a person of good moral character who, during the period for which good moral character is required to be established is, or was-- . . . one who has given false testimony for the purpose of obtaining any benefits under this chapter. . .").

         Hadi filed a timely administrative appeal in February of 2015.[7] On July 14, 2015, Hadi appeared before ISO Donna Jones ("ISO Jones") for an interview in connection with his appeal. ISO Jones placed Hadi under oath and conducted and recorded an administrative hearing.[8] The recording of Hadi's interview with ISO Jones ended abruptly while ISO Jones was still questioning Hadi.[9] On April 4, 2017, USCIS reaffirmed its January 15, 2015, denial of Hadi's N-400 on the ground that Hadi failed to establish that he was a person of good moral character.[10]

         Hadi filed this action on August 3, 2017, seeking de novo review of his denied application for naturalization.[11] Defendants' MSJ argues that Hadi "cannot as a matter of law establish that he was and continues to be a person of good moral character during the requisite period, and has otherwise failed to create a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether he has met his burden of demonstrating good moral character."[12]

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the movant establishes that there is no genuine dispute about any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Disputes about material facts are genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.. 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510 (1986). The moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law if "the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552 (1986) .

         A party moving for summary judgment "must 'demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact,' but need not negate the elements of the nonmovant's case." Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc) (per curiam) (quoting Celotex, 106 S.Ct. at 2553). "If the moving party fails to meet this initial burden, the motion must be denied, regardless of the nonmovant's response." Id. If the moving party meets this burden, Rule 56(c) requires the nonmovant to go beyond the pleadings and show by affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions on file, or other admissible evidence that specific facts exist over which there is a genuine issue for trial. Id.

         In reviewing the evidence "the court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and it may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence." Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 120 S.Ct. 2097, 2110 (2000) . The court resolves factual controversies in favor of the nonmovant, "but only when there is an actual controversy, that is, when both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts." Little, 37 F.3d at 1075.

         III. Applicable Law

         Under 8 U.S.C. § 1421(c) the district court reviews USCIS's decision to deny a naturalization application de novo. Aparicio v. Blake way, 302 F.3d 437, 445 (5th Cir. 2002). An applicant for naturalization must satisfy certain statutory and regulatory requirements. See, e.g., 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101, 1427, 1429, 1430; 8 C.F.R. §§ 310, 312, 316. The applicant for naturalization "shall bear the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she meets all of the requirements for naturalization." 8 C.F.R. § 316.2(b). Because citizenship once granted cannot lightly be taken away, ”'doubts should be resolved in favor of the United States and against the claimant.'" Berenyi v. District Director, Immigration and Naturalization Service, 87 S.Ct. 666, 671 (1967). When an applicant fails to show that he has met all statutory requirements for becoming a naturalized citizen, summary judgment for the government may be appropriate. Chan v. Gantner, 464 F.3d 289, 295-96 (2d Cir. 2006); see also Kariuki v. Tarango, 709 F.3d 495, 503 (5th Cir. 2013) (holding that a "hearing de novo" within the meaning of the INA encompasses review on summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56).

         To be eligible for naturalization under 8 U.S.C. § 144 0, an applicant must demonstrate that he "has been and still is a person of good moral character" during the five years prior to the submission of his application for naturalization, and continuing throughout the naturalization process. 8 U.S.C. § 1427(a); 8 C.F.R. §§ 316.10(a)(1), (a)(2). Certain statutory bars preclude a finding of good moral character. See 8 U.S.C. § 1101(f). One of the statutory bars mandates that "[n]o person shall be regarded as, or found to be, a person of good moral character who, during the period for which good moral character is required to be established, is or was . . . one who has given false testimony for the purpose of obtaining any benefits under" the Immigration and Nationality Act ("INA"). 8 U.S.C. § 1101(f)(6). "Testimony" is limited to oral statements made under oath and does not include other types of misrepresentations or concealments, such as false statements on documents or statements not made under oath. Kungys v. United States, 108 S.Ct. 1537, 1551 (1988). The false information need not have been material to trigger the statutory bar. Id. at 1552. For the statutory bar in § 1101(f) (6) to apply, the dishonest statements need only be made with the subjective intent of obtaining an immigration benefit. Id.

         Even if an applicant is not statutorily barred from demonstrating that he is a person of good moral character under § 1101(f)(6), § 1101(f) also contains a "catch-all" provision: "The fact that any person is not within any of the [statutorily barred] classes shall not preclude a finding that for other reasons such person is or was not of good moral character." 8 U.S.C. § 1101(f). In determining whether an applicant meets the requirement of the catch-all provision, the adjudicator must consider all of the petitioner's evidence on factors relevant to the determination of good moral character. United States v. Dana, 488 F.3d 1135, 1139 (9th Cir. 2007) . Moral character determinations are made on a "case-by-case basis taking into account the elements enumerated in this section and the standards of the average citizen in the community of residence." 8 C.F.R. § 316.10(a)(2).

         IV. Analysis

         Defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment because Hadi is statutorily barred from establishing that he is a person of good moral character under § 1101(f)(6). Alternatively, Defendants argue that even if Hadi is not statutorily barred from establishing good moral character, Hadi cannot meet his burden of proof to demonstrate that he is of good moral character under § 1101(f)'s catch-all provision.

         For summary judgment to be appropriate, Defendants must show that there are no genuine disputes of material fact as to Hadi's inability to demonstrate that he is of good moral character. If Defendants satisfy this initial burden, Hadi must show through admissible evidence that disputed fact issues remain. See Kariuki. 709 F.3d at 505 ("[E]vidence of Kariuki's prior bad conduct was relevant to ruling on his naturalization application, and Kariuki needed to rebut it with sufficiently probative evidence of good present conduct to survive summary judgment.").

         A. False Testimony

         Defendants cite two categories of false testimony that statutorily bar Hadi from proving that he is of good moral character: (1) Hadi failed to disclose all of his names in his interview with ISO Kugler, and (2) Hadi made false and misleading statements regarding his and his family's affiliation with the Ba'ath Party and the Iraqi military to ISOs Kugler and Jones. Because Hadi bears the burden of proving that he is of good moral character, Hadi bears the burden of showing that he did not testify falsely. See Berenyi, 87 S.Ct. at 671 ...


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