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Ringgold v. Johnson

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

August 25, 2014

DIANA JONETTE RINGGOLD, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
JEH JOHNSON, et al., Defendants

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For Diana Jonette Ringgold, Victor Mazliah, Plaintiffs: James A. Stanton, Joo Yun Kim, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Stanton Law Group, Honolulu, HI.

For Rand Beers, Acting Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, David Gulick, District Director Honolulu, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Defendants: Sherease Pratt, LEAD ATTORNEY, United States Department of Justice - Civil Division, Office of Immigration Litigation - District Court Section, Washington, DC.

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ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, AND DENYING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Susan Oki Mollway, Chief United States District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION.

Before the court are cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiffs Diana Jonette Ringgold (" Ringgold" ) and Victor Mazliah (" Mazliah" ) (collectively, " Plaintiffs" ) and by Defendants Jeh Johnson, in his official capacity as Secretary of the United States Department of Homeland Security; Lori Scialabba, in her official capacity as Acting Director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (" USCIS" ); and David Gulick, in his official capacity as USCIS District Director for Honolulu, Hawaii (collectively, " Defendants" ). The court grants Defendants' motion and denies Plaintiffs' motion.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND.

Plaintiffs challenge USCIS's denial of Plaintiff Diana Ringgold's I-130, Petition of Alien Relative, and Plaintiff Victor Mazliah's I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. ECF No. 14, PageID # 77.

Ringgold, a U.S. citizen, met Mazliah, a citizen of Israel, in June 2009. Administrative Record (" AR" ) at 83, 93. Ringgold was 21 years old at the time, and Mazliah was about three years older. Id. Ringgold says they began living together a few months later, then got married on October 24, 2009. Id. At the time they got married, Mazliah was in the United States on a visitor visa set to expire in about a month. Id. at 622.

On December 4, 2009, Ringgold filed a Form I-130 with USCIS seeking to establish her marital relationship with Mazliah for immigration purposes. Id. at 76-77; ECF No. 14, PageID # 77-78. Mazliah filed a Form I-485 with USCIS on the same date, seeking to adjust his status to that of a permanent resident given his marriage to a U.S. citizen. AR at 434, 622-25.

On February 24, 2010, Ringgold and Mazliah were interviewed by USCIS. AR at 66. During the interview, Ringgold and Mazliah indicated that they had met in June 2009 and had gotten married on October

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24, 2009. Id. According to Ringgold and Mazliah, at the end of the interview, the examiner informed them that their " case is approved." ECF No. 31-1, PaageID # 294. As support, Ringgold and Mazliah cite to a copy of Mazliah's I-485 in which the " Approved Visa Petition" box is checked. See AR at 622. Although this copy is in USCIS's file for Mazliah, Mazliah does not say this document was ever sent to him with that check mark.

After waiting more than a year and a half without getting a decision, Mazliah asked for an appointment with USCIS. Id. at 66. During a meeting on November 9, 2011, Mazliah noted that Ringgold had made multiple trips to Australia because she had obtained discounts from her ex-boyfriend that allowed her to travel for only $150 per plane ticket. Id. at 67.

On December 22, 2011, Ringgold and Mazliah were again interviewed by USCIS. Id. According to USCIS, Ringgold and Mazliah indicated that they had not lived together for most of 2011; Ringgold had been living in Australia while Mazliah had been living in Hawaii. Id. During the interview, Ringgold said she was not in frequent contact with her father. Id.

On March 14, 2012, USCIS issued a Notice of Intent to Deny Ringgold's I-130, stating that she had failed to meet her burden of proof regarding her relationship with Mazliah. Id. at 58-60. Plaintiffs' counsel responded to the Notice of Intent to Deny on April 16, 2012. Id. at 2-14.

On May 3, 2012, USCIS interviewed Ringgold's father. Id. at 70. He indicated that, although he maintained steady contact with his daughter, he had not been aware until his interview with USCIS that she had gotten married. Id. He also stated that Ringgold had brought her boyfriend Patrick to a Thanksgiving gathering in November 2011, and that the two were together until approximately March 2012. Id. Ringgold's father indicated that she had previously dated an Australian man, had lived with that man in Australia, and had intended to marry him. Id.

On December 28, 2012, Ringgold's father and stepmother were interviewed by USCIS. Id. at 71. They indicated that Ringgold and her father had a good relationship; that Ringgold had worked in Australia for a year as a nanny; that Mazliah was introduced to them in July 2012 but not as Ringgold's husband; that Ringgold's father had not known she was married until his interview on May 3, 2012; that other relatives were unaware of Ringgold's marriage; that Ringgold's father was not sure if Ringgold loved Mazliah or if she lived with him; and that Ringgold had recently expressed a desire to move in with them. Id.

On January 22, 2013, Ringgold's stepmother indicated that Ringgold was not living with Mazliah. Id.

On September 18, 2013, Plaintiffs met with a USCIS official. Id. They asked when a decision would be made on Ringgold's petition, which had been pending since December 2009. Id. at 72; ECF No. 31-1, PageID # 299. The USCIS official responded that the issue was better left to the end of the interview. AR at 72. The USCIS official told Plaintiffs that the official wanted to interview them separately, but they refused, citing their frustration with the process and the humiliation of being interviewed separately. Id. The official told them that if they refused to be interviewed separately, USCIS would make a decision based on the evidence already obtained. Id. Defendants' position is that, by refusing to be interviewed separately, Plaintiffs waived the opportunity to be confronted with, and to rebut, adverse evidence obtained after the Notice of Intent

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to Deny issued. ECF No. 30, PageID # 252.

On September 20, 2013, Plaintiffs filed a Verified Complaint for Mandamus and for Declaratory Relief. ECF No. 1.

On November 27, 2013, USCIS denied Ringgold's I-130, stating that Ringgold had failed to meet her burden of proof regarding her relationship with Mazliah. AR at 63, 66-75. USCIS cited the following evidence as contributing to its finding that a bona fide marriage did not exist: (1) the rapidity of the marriage after the parties first met; (2) time the parties spent apart while Ringgold lived in California for approximately four months and in Australia for eight months; (3) evidence that the parties were living apart while in Hawaii, including statements by multiple individuals that they recognized photos of either Ringgold or Mazliah, but not both; (4) evidence that Ringgold had lived with her mother until November 2011; (5) indications of relationships with other individuals outside of the marriage, including information that Mazliah was regularly seen with a girlfriend, information from Ringgold's father that Ringgold had brought a man named Patrick, identified as her boyfriend, to a family Thanksgiving gathering in 2011 and that she had dated Patrick until March 2012, and information from Ringgold's father that Ringgold had been dating an Australian man that she went to Australia to live with; (6) contradictory accounts about Ringgold's relationship with her father; (7) Ringgold's concealing of her marriage from her father; (8) Ringgold's claim that her mother knew about the marriage but was unwilling to prepare a statement to that effect; (9) information from Ringgold's father that Ringgold's relatives did not know about her marriage; (10) information from Ringgold's father and stepmother that Ringgold was living in Waikiki in late 2012 and had asked to live with them; (11) inconsistencies regarding the reason Ringgold spent time in Australia; and (12) Ringgold's failure to inform her family about her travel to Israel until after her return. Id. at 73.

On November 27, 2013, USCIS denied Mazliah's I-485 based on the denial of Ringgold's I-130 and on Mazliah's failure to demonstrate entitlement to a visa on any other grounds. ECF No. 14-4.

On March 12, 2014, Plaintiffs filed their First Amended Complaint for Declaratory Relief, seeking a declaration that the denial of Ringgold's I-130 and Mazliah's I-485 was " arbitrary, capricious, not supported by the evidence and violative of Plaintiffs' due process rights under the United States Constitution and not in accordance with law and applicable implementing regulations governing marriages between aliens and United States citizens." ECF No. 14, PageID # 77. Plaintiffs contest USCIS's view of their marriage, denying, among other things, that they had relationships with other people after they got married.

Both parties seek summary judgment on Plaintiffs' claims. See ECF No. 29; ECF No. 31.

III. STATUTORY FRAMEWORK.

A U.S. citizen seeking classification of a noncitizen spouse as an " immediate relative" may file a Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, with USCIS. 8 C.F.R. § 204.1(a)(1). The petitioner bears the burden of establishing his or her spouse's eligibility. 8 C.F.R. § 103.2(b)(1); Avitan v. Holder, No. C-10-03288-JCS, 2011 WL 499956, at *7 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 8, 2011). If the I-130 is ...


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