Gregory T. Akers, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Xuchen Akers, Defendant-Appellee.
from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, Division of
Domestic Relations No. 14DR-3610
Jeffrey P. Nunnari, for appellant.
Jeffrey P. Nunnari
Mohammad Slaimon Ayoubi and Mark S. Froehlich, for appellee.
Mohammad Slaimon Ayoubi and Mark S. Froehlich.
1} Plaintiff-appellant, Gregory T. Akers, appeals
from the decision of the Franklin County Court of Common
Pleas, Division of Domestic Relations, ordering him to pay
defendant-appellee, Xuchen Akers, $14, 937 based on a
contractual obligation of support arising under federal law
as a condition of sponsoring her permanent residency
application. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the
enforceability of the obligation, but reverse and remand the
trial court's determination of the period during which it
accrued and, as a result, the amount of damages that Xuchen
is entitled to recover.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
2} Gregory and Xuchen were married in Beijing, China
on March 15, 2005. (Nov. 16, 2015 Stipulation.) Xuchen moved
to the United States in July 2006. (July 28, 2015 Pl.'s
Aff. at ¶ 3, Ex. A attached to Pl.'s Reply to
Def.'s Mot. in Opp.) To sponsor Xuchen's permanent
residency application, Gregory signed the United States
Citizenship and Immigration Services Form I-864, an Affidavit
of Support ("AOS"), on June 1, 2007. (Ex. A-1 to
3} The AOS states that signing the form on behalf of
an immigrant and submitting it with the immigrant's
permanent residency application has the legal effect of
creating a contract between the sponsor and the United States
Government. (Ex. A-1 at 6.) "The intending
immigrant's becoming a permanent resident is the
'consideration' for the contract." Id.
The AOS creates an obligation on the part of the sponsor to
"[p]rovide the intending immigrant any support necessary
to maintain him or her at an income that is at least 125
percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for his or her
household size" until one of five conditions is
fulfilled. (Ex. A-1 at 6.) The obligation ends if the
immigrant (1) becomes a United States citizen; (2) has
worked, or can be credited with working, 40 quarters of
coverage under the Social Security Act; (3) no longer is a
permanent resident and leaves the United States; (4) is
subject to removal proceedings and obtains a new AOS; or (5)
dies. (Ex. A-1 at 7.) The AOS form expressly warns the
sponsor that "[i]f you do not provide sufficient support
to the person who becomes a permanent resident based on the
Form I-864, that person may sue you for this support."
4} Gregory filed for divorce on October 3, 2014.
(Oct. 3, 2014 Compl.) Xuchen filed an answer on December 8,
2014, and asserted a counterclaim alleging that Gregory had
breached his obligation of support under the AOS. (Dec. 8,
2014 Answer at ¶ 8.)
5} After reviewing the parties' stipulations,
tax returns, and other evidence, the trial court determined
that Xuchen could be credited with 40 quarters of coverage
under the Social Security Act at the end of 2012, at which
time Gregory's obligation under the AOS terminated.
However, because Xuchen had been unemployed in 2012, the
trial court concluded that the AOS required Gregory to pay
her $14, 937 for that year, an amount that corresponded to
125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. (Feb. 16, 2016
Am. Decision and Jgmt. Entry Decree of Divorce, hereinafter
"Decree" at 5-7, 13-14.)
6} Gregory filed a timely notice of appeal and
asserts the following assignments of error:
[I.] THE TRIAL COURT ERRED TO THE PREJUDICE OF APPELLANT BY
ENFORCING AN AFFIDAVIT OF SUPPORT AFTER ITS EXPIRATION BY
OPERATION OF ...