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Vida v. Field Office Director

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio

July 30, 2019

ELVIRA VIDA, Plaintiff,
v.
FIELD OFFICE DIRECTOR, U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES USCIS DISTRICT 13, CLEVELAND DISTRICT OFFICE, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER [RESOLVING DOC. 33]

          JAMES S. GWIN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Hungarian citizen Elvira Vida came to the United States in January 2008.[1] A year later, she married a U.S. citizen and obtained conditional permanent resident status after that marriage.[2]

         In the early morning hours of January 5, 2012, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) agents arrived at Vida's home unannounced.[3] They observed that Vida's husband was absent, but another man (Janos Eiler) was present.[4] A few months later, Vida and her husband divorced, apparently for unrelated reasons.[5]

         In March 2015, Vida applied for naturalization, passing the English and U.S. History test a few months later.[6] However, after a hearing, USCIS denied Vida's application.[7] In doing so, USCIS alleged that Vida had obtained her permanent resident status through fraud, because she was actually in a relationship with Eiler while married to her husband.[8]Now, on the same basis, Vida faces deportation.[9]

         Plaintiff brings this case, asking the Court to review her naturalization denial.[10] The Government moves to dismiss, primarily arguing that the Court cannot review a naturalization denial while removal proceedings are pending.[11] For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendants' motion.

         I. Service on the Department of Homeland Security

         At the outset, Defendants argue-in a footnote-that the Court should dismiss the case under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(m) for Plaintiff's failure to serve the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”). This argument is about as persuasive as its location suggests.

         Rule 4(m) allows the Court to dismiss claims against a defendant who has not been properly served, it does not authorize the Court to dismiss an entire case.[12] Because Vida brings no claims against DHS, Rule 4(m) is inapplicable.

         It is true that 8 C.F.R. § 336.9(b) requires a plaintiff seeking naturalization review to serve (but not sue) DHS. But the Government cites to nothing indicating that the failure to do so warrants dismissal. The Court rejects this argument.

         II. Judicial Review Under 8 U.S.C. § 1421(c)

         Title 8, Section 1421(c) of the U.S. Code authorizes district courts to review naturalization denials. However, naturalization authority resides solely with the Attorney General.[13] Thus, courts cannot order naturalization, courts can only order the Attorney General to naturalize a person. And therein lies the rub. Title 8, Section 1429 of the U.S. Code prohibits the Attorney General from considering a naturalization application while removal proceedings are pending.[14] Thus, the Court cannot provide effective relief while Vida faces removal.[15]

         Plaintiff counters that, while § 1429 prohibits “considering” a naturalization application, it does not preclude reviewing an already denied application; essentially arguing that § 1429's usage is forward looking only. Vida's reading is unduly cramped; the term “consider” seems to preclude any examination.[16] Further, this argument runs headlong into United States v. Zayed, where the Sixth Circuit held that § 1429 barred review of an already denied application.[17]

         Finally, Plaintiff argues that, § 1429 notwithstanding, the Court could still issue a declaratory judgment holding that she would be eligible but for the removal proceedings. While some circuits allow this, [18] the Sixth Circuit has yet to explicitly weigh in.[19]

         However, this Court believes declaratory relief is unavailable. First, it would end-run the congressional policy decisions reflected in § 1429.[20] But more importantly, the Government would be free to ignore the declaration unless Plaintiff prevailed in the removal proceedings.[21] A judgment the defendant may ignore is no judgment at all.[22] The Court is constitutionally empowered to resolve cases, not issue abstract impressions.[23] ...


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