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Moore v. Frazier

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

October 31, 2019

CURTIS DEWAYNE MOORE; PATRICIA GRANT-MOORE, Plaintiffs - Appellants,
v.
DENISE M. FRAZIER, District Director, Citizenship and Immigration Services; KENNETH T. CUCCINELLI, Acting Director, Citizenship & Immigration Services; KEVIN K. McALEENAN, Acting Secretary, Department of Homeland Security; WILLIAM P. BARR, Attorney General, Defendants - Appellees.

          Argued: September 18, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, at Raleigh. Louise W. Flanagan, District Judge. (5:17-cv-00542-FL)

          ARGUED: William Randall Stroud, ARANEDA AND STROUD LAW GROUP, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellants. Lori B. Warlick, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., for Appellees.

          ON BRIEF: Jorgelina E. Araneda, ARANEDA AND STROUD LAW GROUP, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellants. Robert J. Higdon, Jr., United States Attorney, Joshua B. Royster, Assistant United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellees.

          Before WILKINSON, NIEMEYER, and AGEE, Circuit Judges.

          AGEE, Circuit Judge:

         Curtis Dewayne Moore and his wife, Patricia Grant-Moore, appeal from the district court's dismissal of their complaint alleging the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") unlawfully rejected the Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative ("I-130 Petition") that Mr. Moore filed on behalf of his wife. The Moores alleged USCIS erred by denying the I-130 Petition according to an amended version of 8 U.S.C. § 1154 that was in effect when the petition was adjudicated rather than using the version of that statute in effect when the petition was filed. The district court dismissed the Moores' complaint after concluding it lacked jurisdiction to consider the claim under the Immigration and Nationality Act ("INA"), 8 U.S.C. § 1101 et seq. For the reasons set out below, we conclude that the district court had jurisdiction, but we affirm the judgment dismissing the complaint because USCIS correctly used the amended statute in adjudicating Mr. Moore's I-130 Petition.

         I.

         The underlying facts are not in dispute. Mr. Moore is a United States citizen; Mrs. Moore is a citizen of Jamaica. The couple married in February 2006. Two months later, Mr. Moore pleaded guilty to a Colorado sex offense involving a minor victim. The following month, Mr. Moore filed an I-130 Petition, which is the first step to having a non-citizen's immigration status reclassified based on a familial relationship to a U.S. citizen. See 8 U.S.C. § 1154(a)(1)(A)(i); 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(K)(ii).

         At the time Mr. Moore filed his I-130 Petition, 8 U.S.C. § 1154 authorized all U.S. citizens to file an I-130 Petition, have USCIS confirm the bona fides of the factual basis for the adjustment of status, and thereafter obtain USCIS "approval" of the I-130 Petition so that the non-citizen family member could then pursue reclassification. A few months after Mr. Moore filed his I-130 Petition, but before USCIS acted on it, 8 U.S.C. § 1154 was amended as part of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 to require an additional step: USCIS must perform a no-risk determination for U.S. citizen petitioners with a conviction for specified offenses against a minor. The statute was amended in two ways, adding the following italicized text to Clause (i) and adding an entirely new provision as Clause (viii):

(i) Except as provided in clause (viii), any citizen of the United States claiming that an alien is entitled to classification by reason of [marriage] . . . may file a petition with the Attorney General for such classification.
(viii)(I) Clause (i) shall not apply to a citizen of the United States who has been convicted of a specified offense against a minor, unless the Secretary of Homeland Security, in the Secretary's sole and unreviewable discretion, determines that the citizen poses no risk to the alien with respect to whom a petition described in clause (i) is filed.

Clause (viii) also defines what a "specified offense against a minor" is by incorporating the definition from 34 U.S.C. § 20911. 8 U.S.C. § 1154(a)(1)(A)(viii)(II).

         Over three years after Mr. Moore filed his I-130 Petition, in December 2009, USCIS denied it. The administrative record is not part of the record in this case, but the final denial-which followed several appeals to the Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA") and remands to USCIS-was based on USCIS's determination that Mr. Moore had a qualifying conviction for a specified offense against a minor and that he had failed to show he posed no risk to his wife. In August 2017, the BIA issued a one-member final decision dismissing Mr. Moore's appeal of USCIS's decision.

         Thereafter, the Moores filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina alleging that USCIS's denial of Mr. Moore's I-130 Petition violated the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"), the INA, and the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, they alleged that the amended version of 8 U.S.C. § 1154 did not apply to Mr. Moore's I-130 Petition because he had filed the petition prior to the amendment and the statutory language applies prospectively, caveating who may file. They sought a declaratory judgment that Mr. Moore was entitled to approval of his I-130 Petition under the version of § 1154 applicable at the time it was filed.

         USCIS moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, and the district court granted that motion.[1] In sum, the district court concluded that the INA did not authorize federal district courts to review the denial of an I-130 Petition because 8 U.S.C. § 1252(a)(2)(B) stripped federal courts of jurisdiction to review the denial of discretionary relief such as I-130 Petitions. Further, it held that § 1252(a)(2)(D) authorized only courts of appeals to review agency decisions and only in the context of a removal proceeding. Based on its reading of these provisions, the district court held it lacked jurisdiction to consider the Moores' claim. The Moores noted a timely appeal, and the Court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

         II.

         A.

         We review the district court's dismissal of the Moores' complaint under a split standard of review, reviewing its factual findings for clear error and its legal conclusions de novo. Al Shimari v. CACI Premier Tech., Inc., 840 F.3d 147, 154 (4th Cir. 2016). When reviewing the proper interpretation of a statute that is unambiguous, "our analysis begins and ends with the statute's plain language." Ignacio v. United States, 674 F.3d 252, 257 (4th Cir. 2012). Further, we construe "statute[s] affecting federal jurisdiction . . . both with precision and with fidelity to the terms by which Congress has expressed its wishes." Kucana v. Holder, 558 U.S. 233, 252 (2010).

         B.

         Determining if the district court had jurisdiction to consider the Moores' complaint requires us to examine the interplay between the APA and the INA, as well as our prior cases discussing those statutory provisions. Under the APA, an individual who is adversely affected by an agency action "is entitled to judicial review thereof," 5 U.S.C. § 702, with the exception that this express statutory grant of a cause of action does not "affect[] other limitations on judicial review" or "confer[] authority to grant relief if any other statute that grants consent to suit expressly or impliedly forbids the relief that is sought," id. In sum, the APA authorizes suits "except to the extent that" "statutes preclude judicial review" or "agency action is committed to agency discretion by law." 5 U.S.C. ยง 701(a) (emphasis added). The APA thus ...


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