511 F.3d 324 (2nd Cir. 2007), 06-0735, Puello v. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services

Docket Nº:Docket No. 06-0735-cv.
Citation:511 F.3d 324
Party Name:Manuel PUELLO, Petitioner-Appellant, v. BUREAU OF CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES, Respondent-Appellee.
Case Date:December 20, 2007
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
 
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511 F.3d 324 (2nd Cir. 2007)

Manuel PUELLO, Petitioner-Appellant,

v.

BUREAU OF CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES, Respondent-Appellee.

Docket No. 06-0735-cv.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.

Dec. 20, 2007

Argued Nov. 7, 2007.

Appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Keenan, J.) granting summary judgment to respondent-appellee and affirming the denial of the petitioner's naturalization application by the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS). The BCIS and district court held that, as someone who had been convicted of an aggravated felony after the enactment of the 1990 amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act, the petitioner could not show the good moral character necessary for naturalization. The petitioner contends that he was actually convicted, for purposes of the statute, on the date he entered his guilty plea, which was prior to the enactment of the amendments. As such, the petitioner argues that he should be permitted to show his good moral character, notwithstanding his conviction of an aggravated felony. The district court held that, for purposes of the Act, the date of conviction is either the sentencing date or the date of entry of the judgment, and therefore the petitioner was convicted after the amendment to the statute. We AFFIRM the district court.

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Matthew L. Guadagno, (Jules E. Coven, Kerry W. Bretz, of counsel) Bretz & Coven, LLP, New York, NY, for Petitioner-Appellant.

F. James Loprest, Special Assistant United States Attorney (Kathy S. Marks, Assistant United States Attorney, of counsel) for Michael J. Garcia, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, New York, NY, for Respondent-Appellee.

Before: CABRANES, SACK, and KATZMANN, Circuit Judges.

KATZMANN, Circuit Judge:

This case calls on us to decide when a "conviction" occurs for purposes of the naturalization provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. § 1101(f)(8) (as amended by the Immigration Act of 1990, Pub. L. 101-649, Title V, 104 Stat. 4978, 5051 (Nov. 29, 1990)). The petitioner-appellant, Manuel Puello, appeals from a decision of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (John F. Keenan, J.) affirming the denial by the respondent-appellee Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) of Puello's application for naturalization. Under the 1990 amendments to the INA, if a person is "convicted" of an aggravated felony after the date of enactment of the statute, November 29, 1990, that person is statutorily precluded from establishing the "good moral character" required for naturalization. 8 U.S.C. § 1101(f)(8); 8 C.F.R. § 316.10(b)(1)(ii). In pertinent part, the INA defines "conviction" as a "formal judgment of guilt of the alien entered by a court." 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(48)(A). Puello pleaded guilty to an aggravated felony, conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute, on December 12, 1989. He was sentenced on April 3, 1991, and the district court entered judgment against him on April 10, 1991.

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Puello argues that the date of his conviction was the date of his guilty plea, which was before the amendment to the INA became effective. BCIS contends, and the district court held, that the date of Puello's conviction was either his sentencing date or the date judgment was entered against him --both of which occurred after the amendment of the INA. If Puello is correct, the statute does not preclude him from proving his good moral character; conversely, if BCIS is correct, Puello cannot prove his good moral character and is barred from naturalization. We have not yet had occasion to address this question. For the reasons stated below, we affirm the district court's decision.

BACKGROUND

Petitioner-appellant Manuel Puello is a fifty-one year-old immigrant from the Dominican Republic. He has been a lawful permanent resident of the United States since October 14, 1974, and is married to a United States citizen. On September 21, 1989, a Southern District of New York grand jury indicted Puello on charges of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance, arising out of his negotiations to sell approximately two kilograms of cocaine to a confidential informant. Puello pleaded guilty to the conspiracy count before United States District Judge Robert Patterson on December 12, 1989. Puello's sentencing did not occur, however, until April 3, 1991, when Judge Patterson sentenced Puello to time served and four years of supervised release. The clerk filed the Judgment in a Criminal Case on April 10, 1991. The judgment indicates that the court sentenced Puello to a below-guidelines sentence on motion of the government as a result of Puello's substantial assistance, perhaps explaining the lengthy delay between Puello's guilty plea and his sentencing.

Puello applied for United States citizenship on October 5, 2001. In his application, Puello responded affirmatively to the question asking whether he had ever been convicted of a crime. On September 13, 2002, following an investigation, BCIS informed Puello that federal immigration regulations rendered him ineligible for naturalization. In its decision denying Puello's application, BCIS noted that, under 8 C.F.R. § 316.2(a)(7), an applicant must establish that he "has been and continues to be a person of good moral character." BCIS then quoted 8 C.F.R. § 316.10(b), which states that an "applicant shall be found to lack good moral character, if the applicant has been . . . convicted of an aggravated felony . . . on or after November 29, 1990." The decision explained that Puello's federal conviction occurred on April 3, 1991. Because Puello's conviction was for an aggravated felony, as defined by 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(43)(B), he was therefore "precluded from establishing good moral character since [his] conviction occurred subsequent to November 29, 1990." Puello requested a review hearing, arguing that BCIS had erred: According to Puello, his conviction occurred on December 12, 1989, the date of his guilty plea. On February 28, 2003, the BCIS District Director affirmed the denial of Puello's application.

On June 6, 2003, Puello filed a petition for de novo review of the denial of his application in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. See 8 U.S.C. § 1421(c) ("A person whose application for naturalization under this subchapter is denied . . . may seek review of such denial before the United States district court .... Such review shall be de novo, and the court shall make its own findings of fact and conclusions of law ...."). Both parties agreed to the material

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facts and moved for summary judgment. The district court issued an opinion and order granting BCIS's motion for summary judgment and affirming the denial of Puello's application on December 13, 2005. See Puello v. Bureau of Citizenship & Immigration Servs., 418 F.Supp.2d 436 (S.D.N.Y. 2005). The district court held that the date of Puello's conviction was either his sentencing date or the date the judgment was entered on the docket, both of which occurred after November 29, 1990. Id. Puello timely filed this appeal.

DISCUSSION

Standard of Review

We review de novo a district court's grant of summary judgment. Sheppard v. Beerman, 317 F.3d 351, 354 (2d Cir. 2003). Summary judgment is properly granted when "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In this case, the parties agree to all material facts - -the critical issue is the interpretation of the definition of "conviction" in the INA. We review such questions of statutory interpretation de novo. Auburn Hous. Auth. v. Martinez, 277 F.3d 138, 143 (2d Cir. 2002).

The Meaning of the Word "Conviction" in the INA

In this case, our principal task is to determine whether, under the definition of "conviction" in 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(48)(A), a "formal judgment of guilt of the alien entered by a court" occurs at the time of the alien's guilty plea to a criminal charge, or on the date of sentencing or entry of the judgment. "Statutory construction . . . is a holistic endeavor." United Sav. Ass'n of Texas v. Timbers of Inwood Forest Assocs., Ltd., 484 U.S. 365, 371, 108 S.Ct. 626, 98 L.Ed.2d 740 (1988). To interpret the terms of a statute, we look first to the statutory language itself. See Auburn Hous. Auth., 277 F.3d at 143 (citing Mallard v. United States Dist. Court, 490 U.S. 296, 300, 109 S.Ct. 1814, 104 L.Ed.2d 318 (1989))...

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