Ardestani v. Immigration and Naturalization Service

Decision Date10 December 1991
Docket NumberNo. 90-1141,90-1141
Citation116 L.Ed.2d 496,112 S.Ct. 515,502 U.S. 129
PartiesRafeh-Rafie ARDESTANI, Petitioner v. IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICE
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

After petitioner Ardestani prevailed in an administrative deportation proceeding brought by respondent Immigration and Naturalization Service, an immigration judge awarded her attorney's fees and costs under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), which permits a prevailing party in an "adversary adjudication" before an administrative agency to recover fees from the Government, 5 U.S.C. § 504(a)(1). The EAJA defines an "adversary adjudication," in relevant part, as "an adjudication under section 554 of [Title 5]," which is part of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). § 504(b)(1)(C)(i). Section 554, in turn, applies, inter alia, to "every case of adjudication required by statute to be determined on the record after opportunity for an agency hearing." The Board of Immigration Appeals vacated and denied Ardestani's award on the ground that deportation proceedings are not within the EAJA's scope, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Administrative deportation proceedings are not adversary adjudications "under section 554" and thus do not fall within the category of proceedings for which the EAJA has waived sovereign immunity and authorized the award of attorney's fees and costs. Pp. 132-139.

(a) Although immigration proceedings are required by the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) to be determined on the record after a hearing, 8 U.S.C. § 1252(b), they are not governed by the APA. Marcello v. Bonds, 349 U.S. 302, 75 S.Ct. 757, 99 L.Ed. 1107. It is immaterial that regulations have been promulgated conforming deportation hearings more closely to the procedures required for APA adjudications, for Marcello rests in large part on the INA's prescription that it "shall be the sole and exclusive procedure for determining [an alien's] deportability," 8 U.S.C. § 1252(b) (emphasis added), and leaves open no possibility that the INA should be displaced by the APA if the regulations governing immigration proceedings become functionally equivalent to § 554's procedures. Pp. 133-134.

(b) The most natural reading of the EAJA's applicability to adjudications "under section 554," and that adopted by seven Courts of Appeals, is that those proceedings must be "subject to" or "governed by" § 554. The strong presumption that the statute's plain language expresses congressional intent, Rubin v. United States, 449 U.S. 424, 430, 101 S.Ct. 698, 701, 702, 66 L.Ed.2d 633, is not rebutted by any statements in the EAJA's legislative history. Thus, the meaning of "under section 554" is unambiguous in the context of the EAJA and does not permit Ardestani's reading that, since both deportation and § 554 proceedings are required "to be determined on the record after opportunity for an agency hearing," the phrase "under section 554" encompasses all adjudications "as defined in" § 554(a), even if they are not otherwise governed by that section. This conclusion is reinforced by the limited nature of waivers of sovereign immunity. The EAJA renders the United States liable for attorney's fees and, thus, amounts to a partial waiver of sovereign immunity, which must be strictly construed in the United States' favor, see, e.g., Library of Congress v. Shaw, 478 U.S. 310, 318, 106 S.Ct. 2957, 2963, 92 L.Ed.2d 250. United States v. Kubrick, 444 U.S. 111, 118, 100 S.Ct. 352, 357, 62 L.Ed.2d 259; Irwin v. Department of Veterans Affairs, 498 U.S. ----, ----, 111 S.Ct. 805, ----, 112 L.Ed.2d 865; Sullivan v. Hudson, 490 U.S. 877, 892, 109 S.Ct. 2248, 2258, 104 L.Ed.2d 941, distinguished. Also rejected is Ardestani's argument that a functional interpretation of the EAJA is needed to further the legislative goals underlying the statute. While making the EAJA applicable to deportation proceedings would serve its broad purposes of eliminating financial disincentives for those who would defend against unjustified governmental action and deterring the unreasonable exercise of Government authority, it is the province of Congress to decide whether to bring such proceedings within the statute's scope. Pp. 134-138.

904 F.2d 1505 (CA11 1990), affirmed.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, SCALIA, KENNEDY, and SOUTER, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEVENS, J., joined. THOMAS, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

David N. Soloway, Atlanta, Ga., for petitioner.

Lawrence G. Wallace, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Justice O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner Rafeh-Rafie Ardestani prevailed in an administrative deportation proceeding brought by respondent Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). She sought attorney's fees and costs under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 5 U.S.C. § 504 and 28 U.S.C. § 2412, which provides that prevailing parties in certain adversarial proceedings may recover attorney's fees from the Government. We now consider whether the EAJA authorizes the award of attorney's fees and costs for administrative deportation proceedings before the INS. We conclude that it does not.

I

Ardestani is an Iranian woman of the Bahai faith who entered the United States as a visitor in December 1982. She remained in this country lawfully until the end of May 1984 and then sought asylum. The United States Department of State informed the INS that Ardestani's fear of persecution upon return to Iran was well founded. In February 1986, however, the INS denied Ardestani's asylum application on the ground that, before entering the United States, she had reached a "safe haven" in Luxembourg and had established residence there. Ardestani advised the INS that she had been in Luxembourg only three days en route to the United States, that she had stayed in a hotel, and that she had never applied for residency in that country. Nonetheless, the following month, the INS issued an order to show cause why she should not be deported.

At the deportation hearing, Ardestani successfully renewed her application for asylum. She then applied for attorney's fees and costs under the EAJA. The immigration judge awarded attorney's fees in the amount of $1,071.85 based on his determination that Ardestani was the "prevailing party" in the adjudication and that the position of the INS in pursuing her deportation was not "substantially justified." The INS appealed the award of fees to the Board of Immigration Appeals. The Board vacated and denied the award on the ground that the Attorney General has determined that deportation proceedings are not within the scope of the EAJA. See 28 CFR § 24.103 (1991); 46 Fed.Reg. 48921, 48922 (1981) (interim rule). A divided Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit denied Ardestani's petition for review and held that the EAJA does not apply to administrative deportation proceedings. Ardestani v. INS, 904 F.2d 1505 (1990).

We granted certiorari, 499 U.S. ----, 111 S.Ct. 1101, 113 L.Ed.2d 212 (1991), to resolve a conflict among the United States Courts of Appeals 1 and now affirm.

II

The EAJA provides that prevailing parties in certain adversary administrative proceedings may recover attorney's fees and costs from the Government. In pertinent part, 5 U.S.C. § 504(a)(1) provides that "[a]n agency that conducts an adversary adjudication shall award, to a prevailing party other than the United States, fees and other expenses incurred by that party in connection with that proceeding, unless the adjudicative officer of the agency finds that the position of the agency was substantially justified or that special circumstances make an award unjust." The EAJA defines an "adversary adjudication" as "an adjudication under section 554 of this title in which the position of the United States is represented by counsel or otherwise." 5 U.S.C. § 504(b)(1)(C)(i). Section 554 of Title 5, in turn, delineates the scope of proceedings governed by the formal adjudication requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), see 5 U.S.C. §§ 556, 557, and sets forth some of those requirements. As both parties agree that the United States was represented by counsel in Ardestani's deportation proceeding, the sole question presented in this case is whether that proceeding was an adversary adjudication "under section 554" within the meaning of the EAJA.

A.

Section 554(a) states that the provisions of that section apply to "every case of adjudication required by statute to be determined on the record after opportunity for an agency hearing," with six statutory exceptions not relevant here. Subsections (b) through (e) of § 554 establish the procedures that must be followed in the agency adjudications described in subsection (a). Although immigration proceedings are required by statute to be determined on the record after a hearing, 8 U.S.C. § 1252(b), we previously have decided that they are not governed by the APA. Marcello v. Bonds, 349 U.S. 302, 75 S.Ct. 757, 99 L.Ed. 1107 (1955).

In Marcello, we held that Congress intended the provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (INA), 66 Stat. 163, as amended, 8 U.S.C. 1101 et seq., to supplant the APA in immigration proceedings. Two years before the enactment of the INA, we had concluded that immigration proceedings were subject to the APA. Wong Yang Sung v. McGrath, 339 U.S. 33, 70 S.Ct. 445, 94 L.Ed. 616 (1950). Congress legislatively overruled that decision almost immediately afterward in a rider to the Supplemental Appropriation Act, 1951. 64 Stat. 1044, 1048 (1950). In Marcello, we had to determine whether, in revising the immigration laws in 1952 and repealing the rider, Congress had reversed its previous position and reinstated the holding of the Wong Yang Sung case. We held that the INA "expressly supersedes" the hearing provisions of the APA in light of "the...

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