Chang v. Crabill

Decision Date21 June 2011
Docket NumberNo. 1:10 CV 78,1:10 CV 78
PartiesJUDY CHANG, individually and as Mother and Legal and Natural Guardian of R.C., Plaintiffs, v. BRETT CRABILL, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Indiana

This matter is before the court on defendant Brett Crabill's motion to dismiss the complaint filed by the plaintiff, Judy Chang, and her son R.C. (DE # 9.) For the reasons that follow, the motion is denied.


On July 24, 1998, Crabill married Chang, a citizen of Taiwan. (Compl. ¶ 7; DE # 9 ¶ 2.) On August 2, 1999, Crabill prepared and signed Affidavits of Support (Form I-864) which accompanied his petitions requesting that Chang and her son, R.C., be granted permanent resident status in the United States. (Compl. ¶ 8.) The Affidavits stated:

I agree to provide the sponsored immigrant(s) whatever support is necessary to maintain the sponsored immigrant(s) at an income that is at least 125 percent of the Federal poverty guidelines. I understand that my obligation will continue until my death or the sponsored immigrant(s) have become U.S. citizens, can be credited with 40 quarters of work, depart the United States permanently, or die. . . .
I understand that, under section 213A of the Immigration and Nationality Act (the Act), as amended, this affidavit of support constitutes a contract between me and the U.S. Government. This contract is designed to protect the United States Government, and State and local government agencies or private entities that provide means-tested public benefits, from having to pay benefits to or on behalf of the sponsored immigrant(s), for as long as I am obligated to support them under this affidavit of support. I understand that the sponsored immigrants . . . are entitled to sue me if I fail to meet my obligations under this affidavit of support . . . .

(Compl. Ex. A at 4-5, Ex. B at 4-5.)

The petitions were granted, and Chang and R.C. became permanent residents of the United States on or about October 22, 1999. (Compl. ¶ 10.) On or about September 15, 2000, Crabill divorced Chang. (Compl. ¶ 12.) No children were born to Crabill and Chang during the marriage. (DE # 8-7 ¶ 7.) After divorce proceedings concluded in the Circuit Court of Whitley County, Indiana, that court issued a divorce decree1 stating: "No request was made by the respondent [Chang] for spousal maintenance or support of any kind." (DE # 8-7 ¶ 8.) No maintenance or child support was awarded.

Chang and R.C. filed suit in this court on March 19, 2010, alleging that Crabill had failed to provide support as required by the Affidavits of Support since May 1, 2000. (Compl. ¶ 11.) Chang and R.C. requested a judgment in the amount equal to 125% of the federal poverty guideline from May 1, 2000, to the present, plus interest and attorneys' fees, and an order for specific performance to financially support plaintiffs under the terms of the Affidavit. (Compl. 2-3.) Crabill moved to dismiss the complaint,arguing that the divorce decree bars any claim for support under the Affidavits of Support. (DE # 9.)


Crabill has moved to dismiss plaintiffs' claims under RULE 12(b)(6) of the FEDERAL RULES OF CIVIL PROCEDURE for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure sets forth the pleading standard for complaints filed in federal court; specifically, that rule requires that a complaint contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." FED. R. CIV. P. 8. "The Rule reflects a liberal notice pleading regime, which is intended to focus litigation on the merits of a claim rather than on technicalities that might keep plaintiffs out of court." Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 580 (7th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). "While the federal pleading standard is quite forgiving, . . . the complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ray v. City of Chicago, 629 F.3d 660, 662-63 (7th Cir. 2011); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007).

In deciding whether to dismiss, a court may consider the facts alleged in the pleadings and matters of which the court may take judicial notice, such as public records. See Gen. Elec. Capital Corp. v. Lease Resolution Corp., 128 F.3d 1074, 1080-81 (7th Cir. 1997). When evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint, the court must construe it in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, accept well-pleaded facts as true, and draw all inferences in the non-movant's favor. Reger Development, LLC v. Nat'l City Bank, 595 F.3d 759, 763 (7th Cir. 2010).

A. Support for Chang
1. Crabill's Support Obligations in Light of Divorce

To the extent that Crabill argues that his obligation to provide support for Chang under the Affidavit of Support terminated upon Chang and Crabill's divorce, the argument is rejected. Numerous courts have held that a sponsor's obligations under an Affidavit of Support do not terminate upon divorce. See, e.g., Stump v. Stump, No. 1:04 CV 253, 2005 WL 1290658 (N.D. Ind. May 27, 2005); Cheshire v. Cheshire, No. 3:05-cv-453, 2006 WL 1208010, at *4-5 (M.D. Fla. May 4, 2006); Hrachova v. Cook, No. 5:09-cv- 95-Oc-GRJ, 2009 WL 3674851 (M.D. Fla. Nov. 3, 2009); Skorychenko v. Tompkins, No. 08-cv-626, 2009 WL 3126379, at *2 (W.D. Wis. Sept. 28, 2009). As the Hrachova court summarized, "[t]he view that divorce does not terminate the obligation of a sponsor has been recognized by every federal court that has addressed the issue." 2009 WL 3674851, at *3. The court finds no merit in any argument Crabill may be attempting to make that the Affidavit he signed regarding Chang is unenforceable given the termination of Chang and Crabill's marriage.

2. Collateral Estoppel/Issue Preclusion

Crabill also argues that the principle of collateral estoppel applies to bar Chang's claim. In determining the effect of a state court judgment in federal court, the federal court is to apply the collateral estoppel principles of the state that entered the prior judgment - in this case, the State of Indiana. Rekhi v. Wildwood Indust. Inc., 61 F.3d 1313, 1316-17 (7th Cir. 1995). In Indiana, "[c]ollateral estoppel—also referred to as issuepreclusion—bars the subsequent litigation of an issue necessarily adjudicated in a former suit." MicroVote Gen. Corp. v. Ind. Election Comm'n, 924 N.E.2d 184, 197 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010).

However, "[c]ollateral estoppel does not extend to matters that were not expressly adjudicated or to matters that can be inferred from the prior adjudication only by argument." Id. Further, "[t]he primary consideration in the use of collateral estoppel is whether the party against whom the former adjudication is asserted had 'a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue and whether it would be otherwise unfair under the circumstances' to permit the use of issue preclusion in the subsequent action." Id. (citing Bartle v. Health Quest Realty VII, 768 N.E.2d 912, 917 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002)); MH Equity Managing Member, LLC v. Sands, 938 N.E.2d 750, 756 n.1 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010) ("Collateral estoppel does not extend to matters that were not expressly adjudicated or to matters that can be inferred from the prior adjudication only by argument.").

In this case, the state court divorce decree stated that no request was made by Chang for "spousal maintenance or support of any kind." (DE # 8-7 at 1.) This statement is ambiguous at best, and it would require both argument and inference to find that the divorce court adjudicated the issue of immigrant support under the Affidavit of Support. Further, it can hardly be said that Chang had a full and fair opoprtunity to litigate the issue of support under the Affidavit. Accordingly, collateral estoppel does not apply.

3. Res Judicata / Claim Preclusion

Crabill also argues that the principle of res judicata should prevent Chang from suing him under the Affidavit of Support. The Seventh Circuit has held that courts are to "apply state res judicata principles when the earlier action in question was decided in state court." Czarniecki v. City of Chicago, 633 F.3d 545, 548 n.3 (7th Cir. 2011). The parties' divorce proceeding was decided in Indiana state court, so the court will apply Indiana's principles of res judicata.

Under Indiana law, the doctrine of res judicata (a term used interchangeably by the Indiana courts with the term "claim preclusion"2 ) serves to prevent the litigation of matters that have already been litigated. Dev. Servs. Alts., Inc. v. Ind. Family & Soc. Servs. Admin., 915 N.E.2d 169, 179 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009). Res judicata is applicable when a final judgment on the merits has been rendered and acts to bar a subsequent action on the same claim between the same parties. Id. When res judicata applies, all matters that were or might have been litigated are deemed conclusively decided by the judgment in the prior action. Id.

Res judicata or claim preclusion applies when the following four factors are present: (1) the former judgment was rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction; (2) the former judgment was rendered on the merits; (3) the matter now at issue was, or could have been, determined in the prior action; and (4) the controversy adjudicated inthe former action was between parties to the present suit or their privies. TacCo Falcon Point, Inc. v. Atlantic Ltd. Partnership XII, 937 N.E.2d 1212, 1218 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010). The parties really only dispute the third element; specifically, the parties disagree as to whether the issue of support under the Affidavit of Support was or could have been adjudicated during the parties' divorce proceedings.

Res judicata is a defense for which Crabill will ultimately possess the burden of proof at trial, not Chang. Kulavic v. Chi. & Ill. Midland Ry. Co., 1 F.3d 507, 517 (7th Cir.1993); Lake Monroe Reg. Waste Dist. v. Waicukauski...

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