Nazari v. Quintana

Docket Number22-CV-9812 (RA)
Decision Date24 July 2023
PartiesAZARNOUSH NAZARI, Plaintiff, v. SUSAN QUINTANA, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of New York
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

RONNIE ABRAMS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Plaintiff Azarnoush Nazari, an Iranian national and lawful permanent resident of the United States, brought this action seeking review of the denial of her application for naturalization by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”). After Nazari applied for naturalization pursuant to Section 319(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”), codified at 8 U.S.C § 1430(a), which permits the spouses of U.S. citizens to obtain citizenship on an expedited timeline, her U.S.-citizen husband passed away. Now before the Court is Defendant's motion to dismiss. Although the circumstances giving rise to this action are tragic, Nazari's claims are foreclosed as a matter of law. Plain language interpretations of § 1430(a) conclusively establish that, given her husband's death, Nazari is no longer the “spouse of a U.S citizen” and thus cannot naturalize pursuant to that section's expedited process. See, e.g., In re Yao Quinn Lee, 480 F.2d 673, 675 (2d Cir. 1973) (holding that the statute “quite plainly requires marriage to a citizen not only for three years prior to filing the petition, but also at the time of naturalization”). Accordingly, for the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted.

Notably however, while the Court agrees with USCIS that Nazari is unable to obtain expedited naturalization under § 1430(a), she remains eligible to file for naturalization under the standard timeframe available to all lawful permanent residents. Based upon a review of the record, she is currently able to file an N-400 application under 8 U.S.C. § 1427(a), and became eligible to do so on April 21, 2023, 90 days before she met the five-year residency requirement.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are taken from the Complaint and are assumed to be true for purposes of the present motion. See Stadnick v. Vivint Solar, Inc., 861 F.3d 31, 35 (2d Cir. 2017).

Plaintiff Azarnoush Nazari is an Iranian national and lawful permanent resident of the United States; she lives in New York County where she is employed as a Program Manager. Compl. ¶ 2. In December 2015, Nazari married Cody William Broderick, a U.S. citizen, in New York City. Id. ¶ 5. On July 20, 2018, Nazari was lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence, id. ¶ 7, and, on May 5, 2021, she applied for naturalization under Section 319(a) of the INA, see 8 U.S.C. § 1430(a), as the spouse of a U.S. citizen, id. ¶ 8. There is no dispute that Nazari and Broderick lived together as a married couple for nearly six years until Broderick's untimely death on September 28, 2021, while Nazari's application for naturalization remained pending. Id. ¶ 6.

On January 31, 2022, Nazari's application was denied by USCIS. Id. ¶ 9. In the denial, she was informed that [she] ha[d] not been married to [her] U.S. citizen spouse for the requisite time period,” given that Broderick passed away in September 2021. Id. ¶ 9. On March 3, 2022, Nazari filed a request for a hearing, id. ¶ 10, and on October 21, 2022, USCIS denied the request for the same reasons it had previously given in denying Nazari's application for naturalization, id. ¶ 11. Nazari thereafter filed this action on November 17, 2022. See Dkt. 1.

LEGAL STANDARD

“To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The Court must accept as true all factual allegations and draw all reasonable inferences in Plaintiffs' favor, see Goldstein v. Pataki, 516 F.3d 50, 56 (2d Cir. 2008), but it need not credit “mere conclusory statements,” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal citations and alterations omitted). “At the motion-to-dismiss stage, the Court's review is limited to the facts as-pleaded by the plaintiff, documents appended to or referred to in the complaint, and to matters of which judicial notice may be taken.” Hesse v. Godiva Chocolatier, Inc., 463 F.Supp.3d 453, 462 (S.D.N.Y. 2020) (cleaned up); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c) ([A]n exhibit to a pleading is part of the pleading for all purposes.”).

DISCUSSION

To be eligible for naturalization, an applicant must satisfy several requirements set forth in both the INA and associated regulations. See, e.g., Khawaja v. Mueller, 2012 WL 4739604, at *2 (S.D. Tex. Oct. 3, 2012). The parties here agree that the only one at issue is whether Nazari met the residence requirement relevant to her application. See 8 U.S.C. § 1427(a). Typically, to be eligible for naturalization, an applicant must have lived lawfully and continuously in the United States as a lawful permanent resident for five years prior to filing their application. See id. Where a foreign national is married to a U.S. citizen, however, they may obtain expedited naturalization- that is, such an applicant need only have lived lawfully and continuously as a lawful permanent resident for three years prior to filing their application, provided that they were “living in marital union” with the citizen spouse throughout the three-year period. See 8 U.S.C. § 1430(a); see also 8 C.F.R. § 319.1(a)(3) (DHS regulation providing the same). Because Nazari would have satisfied the three-year residency requirement if her husband had been living at the time her application was processed, the question before this Court is whether Nazari remained eligible for expedited naturalization under 8 U.S.C. § 1430(a) notwithstanding her husband's death in September 2021.

Unfortunately, the Court must conclude that she did not. The statutory language of § 1430(a)-as interpreted by the Second Circuit, other district courts, and DHS in its own regulations-forecloses Ms. Nazari's claim that USCIS erred in denying her application. As explained below, because her husband was no longer living at the time her naturalization application was processed, Ms. Nazari was not eligible for expedited naturalization. The INA provides, in relevant part:

any person whose spouse is a citizen of the United States .. may be naturalized upon compliance with all requirements of this subchapter ... if such person immediately preceding the date of filing his application for naturalization has resided continuously, after being lawfully admitted for permanent residence, within the United States for at least three years, and during the three years immediately preceding the date of filing his application has been living in marital union with the citizen spouse.

8 U.S.C. § 1430(a). The Second Circuit has held that this “statutory language itself . quite plainly requires marriage to a citizen not only for three years prior to filing the petition, but also at the time of naturalization.” In re Yao Quinn Lee, 480 F.2d 673, 675 (2d Cir. 1973) (emphasis added). In that case, the petitioner, a citizen of Hong Kong and lawful permanent resident of the United States, had filed an application for naturalization with the then-controlling agency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (“INS”). Id. at 674. After the INS recommended that his application be denied for reasons unrelated to whether he met the residency requirement as the spouse of a citizen, the petitioner challenged the denial in federal district court, which entered judgment against him; critically, while his appeal before the Second Circuit was pending, his wife secured a “final decree of divorce.” Id. at 675. The Court of Appeals refused to adjudicate his challenge to the denial of his naturalization application, reasoning that he “no longer f[ell] within the literal purview of section 319(a) [(codified at 8 U.S.C. § 1430(a))] and [wa]s ineligible for naturalization under that section.” Id. In short: because he was no longer married to a U.S. citizen, the Circuit held that he was not eligible for expedited naturalization under the INA. See id.

In the time since, district courts have uniformly held that [i]t is undisputed that [§ 1430(a)] requires marriage at the time naturalization is granted.” Ali v. Smith, 39 F.Supp.2d 1254, 1256 (W.D. Wash. 1999); see also Paiva v. Curda, 2017 WL 924457 (C.D Cal. Mar. 8, 2017) (“Because the undisputed facts show that Paiva is no longer married to [the citizen spouse], he can no longer qualify” for expedited naturalization.); Alenazi v. USCIS, 2010 WL 3988744 (S.D. Cal. Oct. 12, 2010) ([T]he INA requires an applicant who chooses to apply pursuant to the three-year residency requirement under Section 1430(a) to remain to be married to the United States citizen at the time of actual naturalization, and not just at the time of filing the application.”). And while each of these decisions, like In re Yao Quinn Lee, concerned divorce from a U.S. citizen spouse during the pendency of a naturalization application, as Plaintiff rightly points out, see Opp. at 11-12, the reasoning they adopted did not hinge on why a marital union had terminated, but rather on the...

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