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Sikander v. Lynch

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

October 25, 2017



          PAMELA PEPPER United States District Judge

         The plaintiffs filed this case under the Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”), 5 U.S.C. §701, et seq., challenging the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services' (“USCIS”) denial of the I-130 petition Catherine Sikander filed on her husband's behalf. An I-130 petition establishes a United States citizen's relationship to a relative wishing to immigrate to the United States. The defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that there was no genuine issue of material fact, and that the denial of the I-130 petition was reasonable and not arbitrary or capricious, or otherwise contrary to law. The defendants also argued that the plaintiffs provided no evidence to support their Fifth Amendment Due Process claim. At a hearing on October 18, 2017, the court granted the defendants' summary judgment motion. This order provides the court's reasoning in more detail.

         I. Standard of review

          The APA governs judicial review of an agency's final decision, Boutté v. Duncan, 348 Fed.Appx. 151, 154 (7th Cir. 2009), and the standards the court applies on summary judgment in APA cases differ from those the court applies in a typical civil case. J.N. Moser Trucking, Inc. v. U.S. Dept. of Labor, 306 F.Supp.2d 774, 781 (N.D. Ill. 2004). The evidence to which the court looks in deciding a summary judgment motion in an APA case is the administrative record presented by the agency. See Florida Power & Light Co. v. Lorion, 470 U.S. 729, 744-745 (1985).

         A court may set aside an administrative agency's decision only if it is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.” 5 U.S.C. §706(2)(A); Israel v. USDA, 282 F.3d 521, 526 (7th Cir. 2002). To determine whether the agency's decision was arbitrary or capricious, the court considers whether it was “‘based on a consideration of the relevant factors and whether there has been clear error of judgment.'” Ind. Forest Alliance, Inc. v. United States Forest Serv., 325 F.3d 851, 858-59 (7th Cir. 2003) (quoting Marsh v. Oregon Natural Res. Council, 490 U.S. 360, 378 (1989)). Under this narrow, highly deferential standard, the court upholds an administrative decision so long as “the agency's path may be reasonably discerned.” Mt. Sinai Hosp. Med. Ctr. v. Shalala, 196 F.3d 703, 708 (7th Cir.1999) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). A court will not vacate an agency's decision unless the agency has

relied on factors which Congress had not intended it to consider, entirely failed to consider an important aspect of the problem, offered an explanation for it decision that runs counter to the explanation before the agency, or is so implausible that it could not be ascribed to a difference in view or the product of agency expertise.

Nat'l Ass'n of Home Builders v. Defenders of Wildlife, 551 U.S. 644, 658 (2007) (citation omitted). It is not enough that [the court] might have reached a different conclusion; so long as a reasonable mind could find adequate support for the [agency's] decision, it must stand.” Ogbolumani v. Napolitano, 557 F.3d 729, 733 (7th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted).

         On the other hand, a reviewing court may not defend a decision on a new ground not set forth in the original decision. Lara v. Lynch, 789 F.3d 800, 806 (7th Cir. 2015).

         II. Analysis

         A. The Plaintiffs' Failure to Comply with the Rules

         Rule 56(c)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires a party asserting that a fact is genuinely disputed to support that assertion by

citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers or other materials

or “showing the materials cited do not establish the absence . . . of a genuine dispute or that the adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). Civil Local Rule 56(b)(2)(B)(i) requires that the party opposing the motion file a concise response to the moving party's statement of facts, with “specific references to the affidavits, declarations, parts of the record and other supporting materials relied upon.” Civ. L.R. 56(b)(2)(B)(i)(E.D. Wis.).

         The plaintiffs have not complied with these rules. The plaintiffs did not file their own proposed findings of fact. Instead, they filed a document entitled “Plaintiffs' Responses to Defendants' Proposed Findings of Facts in Support of Summary Judgment.” Dkt. No. 18. This document reproduces each of the defendant's proposed findings of fact in paragraph form, then follows each paragraph with language such as, “Response: Agree, ” or “Response: Deny and object as to relevance, ” or “Deny.” These bare assertions do not comply with the requirements of the rules-they do not provide the court with citations to the administrative record to refute the facts they purport to deny.

         The plaintiffs also filed a brief in opposition to the motion for summary judgment, in which they asserted certain facts. Dkt. No. 16. The plaintiffs did not attach any excerpts of the administrative record to the brief, and in many places, they asserted facts without referencing any support for those facts in the administrative record. For example, on page 7 of the brief, in footnote 2, the plaintiffs state, “Catherine was not living in Arizona for more than one year as the government suggests.” Dkt. No. 16 at 7, n.2. There is no cite to the record in support of this claim. In other places, the plaintiffs cite to the record, but the record does not support the fact they assert. For example, on page 8 of their brief, the plaintiffs state that notes from two USCIS interviews reflected that Catherine Sikander had told the interviewer that Hyat Sikander had attended two different mosques and that he attended church with her one time. The brief cites to the administrative record at pages 224-226. But the notes state, “-Muslim, Kenosha, 60th St. Hw C, Milwaukee, Every Friday, --Christian, went one time in Kenosha *does not know when/where, Assembly of God. Over a year since last time.” Dkt. No. 11-3 at 65-67. In other places, the plaintiffs stated facts “upon information and belief.” Dkt. No. 16 at 9, n.3.

         The plaintiffs failed to support their own arguments with additional proposed findings, or with specific citations to the record, as required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 and Civil L.R. 56(b)(2)(B)(ii). Accordingly, in deciding whether to grant or deny the motion for summary judgment, the court looked only to the ...

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