Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Complaint Against Immigration Attorney Reinstated

The New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department reinstated a dismissed action brought by an employee who was represented in an immigration matter by an attorney retained by the employer. The court found that there were issues that could not be resolved on motion:

...even if it could be said that defendant, despite the lack of an expert, sustained his prima facie burden simply by pointing to plaintiff's failure to maintain a valid passport, plaintiff raised an issue of fact sufficient to defeat the motion. Plaintiff's expert opined in his affidavit that in his experience, the failure to maintain a valid passport has never resulted in a person's loss of legal immigration status. Defendant failed to rebut this. Therefore, a trial is necessary to determine whether plaintiff's actions excuse defendant from liability.

Not even defendant makes the argument, advanced by the dissent, that even assuming plaintiff was illegally benched and had a valid passport, it still would have been proper for defendant to petition for a renewal of the visa. In any event, the argument is meritless. First, the dissent places the burden on plaintiff to explain what he was doing during the 16 months he was not working for WFI [the employer] , when it was defendant's burden to negate the allegation in the complaint that plaintiff was illegally benched. The dissent fails to address the fact that defendant presented not one whit of admissible evidence that plaintiff voluntarily separated himself from WFI.

Furthermore, the dissent's view would permit an unlawful and vindictive act by an employer to work to the detriment of an innocent alien. We find it improbable that defendant would have lacked any ability to present these unique facts to immigration authorities and explain the extraordinary prejudice that would befall plaintiff were he forced to make a trip to a war-torn country to validate a renewed visa that could have simply been extended had his employer not acted in a manner contrary to law. Even if the regulations were so inflexible, as the dissent believes, it would have been necessary for defendant to support his position with expert testimony explaining why even under such extreme circumstances his hands were tied. Indeed, as discussed above, the immigration regulations at issue here, including the section requiring a valid passport at the time an application for extension is filed, are hardly self-explanatory, nor is it possible to conclude from their face that defendant had no chance of successfully securing an extension of plaintiff's visa. Accordingly, we reject the dissent's position that Supreme Court was "able to assess the adequacy of the legal services rendered, and require[d] no expert guidance."

The dissent notes that the employer had rehired the employee after the events that were the basis of the case:

The failure of proof on the dismissal motion lies not with defendant, but with plaintiff. Significantly, the reason for plaintiff's "separation" from his employment — whether benching, as plaintiff now maintains, or abandonment of his job, as WFI records indicate — presents a question of fact. Plaintiff has submitted no affidavit in opposition to the motion explaining why he left WFI or what he was doing during the ensuing 16 months; nothing in the record provides an explanation, including the Kuck affidavit, which — as the affidavit of an attorney unaccompanied by documentary evidence — is without probative value (Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 NY2d 557, 563 [1980]). In the absence of a submission, in admissible form, attesting that plaintiff at all times met the conditions of his H1-B visa, the opposition fails to allege that but for defendant's malpractice, plaintiff could have received a visa extension (see Yong Wong Park v Wolff & Samson, P.C., 56 AD3d 351 [2008], lv denied 12 NY3d 704 [2009]). The expert's submission is thus procedurally deficient, warranting dismissal of the complaint on that basis alone (see Alvarez v Prospect Hosp., 68 NY2d 320, 327 [1986]), since plaintiff has failed to provide a viable theory of malpractice by defendant supported by the requisite factual predicate.

Plaintiff's opposition evades discussion of the circumstances under which he left WFI and what he was doing during the 16 months before he was rehired, and fails to address such matters as whether he took alternative employment to support his family (a wife and a child born in February 1999) during this period. The opposition to the motion only suggests, by indirection, that there was some misconduct on the part of WFI in connection with plaintiff's separation from his employment with the company, but neglects to supply any information to support that intimation or to connect it to the conduct alleged to constitute malpractice. Finally, plaintiff coyly offers only the affidavit of his purported expert in immigration law, in lieu of a sound legal argument supporting his cause of action.

(Mike Frisch)

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