Friday, June 21, 2013

Immigration Malpractice Claim Reinstated

A women from Ecuador who entered the United States illegally after an earlier removal has a viable claim for malpractice against the attorneys retained to assist her, according to a recent opinion of the New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department.

The court reversed the lower court's dismissal:

We disagree with the motion court's conclusion that due to intervening events, defendant law firm and Bretz's malpractice was not a "but for" cause of plaintiff's removal from the United States. Plaintiff was unambiguously ineligible for relief under prevailing case law when defendants submitted her application to immigration authorities. Once her application was submitted and denied and the removal order reinstated, any efforts by Kahn, whom plaintiff had retained to represent her after terminating defendants' services, were too late to remedy the situation. By that point, the only intervening event sufficient to break the causal chain would have been a change in the relevant immigration law. The passage of four years between plaintiff's consultation with defendants and her removal did not disrupt the chain of causation.

When defendants submitted plaintiff's application, the government had already publicly announced that it would not grant relief to those in her position in light of the BIA's decision in Matter of Torres-Garcia (see e.g. CIS Interoffice Memo dated Mar. 31, 2006, p. 2, attached to the complaint and available at, stating that in light of Torres-Garcia, "in any case where an alien is inadmissible under section 212(a)(9)(C)(i) of the INA and 10 years have not elapsed since the date of the alien's last departure from the United States, USCIS should deny any Form I-212 requesting consent to reapply for admission"). However, instead of advising plaintiff concerning the clear implications of the BIA's ruling in Torres-Garcia — to which the Ninth Circuit owed deference under Chevron USA — defendants assured plaintiff "she would not be deported much less detained" if she applied.

Given plaintiff's allegations that she had no chance of obtaining immigration relief and that defendants failed to thoroughly discuss the possibility, if not certainty, of reinstatement of the order of deportation and removal upon submission of the application, plaintiff has sufficiently alleged that defendants followed an unreasonable course of action in pursuing the application. Moreover, she has sufficiently alleged proximate cause, because the submission of the application alerted authorities to her status, which led to the issuance of the reinstatement order and ultimately to her removal. Plaintiff's unlawful status alone did not trigger her removal, since she had resided in the United States, albeit unlawfully, for more than six years; she was removed only after defendants affirmatively alerted immigration authorities to her presence. The record does not indicate on this motion pursuant to CPLR 3211 that plaintiff would have otherwise come to the attention of the immigration authorities. Without discovery on the issue, it cannot yet be said, as defendants assert, that plaintiff would have been deported regardless of defendants' malpractice. Indeed, had plaintiff waited four more years she would have been eligible to apply for reinstatement under INA § 212(a)(9)(C)(ii), which provides that an alien in plaintiff's position can apply for admission if more than ten years have passed from the date of the alien's last departure from the United States.(citations omitted)

The client's malpractice claim against her appellate counsel was dismissed.

The client had married a U.S. citizen who also is an attorney. The court here affirmed the lower court's conclusion that the husband-attorney was disqualified under the witness-advocate rule. (Mike Frisch)

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