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Ruggeri v. Paulin

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

November 18, 2019

DENIA AZALI RUGGERI, Plaintiff,
v.
BRUCE PAULIN, Director of the Oklahoma City Field Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services; KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security; and ROBERT TROESTER, First Assistant United States Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma, Defendants.

          ORDER

          PATRICK R. WYRICK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendants seek summary judgment arguing that Plaintiff cannot satisfy the requirements for naturalization because her prior conviction under 21 O.S. § 1287(A) is an aggravated felony for purposes of 8 U.S.C. § 1101(f)(8) and therefore prohibits her as a matter of law from demonstrating the requisite “good moral character.”[1] The motion was heard on November 4, 2019, and is denied for the reasons given below.

         Background

         Plaintiff has been a permanent resident of the United States since 1994.[2] Recently, she wanted to become a United States citizen, so she applied to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for naturalization.[3] USCIS denied her application, alleging[4] that she had been convicted of an aggravated felony described in 18 U.S.C. § 924(b) that precludes her from demonstrating the requisite “good moral character” for naturalization.[5] Plaintiff then filed this action pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1421(c) seeking de novo review of USCIS's denial. Defendants seeks summary judgment on the basis that no material facts are in dispute and Plaintiff's prior conviction of an aggravated felony means as a matter of law she cannot demonstrate good moral character. While Plaintiff agrees that the material facts cited by Defendants are not in dispute, [6] she does not believe that her prior conviction is an aggravated felony; thus, Plaintiff asserts summary judgment is inappropriate and she is entitled to a hearing at which she can attempt to demonstrate the requisite good moral character.[7]

         Legal Standard

         Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is a judicial efficiency-promoting mechanism used to “isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses . . . .”[8] A motion for summary judgment must be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”[9] In this assessment, the Court views “the facts and evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.”[10]

         Naturalization

         An alien may be naturalized if she has lawfully resided in the United States for at least five years, meets certain physical presence requirements, and “. . . has been and still is a person of good moral character.”[11] In determining whether an alien “has sustained the burden of establishing good moral character . . ., the Attorney General . . . may take into consideration as a basis for such determination the [alien's] conduct and acts at any time prior to [the five years preceding filing].”[12] A finding of good moral character is prohibited for any person who has been convicted of an aggravated felony, [13] which includes any firearm-related federal, state, or foreign offense described in 18 U.S.C. § 924(b).[14]

         The categorical approach is used to assess whether a state offense like 21 O.S. § 1287(A) qualifies as an aggravated felony for purposes of naturalization.[15] Under this approach, the Court looks “‘not to the facts of the particular prior case,' but instead to whether ‘the state statute defining the crime of conviction' categorically fits within the ‘generic' federal definition of a corresponding aggravated felony.”[16] A categorical match exists only if the state offense “necessarily includes the generic federal offense.”[17] In this assessment, the Court presumes that the state conviction rested on the least of the acts criminalized, and then determines “whether that conduct would fall within the federal definition of the crime.”[18] This means that a state statute is a categorical match only if the elements of the state statute are the same as, or narrower, than those of the corresponding federal offense.[19] Thus, when a statute has an indivisible set of elements, the application of the categorical approach is simple: line up the elements and see if they match.[20]

         Analysis

         If Defendants are correct that Plaintiff's prior conviction is an “aggravated felony, ” then summary judgment is appropriate because Plaintiff is statutorily barred from naturalization. But if Defendants are not correct, then Plaintiff is entitled to a hearing at which she can attempt to demonstrate her good moral character.

         Applying the categorical approach, the state statute, 21 O.S. § 1287(A), criminalizes more conduct than does the corresponding federal statute, 18 U.S.C. § 924(b). First, the actus reus of the state statute is broader than that of the corresponding federal statute. The former requires the actor to possess, while the latter requires the actor to ship, transport, or receive. As the government points out, to ship, transport, or receive an item necessarily requires one to possess it.[21] But under the state statute, a conviction may rest on possession independent of shipping, transporting, or receiving an item. Thus, the simple possession necessary to satisfy 21 O.S. § 1287(A) may not be enough to satisfy the actus reus of shipping, transporting, or receiving required by 18 U.S.C. § 924(b).[22]

         Second, the state statute criminalizes the possession of more things than does the corresponding federal statute. Unlike the federal statute, which criminalizes only the possession of firearms or ammunition, the state statute criminalizes the possession of any offensive weapon, including rifles, toy pistols, knives, gas-filled weapons, and metal knuckles, to name a few.[23] ...


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