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Haroun v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 15, 2019

Emad Haroun Plaintiff - Appellant
v.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Kevin McAleenan; Kenneth T. Cuccinelli; Ann Marie Jordan-Starks1 Defendants - Appellees

          Submitted: December 13, 2018

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - Eastern Division

          Before SMITH, Chief Judge, WOLLMAN and GRASZ, Circuit Judges. [1]

          GRASZ, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Those seeking to become United States citizens must submit an application and complete an examination with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS"). If the USCIS fails to reach a decision on the application within 120 days after the applicant completes this process, 8 U.S.C. § 1447(b) allows the applicant to seek a decision from the district court in the district in which the applicant resides. Once the applicant does so, the statute provides that the district court "has jurisdiction over the matter and may either determine the matter or remand the matter, with appropriate instructions, to the [USCIS] to determine the matter." Id. The question we face is whether a proceeding in the district court under § 1447(b) becomes moot when the USCIS purports to deny a naturalization application after the applicant has already initiated the court proceeding. We conclude it does not.

         I. Background

         Emad Haroun is a citizen of Jordan and a lawful United States permanent resident who lives in St. Louis, Missouri. In September 2014, he filed the application for naturalization at issue in this case. Haroun completed all of the required examinations by early 2015. In September 2016, when the USCIS had still not made a decision on his application, he sued the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the USCIS, and numerous government officials ("the Government").[2] He asked the district court to grant his naturalization application or order the USCIS to timely make a decision on it.

         The Government moved to dismiss. The USCIS had issued a decision denying Haroun's application for lack of good moral character five days after he filed in the district court, which the Government argued made the case moot. The district court granted the motion. It concluded that § 1447(b) creates "concurrent jurisdiction" between district courts and the USCIS over naturalization applications and that the denial mooted the district court proceeding. Haroun timely appealed.

         II. Analysis

         Reviewing the district court's order de novo, Davis v. Morris-Walker, LTD, 922 F.3d 868, 870 (8th Cir. 2019), we agree with Haroun that the court erred in dismissing his proceeding under § 1447(b). Our conclusion on the issue of statutory interpretation presented here is in agreement with each of our sister circuits that have addressed this question. See Aljabri v. Holder, 745 F.3d 816 (7th Cir. 2014); Bustamante v. Napolitano, 582 F.3d 403 (2d Cir. 2009); Etape v. Chertoff, 497 F.3d 379 (4th Cir. 2007); United States v. Hovsepian, 359 F.3d 1144 (9th Cir. 2004) (en banc).

         Prior to the Immigration Act of 1990 ("the 1990 Act"), Pub. L. No. 101-649, 104 Stat. 4978, exclusive jurisdiction over naturalization proceedings rested with federal district courts. 8 U.S.C. § 1421(a) (1990); see also Bustamante, 582 F.3d at 409-10. The Immigration and Naturalization Service - the predecessor to the USCIS - would conduct the investigations into naturalization applicants and provide a recommendation to the district court on whether to grant the application. Bustamante, 582 F.3d at 409-10.

         The 1990 Act changed that process. To alleviate the backlog of naturalization applications, Congress handed jurisdiction over naturalization applications to the Attorney General, who would in turn designate employees of the USCIS to process the applications. See 8 U.S.C. § 1421(a); Bustamante, 582 F.3d at 410; Hovsepian, 359 F.3d at 1163; see also 8 U.S.C. § 1446. But the 1990 Act did not cut district courts out of the process. In fact, courts retained a critical role: Applicants who have been denied by the USCIS may seek review in the district court, which reviews the denial de novo and may even receive new evidence at the applicant's request. § 1421(c). The district court may also decide a naturalization application if the USCIS fails to reach a timely decision on it. After 120 days from the time an application is submitted and the naturalization examination is complete:

. . . the applicant may apply to the United States district court for the district in which the applicant resides for a hearing on the matter. Such court has jurisdiction over the matter and may either determine the matter or remand the matter, with ...

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