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Codling v. Nielsen

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

February 13, 2019




         Plaintiffs Audrey Codling and Dwight Codling bring this action challenging the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service's ("USCIS") denial of Audrey Codling's 1-130 petition for alien relative for the benefit of Dwight Codling. USCIS found that Dwight Codling was barred from receiving this benefit under Section 204(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act because he had entered into a prior sham marriage. The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment ([Doc. # 19]), and denies Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment ([Doc. # 18]).

         I. Background

         Plaintiffs Audrey Codling and Dwight Codling were married on December 17, 2014 and filed the instant 1-130 petition on February 3, 2015. (A.R. [Doc. # 13-6] 649.) USCIS denied the petition, finding that "the evidence of record contains substantial and probative evidence which establishes the beneficiary's [Dwight Codling] prior marriage with Lorraine Harriot was solely for immigration benefits." (Id.) USCIS cited Harriot's August 5, 2015 statement to immigration officers that she and Dwight Codling had made up the story of how they met and how long they had known each other. (Id. 650.) Harriot told the immigration officers that she and Codling had hardly lived together and that she had a boyfriend during their marriage. (Id.) According to Harriot, the letters that she and her sister wrote in September 2013 in support of Codling's application for permanent residency based on the marriage were done at Codling's request, and Codling paid Harriot's sister to write her support letter. (Id.) Harriot stated that at the time her sister wrote the letter, her sister had never actually met Codling. (Id.) Harriot further stated that contrary to the testimony that she and Codling provided during his first 1-130 interview, they had not in fact been residing together. (Id.) Finally, while Codling claimed in the first 1-130 interview to have met Harriot in Jamaica, his native country, Harriot claimed that the two had actually met in the United States. (Id.)

         USCIS concluded that insofar as Audrey Codling had submitted nothing to contradict or rebut the claims made by Harriot, Harriot's claims were truthful. (Id.) Crediting Harriot's statements, USCIS determined that Dwight Codling's marriage to Harriot was entered into for the primary purpose of obtaining immigration benefits, and accordingly, approval of the second, instant 1-130 Petition was prohibited under INA 204(c). (Id.)

         In its November 14, 2017 opinion, the Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA") upheld the USCIS determination, finding that "there is substantial and probative evidence tending to show that the beneficiary's prior marriage was entered into for the specific purpose of evading the immigration laws." (Id. 593.) The BIA specifically noted that "[i]n so doing, we do not rely conclusively on any finding in a past proceedings, nor do we find that the [USCIS] Director did so." (Id.) Further, the BIA stated "we agree with the Director's observation in his decision, that very little documentary evidence to establish the bona fides of the beneficiary's former marriage has been submitted in response to the substantial evidence of fraud." (Id.)

         Plaintiffs characterize the evidence in the administrative record as all demonstrating that at the time Mr. Codling and his ex-spouse were married, "they intended to establish a life together" and that "[i]t was only after [] they married that their relationship deteriorated and they gradually began making separate lives." (Pls.' Mot. Summ. J. [Doc. # 18-1] at 7.) Plaintiffs do not cite what evidence in the record specifically supports this characterization.

         Plaintiffs also note that "[e]ven though [Mr. Codling's] prior spouse admitted providing false testimony and false documents to support his original 1-130 Petition for approval of his 2 year conditional status, she never testified that she did not have a bona fide relationship with [him] or that she conspired with [him] to enter into the marriage to evade immigration laws." (Id. at 9.) According to Plaintiffs, "[t]o the contrary, although the former spouse was extremely upset with [Mr. Codling] and [] willing to have him deported when she provided her statements to the immigration officers, she did not claim that the parties' marriage was fraudulent----" (Id. at 9-10.) The former spouse, according to Plaintiffs, "did not claim that she was paid to marry [Mr. Codling], that they did not have an intimate relationship, or that they did not live together following their marriage." (Id. at 10.) Finally, Plaintiffs contend, "not only were facts of this nature absent from her testimony, [] she actually testified that she married [Mr. Codling] because she had loved him." (Id. at 10.)

         Plaintiffs concede that Mr. Codling "lied about certain facts pertaining to meeting his former wife" but contend that "there is nothing in the record evidencing that he lied for the purpose of concealing that they entered into sham marriage[.]" (Id. at 10-11.)

         Previous and Parallel Procedural History

         After Mr. Codling and Harriot married on February 10, 2008, Harriot filed an 1-130 Petition on his behalf on February 6, 2009. (A.R. 139.) USCIS approved the 1-130 and Codling obtained conditional permanent residence status. (Id.) On June 30, 2011, Codling and Harriot jointly filed Form 1-751 Petition to Remove Conditions with USCIS. (Id. 59.) But on August 30, 2012, Harriot did not appear at USCIS for the interview on the 1-751. (Id. 4.) Thereafter, on January 9, 2013, the 1-751 was denied and Codling's conditional permanent residence status was terminated. (Id. 4, 59.)

         On February 11, 2013, Codling, through counsel, filed a second 1-751 Petition, this time seeking a "good faith waiver." (Id. 14.) In this second filing, Codling acknowledged that he was divorced from Harriot but asserted he was still entitled to have the conditions of his permanent residence status removed because he entered into the marriage in good faith. (Id.) On April 1, 2014, USCIS denied the 1-751 Petition on the ground that Codling failed to show that he married Harriot in good faith and that rather the evidence showed that he married her for the purpose of evading the immigration laws. (Id. 8-12.)

         After the denial of Codling's first 1-751 petition and the termination of his conditional permanent residence status, the Department of Homeland Security believed that he no longer had a legal basis for his presence in the United States. (Id. 4.) Accordingly, on May 21, 2013, Codling was served with a Notice to Appear for removal proceedings in Immigration Court. (Id. 2-3.) Codling obtained a one-year continuance of the removal proceeding so that he could pursue the second 1-751 (seeking a good-faith waiver). (Id. 228-30.) After failing to obtain the good-faith waiver from USCIS, Codling sought the same relief from the Immigration Court. An evidentiary hearing was held on September 8, 2015, and September 29, 2015, at which Codling and Harriot both testified. (Id. 239-561.) Although the Immigration Court proceeding is distinct from USCIS' processing of the 1-130, the transcript of the hearing is part of the record in this case. On September 29, 2015, Immigration Judge Michael W. Straus ordered Codling removed to Jamaica. (Id. 204-221.) In his decision, the judge concluded that Codling had not carried his burden to show that his first marriage was bona fide, that Codling was not a credible witness, and that the number of documents offered to show a bona fide marriage was "sparse." (Id. 216-19.) Codling's removal is not at issue in this litigation and is currently on appeal before the BIA.

         II. ...

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