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Ecomac USA LLC v. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

August 2, 2018

ECOMAC USA LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER

          Martin Reidinger United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Ecomac USA, LLC's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 14] and Defendant United States Citizenship and Immigration Services' Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 15]. Plaintiff responded to Defendant's Cross-Motion [Doc. 16] and Defendant replied [Doc. 18].

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On May 16, 2017, the Plaintiff Ecomac USA LLC (“Ecomac USA” or “Plaintiff”) brought this action pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. §§ 500, et. seq, seeking judicial review of a final agency action. [Doc. 1]. Specifically, the Plaintiff seeks relief under 5 U.S.C. § 706, alleging that Defendant United States Citizenship and Immigration Services' (USCIS or “Defendant”) denial of Plaintiff's I-129 petition for L-1A nonimmigrant classification for its beneficiary, Luiz Coracini (“Coracini”), under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA or the “Act”), 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101, et. seq, was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law.” 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A). [See Doc. 1 at ¶ 12].

         On October 2, 2017, Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment. [Doc. 14]. On November 8, 2017, Defendant filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. [Doc. 15]. Both parties contend that the material facts in this matter are not in dispute. [Docs. 14, 15]. Plaintiff concedes these facts “are reflected in the Certified Administrative Record[1] [ ] on file with the Court.” [Doc. 14]. Defendant specifically contends that the Court's review is limited to the Administrative Record. [Doc. 15].

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         When the USCIS grants or denies a petition for nonimmigrant worker classification, the decision is subject to judicial review under the APA. See 5 U.S.C. § 702. As such, the Court may set aside the agency's action only if it is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law.” 5 U.S.C. § 706(2); N.C. Wildlife Federation v. N.C. Dept. of Transp., 677 F.3d 596, 601 (4th Cir. 2012). “This involves a searching and careful, but ultimately narrow and highly deferential, inquiry.” Webster v. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, 685 F.3d 411, 422 (4th Cir. 2012) (citations omitted). “Because this case involves the review of agency action pursuant to the APA, the Court's review is confined to the administrative record on which the agency's decision was based.” Southern Four Wheel Drive Ass'n v. U.S. Forest Service, No. 2:10-cv-15, 2012 WL 4106427, at *2 (W.D. N.C. Sept. 19, 2012) (Reidinger, J.) (citations omitted). In the end, if the agency has followed proper procedure, and if there is a rational basis for its decision, the reviewing court will not disturb its judgment. Id. (citing Hodges v. Abraham, 300 F.3d 432, 445 (4th Cir. 2002)).

         Both parties have moved for summary judgment. “Under APA section 706(2) review, the court does not employ the usual summary judgment standard.” Id. (quoting Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation v. U.S. Forest Service, 832 F.Supp.2d 1138, 1148 (E.D.Cal. 2011)) (other citations omitted). Rather,

Under the APA, it is the role of the agency to resolve factual issues to arrive at a decision that is supported by the administrative record, whereas “the function of the district court is to determine whether or not as a matter of law the evidence in the administrative record permitted the agency to make the decision it did.” Summary judgment thus serves as the mechanism for deciding, as a matter of law, whether the agency action is supported by the administrative record and otherwise consistent with the APA standard of review.

University Medical Center, Inc. v. Sebelius, 856 F.Supp.2d 66, 76 (D.D.C. 2012) (quoting Occidental Eng'g Co. v. INS, 753 F.2d 766, 769-70 (9th Cir. 1985)).

         III. FACTS FROM THE ADMINISTRATIVE RECORD

         Ecomac Manutencao de Maquinas e Equipamentos Ltda. (“Ecomac Brazil”) is a limited liability company located in Franco da Rocha, Sao Paulo, Brazil. [AR 49, 61, 65]. Luiz Coracini is the president, chief executive officer, and general manager of Ecomac Brazil. [AR 50, 78, 102]. Coracini owns Ecomac Brazil with his wife, Vera L.F. Coracini, who is the vice president. [AR 102, 107]. Ecomac Brazil installs, maintains, and repairs HVAC, refrigeration, air treatment and other types of industrial machinery. Ecomac Brazil also manufactures machinery and equipment for specific industrial uses. [AR 61, 65]. The total staff of Ecomac Brazil includes six employees and eight “contractors.” [AR 103, 105]. Ecomac Brazil provides its services to a variety of entities, including its largest client, Petrobras, a semi-public Brazilian multinational corporation in the petroleum industry headquartered in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. [See AR 50].

         Plaintiff Ecomac USA is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ecomac Brazil. [AR 49, 50]. On October 23, 2014, Plaintiff, by and through Coracini, filed the Articles of Organization for Plaintiff with the North Carolina Secretary of State. [AR 139-41]. On June 30, 2015, Plaintiff filed with the USCIS a Form I-129 petition, together with an L Classification Supplement (collectively “Petition”), seeking L-1A manager or executive classification for Coracini, the beneficiary. [AR 41-52]. Plaintiff also submitted certain documents in support of its Petition. [See AR 53-148]. At the time, Coracini was living in Forest City, North Carolina, and had B-2 nonimmigrant status [AR 43, 54], which allows for temporary entry into the United States for tourism, pleasure or visiting. L-1A classification would allow Coracini to remain in the United States for a period of one year in order for Plaintiff to temporarily employ Coracini as a managing member to open Ecomac USA, a “new office” of Ecomac Brazil, in the United States. [AR 3]. Plaintiff seeks to open and operate this new office to assemble dosage regulation devises for various industries. [AR 3, 45]. The Petition lists the dates of Coracini's intended employment with Plaintiff as October 1, 2015 to September 30, 2016. [AR 45].

         On September 17, 2015, after reviewing the Petition and supporting documents, the USCIS sent Plaintiff a Request for Evidence (RFE). [AR 165]. The RFE advised Plaintiff of all of the requirements for obtaining L-1A classification for Coracini and the evidence that Plaintiff still had to submit in order to satisfy those requirements. [AR 165-70]. Namely, the RFE stated that Plaintiff: (1) had failed to submit “any evidence” that “sufficient physical premises to house the new office [had] been secured;” (2) had failed to submit sufficient evidence to show that Coracini had at least one continuous year of full-time employment that was either managerial or executive with a qualifying organization within the three years before the petition was filed; and (3) had failed to submit sufficient evidence that “the new office will support an executive or managerial position within one year of petition approval.” [AR 167-70]. The RFE outlined what evidence Plaintiff could submit that would be deemed sufficient to satisfy each of these requirements. The RFE also set December 13, 2015 as Plaintiff's deadline to respond. [AR 165, 167-70]. On December 9, 2015, Plaintiff responded to the RFE with additional documents. [See AR 171-318]. On April 27, 2016, the USCIS issued a decision denying Plaintiff's Petition on the ground that, even with the additional documents submitted, Plaintiff failed to satisfy each of the three requirements enumerated in the RFE. [AR 29-36].

         On or about May 20, 2016, Plaintiff appealed this decision to the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO), arguing that the “petition should be reevaluated under a standard of balanced fairness. Not on unbased [sic] negative conclusory speculations.” [AR 26]. On October 14, 2016, the AAO issued a non-precedent decision dismissing Plaintiff's appeal. [AR 3-17]. In addition to citing the three grounds that formed the basis of the USCIS' original denial of Plaintiff's Petition, the AAO cited as an additional ground for dismissing the appeal that Plaintiff failed to show the requisite employer-employee relationship between the Plaintiff and the beneficiary as required by § 101(a)(15)(L) for intracompany transferees. [AR 16]. The AAO concluded, “[t]he petition will be denied and the appeal dismissed for the above stated reasons, with each considered as an independent and alternative basis for the decision.” [Id.].

         IV. DISCUSSION

         In the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant erred in reaching each of the three conclusions Defendant made in support of its denial of Plaintiff's Petition. [See Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 14-17]. Plaintiff contends, “Defendant's actions in this case have been beyond arbitrary, capricious, abusive, and contrary to law, thus rendering them subject to correction by this Court under 5 U.S.C. §706.” [Id. at ΒΆ 12]. Plaintiff requests that the Court enter ...


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