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Tinoco v. Cioppa

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

September 6, 2017

Christian Bautista Tinoco, Plaintiff,
Thomas Cioppa, Chicago District Director, USCIS; Martha Medina, Chicago Field Office Director, USCIS; Rose Cavazos, Naturalization Branch Chief, USCIS; John Kelly, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, James McCament, Acting Director, USCIS, Defendant.



         Defendants Thomas Cioppa, Martha Medina, Rose Cavazos, John Kelly, and James McCament, collectively, “Defendants, ” have moved for summary judgment on Plaintiff Christian Bautista Tinoco's Complaint brought pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1421(c). (R. 19, Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J.) For the following reasons, the Court grants Defendants' motion for summary judgment.


         This case arises from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services' (“USCIS”) denial of Plaintiff's naturalization application due to allegations of money laundering and narcotics smuggling.[1]

         I. Plaintiff's Naturalization Application

         Plaintiff is a native and citizen of Colombia and a legal permanent resident of the United States. (Defs.' Statement of Facts (“SOF”) ¶ 1; Certified Administrative Record (“CAR”)[2] 31.) He was born in 1987 and was admitted to the United States on March 30, 1999, as a legal permanent resident and as the step-child of a United States citizen on a conditional basis. (SOF ¶ 1; CAR 31, 45.) The Government removed Plaintiff's conditions and his mother's when it approved her I-751 application. (SOF ¶ 2; CAR 31.) On April 1, 2013, Plaintiff applied for citizenship by filing an N-400 application with USCIS. (SOF ¶ 3; CAR 31, 94, 180.) In connection with that application, USCIS interviewed Plaintiff at the Chicago District Office on September 23, 2013. (SOF ¶ 4; CAR 31, 163-180.) On August 31, 2015, USCIS notified Plaintiff that he was scheduled for a re-interview on September 10, 2015. (SOF ¶ 6; CAR 157.) USCIS instructed Plaintiff to bring his Alien Registration Card, his driver's license or State ID, his passport, his tax returns, his bank statements from 2010 and 2011, and records of any wire transfers he had made in 2010 and 2011. (SOF ¶ 7; CAR 157.) Plaintiff, through counsel, submitted his driver's license, Alien Registration Card, Colombian passport, tax transcripts and payments receipts from 2008 and 2010-2014, but he did not submit any evidence of wire transfers. (SOF ¶¶ 8-10; CAR 107-36.)

         At Plaintiff's September 10, 2015 interview, Interview Officer Milissis reviewed Plaintiff's N-400 application with him and counsel and confirmed that Plaintiff wished to change his name to Christian Andres Bautista and that he had been convicted of two traffic offenses since he filed his 2013 application. (SOF ¶ 11; CAR 79-99.) At the end of the interview, Milissis attempted to take Plaintiff's sworn statement, but Plaintiff refused to answer questions and his attorney stated that Plaintiff's “application [wa]s his sworn statement.” (SOF ¶¶ 12-13; CAR 100.) Plaintiff also stated that he did not bring the additional documents USCIS requested (his wire transfer records) because “they [we]re not relevant or material.” (SOF ¶ 13; CAR 101.) When Millissis informed Plaintiff that those documents were relevant to his naturalization application, Plaintiff responded that USCIS could subpoena the documents if they wanted them. (SOF ¶ 15; CAR 101.) Milissis also asked Plaintiff if he had ever “given the government any information or documentation that was false, fraudulent, or misleading” or “given false information to any government official to gain an immigration benefit, ” and Plaintiff responded “No” to both questions. (SOF ¶¶ 16-17; CAR 101.)

         Milissis then asked Plaintiff a number of questions about wire transfers and bank accounts. (SOF ¶ 18.) Plaintiff said that he did not transfer money by wire transfer in 2010, but that he had recently transferred money to his girlfriend in Argentina and Colombia. (CAR 101.) Plaintiff refused to submit wire transfer documents and stated that he had not tried to obtain them. (CAR 102.) He said that he had made 4-5 wire transfers to Colombia and 1-2 transfers to Argentina, but he refused to state the purpose of the transactions. (SOF ¶ 20; CAR 102.) Plaintiff stated that he had never participated in a drug conspiracy or transferred money related to a drug transaction. (CAR 102.) Plaintiff and his counsel refused to sign the sworn statement. (SOF ¶ 21; CAR 103.)

         After the interview, on September 24, 2015, Homeland Security Special Agent Daniel Miller submitted a memorandum indicating that pursuant to an investigation involving Plaintiff, he had obtained “specific evidence related to wire transfer activity conducted in 2010 to an individual in Colombia related to narcotics trafficking.” (SOF ¶ 22; CAR 212.) Miller also submitted a money transfer receipt indicating that Plaintiff sent $1, 700 to Maira Alejandra Loaiza Ramirez in Colombia in May 2010. (SOF ¶ 23; CAR 213.)[3] On October 27, 2015, USCIS sent Plaintiff a notice indicating that the agency intended to deny his N-400 application based on derogatory information it had received. (SOF ¶ 24; CAR 68.) The notice informed Plaintiff that he could respond within 15 days to oppose the denial and explained that USCIS had received information indicating that Plaintiff was the subject of a criminal investigation involving narcotics smuggling and money laundering, and that he had made suspicious wire transfers to an individual in Colombia. (SOF ¶¶ 25-26; CAR 70.) The notice explained that this information “brings into question whether [Plaintiff] ha[d] met [his] burden of meeting the good moral character requirement” to become a citizen. (SOF ¶ 27; CAR 70.) The notice also reiterated that Plaintiff had refused to submit bank statements, credit statements or wire transfer documents and had refused to answer certain questions. (SOF ¶¶ 28-29; CAR 71.) Specifically, the notice stated that Plaintiff “failed to provide within a reasonable time such documents, information, or testimony deemed necessary by USCIS to establish [his] eligibility to naturalize, ” and thus, Plaintiff had “failed to prosecute [his] application and it must be denied.” (SOF ¶ 30; CAR 72.)

         In addition, the notice explained that USCIS considered Plaintiff's failure to provide requested documents and testimony to be “of additional concern” because he had “provided false testimony.” (SOF ¶ 31; CAR 72.) Specifically, the notice explained that Plaintiff had testified that he “never transferred any money to Colombia in the year 2010, ” but USCIS had records indicating that he sent $1, 700 to Maira Ramirez in Colombia by wire transfer in May 2010. (SOF ¶ 32; CAR 72.) USCIS also stated that Plaintiff had committed perjury “by making statements under oath believing them not to be true, ” rendering him ineligible to naturalize. (SOF ¶ 33; CAR 73) (citing 8 CFR § 316.10(b)(3)(iii).) Accordingly, the notice explained that USCIS had denied Plaintiff's application because he (1) failed to prosecute his application by refusing to provide documents and information; (2) had not established that he was a person of good moral character; and (3) had committed unlawful acts within the statutory period. (SOF ¶ 34; CAR 73.) On November 18, 2015, USCIS denied Plaintiff's application. (SOF ¶ 35.) The denial informed Plaintiff that if he believed he could overcome the grounds for denial, he needed to submit a request for a hearing on Form N-336 within 30 days of the decision. (Id. ¶ 36; CAR 65.) On December 15, 2015, Plaintiff filed his Form N-336 requesting appeal of his denial. (SOF ¶ 38; CAR 42-44.) To support his appeal, Plaintiff attached a brief, sworn affidavit, and wire transfer records from Ria and Western Union. (SOF ¶ 39; CAR 45-52.) In the affidavit, Plaintiff asserted that he told the truth in his interview and never sent a wire transfer to Maira Ramirez in 2010 and that, during the relevant time, he only sent wire transfers to or for his girlfriend, Luisa Fernanda Grizales Pena. (SOF ¶ 40; CAR 50.) Plaintiff's wire transfer records do not show a May 11, 2010 transfer to Maira Ramirez for $1, 700. (SOF ¶ 41; CAR 50.)

         II. Plaintiff's Complaint

         In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants have improperly interpreted the “good moral character” requirement. (R. 1, Compl. ¶ 4.) He alleges that USCIS never produced any documentation of the wire transfer Plaintiff allegedly sent to Colombia in 2010 or disclosed the wire service Plaintiff allegedly used. (Id. ¶ 10.) Plaintiff alleges that he timely appealed the USCIS denial of his N-400 application, and USCIS subsequently denied his N-336 appeal on October 14, 2016. (Id. ¶¶ 11-12.) Plaintiff further alleges that he has the right to obtain de novo judicial review pursuant to Section 310(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1421(c). (Id. ¶13.) Plaintiff asks that the Court find that the record establishes that he has met the “good moral character” standard and is entitled under the law to have his naturalization application granted. (Id. ¶ 14.)


         I. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the record, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, reveals that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Zaya v. Sood, 836 F.3d 800, 804 (7th Cir. 2016). A genuine issue of material fact exists when “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)); Insolia v. Philip Morris, Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 599 (7th Cir. 2000) (“The existence of a mere scintilla of evidence supporting a plaintiff's position is insufficient; there must be evidence on which a jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.”). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must consider the record as a whole, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

         The party seeking summary judgment has the initial burden of showing that there is no genuine dispute and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Carmichael v. Vill. of Palatine, 605 F.3d 451, 460 (7th Cir. 2010). If the moving party demonstrates the absence of a disputed issue of material fact, “the burden shifts to the non-moving party to provide evidence of specific facts creating a genuine dispute.” Carroll v. Lynch, 698 F.3d 561, 564 (7th Cir. 2012). The non-movant must go beyond the pleadings and “set forth specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial.” Hannemann v. S. Door Cty. School Dist., 673 F.3d 746, 751 (7th Cir. 2012).

         II. Northern District of Illinois Local Rule 56.1

         Northern District of Illinois Local Rule 56.1 governs how the parties identify material facts and potential disputed material facts. “The purpose of Rule 56.1 is to have the litigants present to the district court a clear, concise list of material facts that are central to the summary judgment determination. It is the litigants' duty to clearly identify material facts in dispute and provide the admissible evidence that tends to prove or disprove the proffered fact.” Curtis v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 807 F.3d 215, 219 (7th Cir. 2015). Local Rule 56.1(a) “requires the party moving for summary judgment to file and serve a ‘statement of material facts as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue and that entitle the moving party to a judgment as a matter of law.'” Id. at 218 (citation omitted). “The non-moving party must file a response to the moving party's statement, and, in the case of any disagreement, cite ‘specific references to the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials relied upon.'” Petty v. Chicago, 754 F.3d 415, 420 (7th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted); see also L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(A). Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(C) requires the non-moving party to file a separate statement of additional facts. See Thornton v. M7 Aerospace LP, 796 F.3d 757, 769 (7th Cir. 2015).

         Local Rule 56.1 statements and responses should identify the relevant admissible evidence supporting the material facts - not make factual or legal arguments. See Zimmerman v. Doran,807 F.3d 178, 180 (7th Cir. 2015). “When a responding party's statement fails to dispute the facts set forth in the moving party's statement in the manner dictated by the rule, those facts are deemed admitted for purposes of the motion.” Curtis, 807 F.3d at 218 (quoting Cracco v. Vitran Exp., Inc., 559 F.3d 625, 632 (7th Cir. 2009)). The Seventh Circuit “has consistently ...

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