Hajro v. USCIS

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Procedure
  • Date Filed: 10-23-2015
  • Case #: 11-17948
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Tallman for the Court; Circuit Judge Rawlinson and District Judge Murphy; Partial Concurrence and Partial Dissent by Rawlinson
  • Full Text Opinion

In order to retain jurisdiction under a settlement agreement, the order dismissing the case with prejudice needs to incorporate the terms of the agreement or expressly retain it.

Mirsad Hajro, a permanent resident, and James Mayock, an immigration attorney, sued the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) for not complying with a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request. Under FOIA, USCIS must comply with a request for information or notify the requester of “unusual circumstances” causing a delay in the request within twenty-one days. The district court concluded that a pattern or practice of violating FOIA occurred within USCIS. Similarly, twenty-five years ago, Mayock had sued Immigration and Naturalization Service's (“INS”), USCIS’s predecessor agency, accusing INS of a pattern or practice of violating the FOIA. The suit eventually resulted in a Settlement Agreement in which INS agreed to expedite processing of FOIA requests if the individuals’s life or personal safety were jeopardized, or where substantial due process rights would be violated. The district court hearing that case did not retain jurisdiction, nor was it expressed in the order. In the current case, USCIS challenged the jurisdiction to enforce the Settlement Agreement. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit pointed to Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., which stated that in order to retain jurisdiction, the order dismissing the case with prejudice needed to incorporate the terms of the agreement or expressly retain it. The panel therefore applied that rule retroactively to the 1992 Settlement Agreement. Further, while the court may assert supplemental jurisdiction, the panel noted that Hajro and Mayock did not show an "unequivocal expressed" waiver of sovereign immunity. As a result, the district court did not have the power to enforce the suit. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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