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Case Name Nightingale v. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services IM-CA-0150
Docket / Court 3:19-cv-03512 ( N.D. Cal. )
State/Territory California
Case Type(s) Immigration and/or the Border
Attorney Organization American Immigration Council's Legal Action Center
Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP)
Case Summary
On June 16, 2019, plaintiffs--three immigration attorneys and two noncitizens who filed FOIA (FOIA) requests for individual immigration case files (known as A-Files)--filed this class-action suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. The plaintiffs sued U.S ... read more >
On June 16, 2019, plaintiffs--three immigration attorneys and two noncitizens who filed FOIA (FOIA) requests for individual immigration case files (known as A-Files)--filed this class-action suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. The plaintiffs sued U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (UCIS), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), alleging that the defendants had a nationwide pattern or practice of failing to make determinations regarding A-File requests within the time period of 30 days as mandated by 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(b), the FOIA statute. Plaintiffs, represented by the American Immigration Council and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, sought declaratory relief that defendants’ failure to make timely determinations on plaintiffs’ and proposed classes’ A-File FOIA requests violates FOIA, and a nationwide injunction requiring defendants to make timely determinations. The case was assigned to Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler.

The plaintiffs argued that A-Files are crucial to determining a noncitizen's eligibility to apply for an immigration benefit and to change their existing immigration status. The only way that a noncitizen or her attorney can obtain an A-File is to submit an FOIA request. UCIS' FOIA backlog--which more than doubled between 2015 and 2017, despite no increase in requests--had resulted in average processing time for FOIA requests of 55-90 days, exceeding the 30-day deadline. The plaintiffs also asserted that UCIS exacerbated these delays by referring portions of requests to ICE, which also has a considerable backlog, resulting in further delay and incomplete record retrieval. The plaintiffs alleged that these backlogs and delays demonstrate a pattern or practice of unreasonable delay in responding to FOIA requests and that these delays caused "emotional and financial hardship for individuals left in legal limbo" while waiting to obtain these records.

On July 2, 2019, the case was reassigned to Judge William H. Orrick because the parties did not consent to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge.

On August 8, 2019, the plaintiffs filed a Motion for Class Certification, seeking certification for two proposed classes. The first proposed class ("USCIS Class") consisted of "all individuals who filed, or will file, A-File FOIA requests with USCIS which have been pending, or will be pending, with USCIS for more than 30 business days without a determination." The second proposed class ("ICE Referral Class") consisted of "All individuals who filed, or will file, A-File FOIA requests with USCIS that USCIS has referred, or will refer, to ICE and which have been pending, or will be pending, for more than 30 business days from the date of the initial filing with USCIS without a determination."

On October 15, 2019, Judge Orrick granted the Motion for Class Certification, concluding that the plaintiffs met their burden for certification of both the "USCIS Class" and the "ICE Referral Class." 2019 WL 5191066.

Discovery took place over the summer of 2020 and on September 30, 2020, the plaintiffs filed a motion of summary judgment. The defendants responded with a cross-motion for summary judgment on October 21.

On December 17, 2020, Judge Orrick issued an opinion and order granting the plaintiff's motion and denying the defendants. Finding that the defendants systematically failed to meet statutory FOIA deadlines, Judge Orrick granted the plaintiffs' request for declaratory relief. Judge Orrick also enjoined the defendants from failing to meet FOIA deadlines, ordered them to make determinations on all backlogged FOIA requests within 60 days of his order, and ordered them to make quarterly reports on their compliance with the FOIA.

The defendant's first status report is due on March 17, 2021, and Judge Orrick scheduled a case management conference for April 6, 2021. The case is ongoing.

Aaron Gurley - 01/27/2020
Jonah Hudson-Erdman - 01/04/2021


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
General
Pattern or Practice
Records Disclosure
Immigration/Border
Admission - procedure
Immigration lawyers
Status/Classification
Visas - procedures
Work authorization - procedures
Plaintiff Type
Non-profit NON-religious organization
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552
Defendant(s) U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Plaintiff Description UCIS Class: "all individuals who filed, or will file, A-File FOIA requests with USCIS which have been pending, or will be pending, with USCIS for more than 30 business days without a determination." ICE Referral Class: "All individuals who filed, or will file, A-File FOIA requests with USCIS that USCIS has referred, or will refer, to ICE and which have been pending, or will be pending, for more than 30 business days from the date of the initial filing with USCIS without a determination."
Indexed Lawyer Organizations American Immigration Council's Legal Action Center
Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP)
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Declaratory Judgment
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Filed 06/16/2019
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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Court Docket(s)
N.D. Cal.
01/21/2020
3:19-cv-3512
IM-CA-0150-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Cal.
12/21/2020
3:19-cv-03512-WHO
IM-CA-0150-9001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
N.D. Cal.
06/19/2019
Complaint [ECF# 1]
IM-CA-0150-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Cal.
10/15/2019
Order Granting Class Certification [ECF# 47] (2019 WL 5191066)
IM-CA-0150-0002.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Cal.
12/17/2020
Order Granting Summary Judgment in Favor of Plaintiffs for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief; Granting Motions to Seal [ECF# 89] (2020 WL 7640547)
IM-CA-0150-0003.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Orrick, William Horsley III (N.D. Cal.) show/hide docs
IM-CA-0150-0002 | IM-CA-0150-0003 | IM-CA-0150-9000 | IM-CA-0150-9001
Plaintiff's Lawyers Adams, Matthew (Washington) show/hide docs
IM-CA-0150-0001 | IM-CA-0150-9000 | IM-CA-0150-9001
Creighton, Emily J. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-CA-0150-0001 | IM-CA-0150-9000 | IM-CA-0150-9001
Kang, Leila (Washington) show/hide docs
IM-CA-0150-9000 | IM-CA-0150-9001
Kenney, Mary (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-CA-0150-0001 | IM-CA-0150-9000 | IM-CA-0150-9001
Lieu, Tiffany (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
IM-CA-0150-9001
Realmuto, Trina (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
IM-CA-0150-0001 | IM-CA-0150-9000 | IM-CA-0150-9001
Tolchin, Stacy Eva (California) show/hide docs
IM-CA-0150-0001 | IM-CA-0150-9000 | IM-CA-0150-9001
Valenzuela, Cynthia A. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-CA-0150-0001 | IM-CA-0150-9000 | IM-CA-0150-9001
Defendant's Lawyers Edney, Marsha S. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-CA-0150-9000 | IM-CA-0150-9001
Handley, Cristen Cori (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-CA-0150-9000 | IM-CA-0150-9001
Skurnik, Matthew (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-CA-0150-9001

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