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McLeod v. Peterson

October 6, 1960; As Amended Nov. 17, 1960.

CLIFFORD NORMAN MCLEOD, APPELLANT,
v.
CECIL PETERSON, ACTING OFFICER IN CHARGE OF UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICE, 714 NEW FEDERAL BUILDING, PITTSBURGH, PA.



Author: Biggs

Before BIGGS, Chief Judge, and KALODNER and FORMAN, Circuit Judges.

BIGGS, Chief Judge.

This is an appeal from an order denying an application for a writ of habeas corpus brought to review an order of deportation and the denial of an application for suspension of deportation. Briefly, the facts are these. The appellant, McLeod, a native of Jamaica, B.W.I., first illegally entered the United States in 1926 or 1927. He was deported in 1941, but returned illegally in 1942, and in 1943 married an American citizen. A daughter was born of this marriage in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on February 6, 1953. The child, now seven years old, is of course, a citizen of the United States. In 1956 deportation proceedings were instituted against McLeod at which time he applied for suspension of deportation, or in the alternative, for the right of voluntary departure. The Special Inquiry Officer denied his application for suspension of deportation in order, apparently, to preserve one number in the small immigration quota available to persons of McLeod's nationality. The appellant then agreed to an order of voluntary departure upon assurances given by the Officer and Counsel representing the Immigration and Naturalization Service that, if he did so, the Service would aid his wife in making the necessary application presumably under 8 U.S.C.A. ยง 1155, "nonquota status", for his legal re-entry, and would assist the appellant to return to this country. Mrs. McLeod was at that time fatally ill, and the record is devoid of any application made by her, and the appellant does not assert that such an application was executed or filed. No appeal was taken from the ruling of the Special Inquiry Officer or from the order of voluntary departure.

Pursuant to this order the appellant crossed from this country into Canada on August 13, 1956. Two days later he made application to the United States Consulate in Toronto, Canada, for a visa to re-enter the United States. No visa was forthcoming and on learning that his wife was seriously ill and almost destitute appellant illegally returned to the United States for a period of eleven days in April, 1957. By September, 1957 his wife was critically ill. In that month appellant again re-entered this country illegally, and on December 16, 1957 Mrs. McLeod died. Since that time, McLeod, a minister, has been supporting his minor child. In 1958 the immigration authorities arrested him pursuant to a warrant of deportation. In the ensuing proceedings appellant's request for an application for suspension of deportation was denied on the ground that he was not continuously physically present in the United States for five years as required by Section 1254(a) (2), 8 U.S.C.A. He was ordered deported. A petition for a writ of habeas corpus was denied by the court below and this appeal was taken.

McLeod contends, in effect, that the court below erred in holding that he was not physically present in the United States continuously for five years preceding his application as required by Section 1254(a) (2) of Title 8, U.S.C.A. It is not contended by the appellant that he was actually present during those years but rather that the nature of his absence was such as not to interrupt the continuity of his presence within the meaning of the statute. The appellant points to the ground on which he was declared to be ineligible for suspension of deportation by the Special Inquiry Officer in 1956 as erroneous and asserts that once faced by that ruling he had the alternative of either being deported or accepting an order for voluntary departure and that this choice was forced upon him by reason of the error of law committed in denying his application for suspension. Regarding his failure to appeal the denial of his application in 1956, McLeod argues that he was lulled into not pressing his legal rights by the assurances of the representatives of the Immigration Service.

The United States first contends that the appellant's failure to take an appeal from the 1956 proceeding renders it final and invulnerable to collateral attack. The assertion of this rather inflexible and technical rule as controlling here finds support in the Second Circuit's decision in United States ex rel. Koehler v. Corsi, 1932, 60 F.2d 123. In that decision an unappealed deportation order was held to be the law of the case.

The answer to the question whether prior unappealed deportation orders, orders of voluntary departure or decisions denying eligibility for discretionary suspension of deportation are subject to a later review depends upon the relative weights assigned to several conflicting interests. First, it must be recognized that there is a strong judicial and administrative interest in maintaining orderly and effective procedure. Second, there must be an end to litigation and thus, to uncertainty, so that officials and other persons may perform their duties and conduct their lives on the basis of reasonably firm principles and premises. There is also the interest of the individual litigant who finding himself faced with our complex and highly specialized judicial and administrative machinery is forced to entrust his rights, privileges and often his life and liberty, to counsel and a large corps of officials sometimes too hard pressed to afford his interests the protection they may ideally deserve.

The present case concerns eligibility to be considered for admission to permanent residence in the United States. In such a case, involving as it does the status of an alien, we are dealing with an especially critical and fundamental individual right. As the Supreme Court has pointed out "[We] are dealing here with procedural requirements prescribed for the protection of the alien. Though deportation is not technically a criminal proceeding, it visits a great hardship on the individual and deprives him of the right to stay and live and work in this land of freedom. That deportation is a penalty - at times a most serious one - cannot be doubted. Meticulous care must be exercised lest the procedure by which he is deprived of that liberty not meet the essential standards of fairness." Bridges v. Wixon, 1945, 326 U.S. 135, 154, 65 S. Ct. 1443, 1452, 89 L. Ed. 2103.

Where important rights are involved and their sacrifice is sought to advance considerations of efficient administration and public convenience the courts of our state and federal systems frequently have worked out compromise positions. Thus, where federal claims are denied on state procedural grounds the Supreme Court has indicated that a state refusal to adjudicate them must rest on a "fair or substantial basis". See Lawrence v. State Tax Commission, 1932, 286 U.S. 276, 282, 52 S. Ct. 556, 558, 76 L. Ed. 1102. Similarly, where the considerations militating against protection of important rights are those of maintaining a proper balance between our state and federal systems there is doctrine permitting flexibility of approach. For example, where the Supreme Court's jurisdiction to review state court decisions in cases involving federal claims is challenged on the ground that the denial of these claims is justified by the failure of the appellant to comply with state procedural rules, the Court will inquire into whether the procedural ground constitutes an unreasonable interference with the vindication of federal rights. See Mr. Justice Clark's summary of the law on this subject in his dissenting opinion in Williams v. State of Georgia, 1955, 349 U.S. 375, 399, 75 S. Ct. 814, 99 L. Ed. 1161.

An excellent example of how the courts have struck a balance between the basic competing considerations set out above is to be found in the development of the case law concerning Rule 51, Fed.Rules Civ.Proc., Title 28 U.S.C. That rule provides that "[No] party may assign as error * * * the failure to give an instruction unless he objects thereto before the jury retires to consider its verdict * * *." The language is absolute, but yet it is plain that if construed literally this rule could, on occasion, subject a litigant to gross injustice worked on him solely by the failure of his counsel and of the trial judge to properly perform their respective duties. Therefore, in keeping with current principles under analogous circumstances, a solution was reached which does not detract unduly from the Rule's role, permitting our judicial machinery to function smoothly. An appellate court can, on its own motion, review instructions where "fundamental error" has been committed. See, e.g. Callwood v. Callwood, 3 Cir., 1956, 233 F.2d 784; Mondshine v. Short, 5 Cir., 1952, 196 F.2d 606; Harlem Taxicab Ass'n v. Nemesh, 1951, 89 U.S.App.D.C. 123, 191 F.2d 459.

Courts, when faced with a request to review prior unappealed deportation orders, have also formulated a flexible approach as a safeguard against possible fundamental unfairness. In United States ex rel. Steffner v. Carmichael, 5 Cir., 1950, 183 F.2d 19, 20, the court, although holding that under the circumstances of that case an unappealed deportation order was not subject to review, said that: "Where an alien has been deported from the United States pursuant to a warrant of deportation, we do not think it permissible to allow a collateral attack on the previous deportation order in a subsequent * * * proceeding, unless we are convinced that there was a gross miscarriage of justice in the former proceedings." See also Daskaloff v. Zurbrick, 6 Cir., 1939, 103 F.2d 579. We perceive much merit in the Fifth Circuit's decision. It would seem that where it can be shown convincingly that fundamental errors have been committed in prior proceedings of the type here involved, and where a holding that the individual litigant was bound by the failures of his counsel or of the officials involved would result in a gross miscarriage of justice, such proceedings should be reopened and appropriate corrective measures taken. We hold that this test has been met in the present case.

McLeod's uncontradicted testimony reveals that the sole ground upon which his eligibility for discretionary relief was denied was that the granting of such relief would unduly diminish the small quota allotted to persons of his nationality. The Service, acting apparently with solicitude for McLeod's fellow nationals, decided that since he was eligible for admission pursuant to Section 1155, Title 8 U.S.C.A., which admission would not reduce the pertinent quota, it would be "unfair" of McLeod to succeed in his application for suspension of deportation. That this disposition was erroneous is perfectly clear. McLeod had requested that his application be submitted to the Attorney General in accordance with a specific provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act; viz., Section 1254(a) (2), Title 8 U.S.C.A. That section contains a statement of the conditions that must be met before the Attorney General may exercise his discretion. When these conditions are shown to have been met an applicant has a right to have his application considered. Jay v. Boyd, 1956, 351 U.S. 345, 353, 76 S. Ct. 919, 100 L. Ed. 1242; United States ex rel. Bruno v. Sweet, 8 Cir., 1956, 235 F.2d 801. It need hardly be pointed out that the conditions that McLeod failed to meet are nowhere to be found in Section 1254(a) (2). The effect on quota allotments by the admission of an alien to permanent residence may not be used by the Service to deny arbitrarily rights granted an alien under Section 1254 where he meets all of the requirements specified. The Service denied McLeod his rights under Section 1254 solely upon its speculation that he might leave the country and then be able to reenter with a nonquota status under Section 1155. Denial on such a basis does not lie within the discretion of the Attorney General.

This error was so obvious and so clear that counsel should have been quick to appeal. Nevertheless, no appeal was taken. We shall never know whether this omission was due in the main to the inadequacy of the appellant's knowledge of these situations or to the soothing statements made by officials of the Service.*fn1 We can be sure however, as the uncontradicted testimony of the appellant shows, that the statements of these officials, fraught as they were with suggestions of help from within the Bureau in getting back into this country and the mere formality of securing his return, played some role in causing McLeod to forego his legal rights. Indeed, as we have said, the error of law committed was fundamental and clear. Its commission evidenced a disregard of the applicable statutory provision and resulted in a disposition unsupported in logic or policy. Moreover, we are not called upon here to reverse an order or judgment rendered in a former proceeding but are required merely to examine an order to determine the effect it should have on determining the applicability of a statutory provision to one who acted pursuant to such an order. Under these circumstances we should not refuse to review the denial of eligibility for discretionary relief made in the 1956 proceeding and declare it to have been erroneous.

This in itself, however, does not entitle the appellant to have his application reviewed by the Attorney General. Such a right can only come from the statute and the applicable sections are not consistent with simple reinstatement of McLeod to the status he had acquired before his departure in 1956. Section 1254(a) (2) provides that in order to qualify for suspension of deportation an alien must have "* * * been physically present in the United States for a continuous period of not less than five years immediately preceding his application * * *." The time designated by the phrase 'preceding his application' as used in the Section must be the time that the application is reviewed by the Attorney General. The phrase cannot refer merely to the time of filing an application. If this were not so an alien could apply for adjustment of status at a time when he met all the requirements of the statute and then leave the country and return without prejudice to his right to have his application considered by the Attorney General. Such a result would be anomalous. It follows then, that in the present case, and for present purposes, no ...


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