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Ricketts v. Attorney General United States

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

July 30, 2018

JUNIOR NATHANIEL RICKETTS a/k/a Junior Mohammed Ricketts a/k/a Paul Milton Miles, Appellant
v.
ATTORNEY GENERAL UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

          Submitted Under Third Circuit L.A.R. 34.1(a) July 6, 2018

          On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (D.C. No. 1-15-cv-00329) Hon. Margo K. Brodie District Judge

          Noah M. Weiss Williams & Connolly Counsel for Appellant

          Benjamin M. Moss Eric R. Quick United States Department of Justice Office of Immigration Litigation Counsel for Appellee

          Before: JORDAN, GREENAWAY, JR., and FISHER, Circuit Judges

          OPINION

          JORDAN, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         When an alien faces removal under the Immigration and Nationality Act, one potential defense is that the alien is not an alien at all but is actually a national of the United States. 8 U.S.C. § 1252(b)(5). An individual contesting a final order of removal has the opportunity to raise that defense in a petition for review and, if it appears to the appellate court considering the petition that a genuine factual question exists as to the petitioner's nationality, that court must transfer the proceeding to the district court where the petitioner resides, for a nationality determination to be made. Id. § 1252(b)(5)(B).

         This case requires us to address whether an appeal from a nationality determination following such a transfer must be taken to the appellate court that typically hears appeals from the district court making the determination, or whether jurisdiction lies with the appellate court that transferred the case to the district court in the first place. Both parties urge us to conclude that appeals from nationality determinations made under § 1252(b)(5)(B) must be to the court of appeals for the circuit that embraces the transferee district court. We agree. The pertinent statutory language makes it clear that Congress intended for hearings conducted pursuant to § 1252(b)(5)(B) to be treated as new proceedings separate from the underlying petitions for review. We thus lack jurisdiction to entertain an appeal from a nationality determination made by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Junior M. Ricketts petitioned this Court to review the Board of Immigration Appeals' denial of his motions to reopen his removal proceedings, which had resulted in a final order of removal.[1] One of the defenses to removal that Ricketts has raised is that he is in reality a United States citizen. After determining that there were genuine issues of material fact as to his nationality, we granted a joint motion by Ricketts and the government to transfer the nationality dispute to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York - the district where Ricketts resided at the relevant time - pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1252(b)(5)(B), so that a determination of his nationality could be made.

         After the District Court conducted an evidentiary hearing, it decided that Ricketts had "failed to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that he is a citizen of the United States." Ricketts v. Att'y Gen., No. 15-329, 2016 WL 3676419, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. July 7, 2016). It found instead that the "evidence overwhelmingly establishe[d]" that he is a Jamaican national who appropriated the identity of a United States citizen. Id. at *7.

         Of course dissatisfied with the District Court's determination, Ricketts filed a notice of appeal, seeking review by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The District Court, however, transmitted the appeal to this Court, not to the Second Circuit. After receiving the case file from the District Court, our Clerk of Court instructed the parties to address whether Ricketts's appeal was properly transmitted to us or whether the appeal should be transferred to the Second Circuit. In response, the government filed a motion to transfer the appeal to the Second Circuit but requested that we retain jurisdiction over Ricketts's consolidated petitions for review. Ricketts also requested that we transfer his appeal to the Second Circuit.

         II. DISCUSSION[2]

         Our interpretation of the statutory scheme Congress created to address disputes over nationality must begin, as with any matter of statutory interpretation, with the plain text of the relevant statutes. Henson v. Santander Consumer USA Inc., 137 S.Ct. 1718, 1721 (2017); Cazun v. Att'y Gen., 856 F.3d 249, 255 (3d Cir. 2017). "[O]ur inquiry into the meaning of [a] statute's text ceases when the statutory language is unambiguous and the statutory ...


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