Affidavit of Support enforcement lawyers in Washington State.
Sound Immigration is based in Seattle, Washington. We represent clients throughout Washington State in lawsuits to enforce the USCIS Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. Greg McLawsen, Sound Immigration’s founding attorney, is recognized as the leading national authority on enforcement of the Affidavit of Support.
Our I-864 lawsuits in the State of Washington.
We have litigated numerous Affidavit of Support enforcement cases in Washington State. Customarily we file enforcement matters in federal district court. We have also represented clients in civil enforcement actions in Superior Court, as well as dissolution (divorce) proceedings in family law court. Examples of our successful representations include the following.
Alameda v. Mendioro, No. 2:21-cv-870 (Western District of Washington – Seattle Division)
We represented a Philippine national in this Affidavit of Support enforcement lawsuit in Seattle, Washington. This case was favorably resolved through a settlement agreement before the case progressed into the discovery phase.
Flores v. Flores, No. 3:21-cv-05814 (Western District of Washington – Seattle Division)
This landmark ruling establishes how “income” is defined for purposes of lawsuits to enforce the Affidavit of Support. In a March 7, 2022 ruling, the Court held that income is defined by reference to 8 C.F.R. § 213a.1 to mean taxable income. For that reason, a plaintiff’s damages under the Affidavit of Support are calculated by reference to their taxable income only. Non-taxable monies such as public benefits (Food Stamp, TANF and Medicaid) and gifts do not reduce what a plaintiff recovers under the Form I-864.
Liu v. Kell, No. 2:17-cv-00640 (Western District of Washington – Seattle Division)
This lawsuit in the Western District of Washington resulted in a published decision supporting the view that sponsors have no contract law defenses available to them. The Court held that a Form I-864 sponsor cannot avoid liability through the “duty to mitigate” doctrine, by arguing that a Form I-864 beneficiary is voluntarily unemployed and should be “imputed” with the income that she could be earning. Liu v. Kell, 299 F. Supp. 3d 1128, 1133–34 (W.D. Wash. 2017).
Larsen v. Larsen, No. 3:20-cv-5727 (Western District of Washington – Tacoma Division).
We represented this German national in a lawsuit against her sponsor. The case was favorably resolved in settlement early in the litigation cycle.
Morris v. Morris, No. 2:21-cv-00233 (Eastern District of Washington)
This Affidavit of Support enforcement lawsuit was brought by our client, a citizen of the United Kingdom, against her Form I-864 sponsor. We were able to reach a favorable settlement agreement very shortly after the federal lawsuit was filed.
Rahman v. Chen, No. 2:17-cv-01005 (Western District of Washington – Seattle Division)
This lawsuit was one of several we have litigated within the Ninth Circuit that have held that Affidavit sponsors cannot assert counterclaims against I-864 plaintiffs. Specifically, because contract law affirmative defenses are not allow, the sponsor cannot assert counterclaims that are based on similar facts, such as allegations of fraud. This lawsuit resolved via settlement following dismissal of the sponsor’s counterclaims.
Where to enforce the Affidavit of Support in Washington State.
An Affidavit of Support beneficiary in Washington State may enforce her right to financial support in either state or federal court. However, under the Marriage of Khan decision, the Form I-864 cannot be enforced via a spousal maintenance order in a dissolution (divorce) proceeding. 332 P.3d 1016 (Wash. App. Div. II 2014).
(1) I-864 enforcement in Washington State courts.
A lawsuit to enforce the Affidavit of Support may be brought in Washington state, rather than federal court, if the plaintiff chooses to do so. “Superior court” is Washington’s court of general jurisdiction. Both because the Form I-864 is a contract, and also because a statute creates a private right of action (8 USC 1183a(e)(1)), a green card holder is entitled to file her lawsuit in state court if she chooses to do so.
While some defense attorneys will say that the Affidavit of Support is a “federal matter” and necessarily belongs in federal court, that is inaccurate. Under a procedural doctrine called the “presumption of concurrency,” a Washington State court has jurisdiction to handle a federal cause of action unless the federal statute expressly says that the matter is only for federal court. There is no such limitation in the Affidavit of Support statute, which is at 8 USC 1183a.
In Washington State, small claims courts have the authority to handle cases with up to $10,000 in dispute. In practice, and Affidavit of Support enforcement case will almost always involve greater than $10,000 in discovery. Additionally, lawyers cannot represent plaintiffs in small claims court. Because the Affidavit of Support has an attorney fee provision – meaning that the sponsor has to pay the plaintiff’s legal fees – it rarely makes sense for an I-864 plaintiff to proceed without a lawyer. For that reason, small claims court is normally not a good choice.
Washington State District Court has jurisdiction over contract disputes of up to $100,000 in damages. That financial limit would be sufficient to cover many Affidavit of Support claims.
In practice, we have filed Affidavit of Support cases in Washington Superior Court, which is the main court of general jurisdiction. We believe the more formal procedural requirements of Superior Court do a better job of safeguarding our client’s rights under the Affidavit of Support. However, as discussed below, we have filed the majority of our Washington cases in federal court.
(2) I-864 enforcement in Washington State’s federal courts
While we have successfully litigated numerous Affidavit of Support claims in Superior Court, we now typically file these matters in federal district court. There are a number of strategic considerations that weigh on this decision. Perhaps the most important is that nationwide the largest body of case law has been developed by federal courts, especially within the Ninth Circuit, which includes Washington State. In short, there is simply more legal guidance available for courts within the federal system.
Washington’s federal courts are divided into two divisions. The Western District, roughly speaking, has jurisdiction west of the Cascade mountains. The main courthouse for the Western District of Washington is in Seattle, with additional courthouses in Bellingham, Tacoma, and Vancouver.
The Eastern District of Washington handles cases on the eastside of the Cascades. The Eastern Division has courthouses in Richland, Spokane, Walla Walla and Yakima.
The choice of which District to file in typically depends on where our client lives. By signing the Affidavit of Support, a sponsor agrees not to dispute the “personal jurisdiction” of a court. This means that a sponsor can be made to defend an Affidavit of Support lawsuit even in a location where he does not live.
The federal courts offer our client an additional convenience because virtually all matters are handled without in-person appearances. In our experience, Affidavit of Support plaintiffs typically will not be required to make a court appearance before their case is ultimately resolved.