United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
Glen E. Conrad Senior United States District Judge.
Shirong Wu Wigley, proceeding pro se, brings this action
against defendant Richard Alan Wigley to enforce a Form 1-864
Affidavit of Support ("1-864 Affidavit") under
§ 213A of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C.
§ 1183a. The matter is currently before the court on the
defendant's motion to dismiss based on abstention
doctrines, insufficient service of process, and failure to
state a plausible claim for relief. For the following
reasons, the court will grant the motion.
Wigley, a citizen of China, married Mr. Wigley, a citizen of
the United States, in August 2012. Compl. ¶¶ 4-5,
Dkt. No. 1; Form 1-864 Affidavit of Support, Dkt. No. 1-1.
Ms. Wigley then filed a petition to become a lawful permanent
resident in the United States. Compl. ¶ 7. As part of
that process, Mr. Wigley executed an 1-864 Affidavit agreeing
to maintain Ms. Wigley at an income level of at least 125
percent of the federal poverty guideline. Id.
¶6; Affidavit of Support; see 8 U.S.C. §§
parties' marriage subsequently deteriorated, and in March
2017, Ms. Wigley filed a petition for spousal support in the
Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court in Franklin
County, Virginia. Armstrong Aff. ¶ 3, Dkt. No. 5-1. The
Court ordered Mr. Wigley to pay Ms. Wigley $580.02 per month
starting in April 2017. Compl. ¶20. Mr. Wigley appealed
the spousal support order, but subsequently withdrew the
appeal on May 18, 2017. Spousal Support Order, Dkt. No. 11-1.
On July 5, 2017, Mr. Wigley filed for divorce in the Franklin
County -Circuit Court. Armstrong Aff. ¶ 5. He requested
an equitable distribution of the parties' real and
personal property. Id. ¶ 7.
September 13, 2017, Ms. Wigley filed the instant action to
enforce the 1-864 Affidavit. In her complaint, she charges
Mr. Wigley with domestic violence and alleges that Mr. Wigley
did not buy her enough food to live on from January 2015
onward. She also alleges that she has not lived with her
husband since at least January 1, 2015. She asserts that,
although the state court ordered Mr. Wigley to pay her
$580.02 per month starting in April 2017, that amount does
not maintain her at 125 percent of the federal poverty
guideline and does not account for Mr. Wigley's lack of
support prior to April 2017. Accordingly, she contends that
Mr. Wigley has failed to and continues to fail to support her
as required by the 1-864 Affidavit.
Wigley has moved to dismiss the action, and Ms. Wigley has
filed a response. On January 25, 2018, the court ordered the
parties to submit additional briefs updating the court on the
parties' divorce proceedings and on Ms. Wigley's
immigration status. Counsel for Mr. Wigley avers that Ms.
Wigley raised the issue of the 1-864 Affidavit during the
spousal support proceedings, and the record shows that she
raised the issue during the divorce proceedings. Answer to
Divorce Complaint 2, Dkt. No. 20-2. On December 15, 2017, the
Franklin County Circuit Court entered a final divorce decree,
declining to enter a new award of spousal support and
upholding the April 2017 spousal support order. Final Divorce
Decree 11, Dkt. No. 20-3. Ms. Wigley asserts that she has
continued to be lawful permanent resident since 2013 when she
attained that status shortly after her marriage to Mr.
Wigley. This matter is now ripe for review.
support of his motion to dismiss, the defendant relies on the
abstention doctrine set forth in Younger v. Harris,
401 U.S. 37 (1971). Absent extraordinary circumstances, the
Younger doctrine requires federal courts to abstain
from exercising jurisdiction when doing so would interfere
with pending state court proceedings. Robinson v.
Thomas. 855 F.3d 278, 285 (4th Cir. 2017) (internal
quotation marks). The doctrine stems from principles of
comity, federalism, and respect for the ability of state
courts to resolve federal constitutional issues. Martin
Marietta Corp. v. Md. Comm'n on Human Relations. 38
F.3d 1392, 1396 (4th Cir. 1994). In determining whether the
doctrine applies, courts use a three-pronged test, asking
whether: (1) "there are ongoing state judicial
proceedings"; (2) "the proceedings implicate
important state interests"; and (3) "there is an
adequate opportunity to raise federal claims in the state
proceedings." Id. (citing Middlesex City
Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar Ass'n. 457 U.S.
case, the first two requirements for Younger
abstention are clearly met. It is undisputed that, when the
plaintiff filed this action, the parties were engaged in
ongoing divorce proceedings in state court and that the
plaintiff raised the issue of support under the 1-864
Affidavit in those proceedings. Moreover, the parties have
represented to the court that the divorce proceedings remain
pending before the Court of Appeals for Virginia. See
Smith v. . Smith. No. CIV.A. 7:07CV00117,
2007 WL 3025097, at *7 (W.D. Va. Oct. 12, 2007). Second,
courts have long recognized that the area of family relations
involves important state interests. Harper v. Pub. Serv.
Comm'n of W.Va.. 396 F.3d 348, 352 (4th Cir. 2005).
As to the third requirement, the plaintiff has had and
continues to have an adequate opportunity to raise the issue
of the 1-864 Affidavit in the divorce proceedings. She has
not alleged that the state courts would improperly avoid her
claim under the 1-864 Affidavit. Accordingly, under the
circumstances of this case, the test for Younger
abstention is met. See Kawai v. UaCearnaigh. 249
F.Supp.3d 821, 825 (D.S.C. 2017) (abstaining under
Younger doctrine in an action to enforce an 1-864
Affidavit based on pending state court divorce and support
Fourth Circuit has strictly applied the test for abstention
under Younger, diverting from it only upon a showing
of bad faith or other extraordinary circumstances. See
Nivens, 444 F.3d at 241. While the plaintiff alleges
that the defendant has not acted in good faith over the
course of their marriage, there are no allegations that the
defendant is avoiding the issue of support under the 1-864
Affidavit in state court. Nor does the record before the
court indicate any other extraordinary circumstances
warranting an exception to Younger abstention.
the court is constrained to apply Younger abstention
in this case and to permit the state court proceedings to
address all issues of spousal support between the parties.
reasons stated, the court will grant the defendant's
motion to dismiss, deny as moot the plaintiffs motion to
strike the answer to the ...