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Al-Aromah v. Tomaszewicz

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

September 11, 2019

NADIAH AL-AROMAH, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL TOMASZEWICZ, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

          Hon. Robert S. Ballou United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Nadiah Al-Aromah, a U.S. lawful permanent resident, initiated this breach of contract and declaratory judgment action against her husband, Defendant Michael Tomaszewicz (“Tomaszewicz”), seeking to enforce an affidavit of support Tomaszewicz signed when the couple immigrated to the United States. Tomaszewicz seeks to dismiss the Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Dkt. Nos. 5 & 12. The motions have been fully briefed and the parties presented oral argument. For the reasons set forth below, the court will grant Tomaszewicz's motion to dismiss Al-Aromah's request for declaratory judgment, deny the motion to dismiss Al-Aromah's breach of contract claim, and decline to dismiss the case pursuant to the Younger abstention doctrine. This matter shall proceed on Al-Aromah's breach of contract claim.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Tomaszewicz is a U.S. citizen who married Al-Aromah in Yemen in 2011. Id. at ¶¶ 3-4. In 2013, Tomaszewicz completed a Form I-864 Affidavit of Support (“Affidavit of Support”) for the purpose of achieving the lawful permanent resident status of Al-Aromah, which requires that Tomaszewicz shall provide Al-Aromah “any support necessary to maintain him or her at an income that is at least 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for his or her household size.”[2] Id. at ¶ 9; Dkt. No. 1-1, p. 4. On April 8, 2014, Al-Aromah was awarded permanent residency status having immigrated from Yemen. She currently resides in Virginia. Id. at ¶ 11.

         The parties legally separated on June 7, 2016. Id. at ¶¶ 12, 17. Al-Aromah petitioned for spousal support, and on December 14, 2016, the Roanoke County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court entered an order of pendente lite spousal support requiring Tomaszewicz to provide support of $1, 905 per month, commencing December 1, 2016 (“Spousal Support Order”). Id. at ¶ 17; Dkt. No. 5-1. Tomaszewicz filed divorce proceedings in Rockingham County Circuit Court on March 27, 2019. Id. at ¶¶ 14, Dkt. No. 1-2.

         Al-Aromah filed this action pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1183 to enforce the Affidavit of Support, alleging that Tomaszewicz provided no support between the date of the parties' separation on June 7, 2016, and the date of the Spousal Support Order, December 14, 2016. Dkt. Nos. 1, 11. Al-Aromah asserts claims for breach of contract and declaratory relief, and requests that the court order specific performance under the Affidavit of Support; award the financial support she was denied between June 7, 2016 and December 1, 2016; and award costs and attorney's fees under the Affidavit of Support. Al-Aromah also asks the court to declare that Tomaszewicz has a duty of support under the terms of the Affidavit of Support. Id. Tomaszewicz moves to dismiss the Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Dkt. Nos. 5 & 12.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss is to test the sufficiency of a plaintiff's complaint. See Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “require[ ] only ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (omission in original) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Legal conclusions in the guise of factual allegations, however, are not entitled to a presumption of truth. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (requiring a complaint to contain facts sufficient “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level” and to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face”).

         III.ANALYSIS

         a. Affidavit of Support- Form I-864

         Under federal law, immigrants who are likely to become a public charge are ineligible for admission into the United States, 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(4), unless their applications for admission are accompanied by an Affidavit of Support, Form I-864. See 8 U.S.C. §§ 1182(a)(4)(B)(ii), 1183a(a)(i). A person petitioning for the admission of a family-sponsored immigrant must sign a Form I-864 affidavit agreeing to provide financial support to the sponsored immigrant at 125% of the federal poverty level. 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(4)(C)(ii). This affidavit is considered a legally enforceable contract between the sponsor and the sponsored immigrant. Younis v. Farooqi, 597 F.Supp.2d 552, 554-55 (D. Md. 2009) (citing Shumye v. Felleke, 555 F.Supp.2d 1020, 1023 (N.D. Cal. 2008)). The signing sponsor submits himself to the personal jurisdiction of any federal or state court in which a civil lawsuit to enforce the affidavit has been brought. See 8 U.S.C. § 1183a(a)(1)(C). The sponsor's obligation under the affidavit does not terminate in the event of divorce. See Shumye, 555 F.Supp.2d at 1024. A sponsor's obligations under Form 1-864 terminates if one of the five following conditions is met: “(1) the sponsor dies, (2) the sponsored immigrant dies, (3) the sponsored immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen, (4) the sponsored immigrant permanently departs the U.S., or (5) the sponsored immigrant is credited with 40 qualifying quarters of work.” Du v. McCarthy, No. 2:14cv100, 2015 WL 1800225, at *5 (N.D. W.Va. Apr. 16, 2015). None of these conditions apply to Al-Aromah.

         b. Breach of Contract

         The elements of a breach of contract action are (1) a legally enforceable obligation of a defendant to a plaintiff; (2) the defendant's violation or breach of that obligation; and (3) injury or damage to the plaintiff caused by the breach of obligation. Cunningham Bros. Used Auto Parts, Inc. v. Zurich Am. Ins. Co., No. 6:17-cv-51, 2017 WL 4707464, at *2 (W.D. Va. Oct. 19, 2017). Al-Aromah's complaint satisfies the first two elements by asserting that the Affidavit of Support is an enforceable contract and that Tomaszewicz breached the contract between June and December 2016. Tomaszewicz asserts that Al-Aromah fails to state a claim for the third element of injury or damages because his payments to Al-Aromah under the Spousal Support Order from 2017-2019, including some arrearages payments, equal more than 125% of the federal poverty level that he was required to pay under the Affidavit of Support from 2016 through 2019.[3] Dkt. No. 12, p. 2. Al-Aromah maintains that Tomaszewicz's payments pursuant to the Spousal Support Order in 2017 and onward cannot be retroactively applied to satisfy his obligation to support her under the Affidavit of Support for the year 2016.[4] Dkt. No. 15, p. 3.

         The Spousal Support Order requires that Tomaszewicz pay Al-Aromah $1, 905.00 per month, commencing on December 1, 2016. The order states that “[a]ll support payments made shall be first credited to the current support obligation and any remainder of such payment then credited to arrearages, if any.” Dkt. No. 5-1. Tomaszewicz asserts that he made the following payments to Al-Aromah under the Spousal Support Order: “2016- $0 (but $1, 905.00 paid on 1/2017 towards 2016); 2017- 22, 860.00; 2018- $22, 860.00; 2019 through June 1, 2019- $11, 430.” Dkt. No. 12, p. 2.

         The terms of the Affidavit of Support provide for the appropriate “measure of damages that would put plaintiff in as good a position as she would have been had the contract been performed.” Shumye, 555 F.Supp.2d at 1024. The parties agree that the amount owed under the Affidavit of Support for the alleged 6-month breach in 2016 is $7, 425.00.[5]

         Tomaszewicz asserts that the court should retroactively apply support he provided to Al-Aromah between 2017-2019 to the amount he owed in 2016. Tomaszewicz's argument requires the court to consider his payments to Al-Aromah in aggregate for a period of 4 years to determine if the Affidavit of Support was breached. This method of calculation is not supported by persuasive case law, which instructs the court to compare Al-Aromah's annual ...


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