A federal appeals court has reinstated the damages lawsuit by a Mexican immigrant whose legal residency claim was thwarted by an immigration lawyer who forged a document to get the man deported.
In 2009, Ignazio Lanuza sought to block his removal and to become a permanent resident of the U.S. Under U.S. rules he qualified by having lived continuously in America more than 10 years with no criminal record, had an American wife and two U.S. citizen children.
But during his immigration hearing, ICE assistant chief counsel Jonathan Love submitted a forged form that Lanuza agreed to voluntarily leave the U.S. in 2000. That was critical because it would make Lanuza ineligible to remain in the U.S. with his family.
Lanuza’s residency request was rejected by immigration and the immigration appeals court.
In 2011, Lanuza’s new lawyer discovered that the form Love submitted was forged. The form showed a heading of “U.S. Department of Homeland Security,” which did not exist in 2000 when the form was allegedly signed.
Based on that discovery, his case was reopened and he became a lawful permanent resident in 2014. Nothing happened to Love until Lanuza filed a claim for damages against Love and the immigration service for violation of his fifth amendment rights.
Love was then prosecuted and pleaded guilty to filing of a false document and sentenced to 30-days in jail, ordered to pay Lanuza $12,000 in restitution. Love was barred from practicing law for 10 years.
But Lanuza’s civil lawsuit was dismissed on the basis of Love’s immunity as a federal employee.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday reinstated Lanuza’s damage claim.
The remedy, known as a “Bivens action,” is intended to stop government misconduct by allowing damage claims. The appeals court said the Bivens claim was available for Lanuza, “where a government immigration attorney intentionally submitted a forged document in an immigration proceeding to completely bar an individual from pursuing relief to which he was entitled,” wrote Judge Kim Wardlaw.
“Failing to provide a narrow remedy for such an egregious constitutional violation would tempt others to do the same and would run afoul of our mandate to enforce the Constitution,” she said.
Judge John Owen and visiting Judge Kermit Lipez of the Boston-based First Circuit.
Case: Lanuz v. Love, No. 15-35408