Sunday, February 12, 2006

Duvall: Issue Preclusion Applies In Immigration Court

Duvall v. Gonzales
February 7, 2006
Filed 02/07/06, No. 04-4412

Issue Preclusion applies against the government in most immigration cases. Unfortunately for the immigrant in this case, the Third Circuit said that her continued criminal actions meant her case fell into an exception so that the government was not hampered by issue preclusion.

Issue preclusion is a doctrine that prevents someone from relitigating an issue that they previously litigated fully and lost. The Third Circuit ruled that this doctrine can be invoked in many cases to prevent ICE from relitigating an allegation they litigated and lost before -- such as trying and failing to prove alienage in one case then trying to relitigate the issue in a case years later.

The Third Circuit also ruled that the issue preclusion doctrine applies in immigration court, not simply in federal court appeals of immigration cases. It rejected ICE's argument: The doctrine of collateral estoppel has long been understood to apply in all proceedings that may be deemed “adjudicative,” no matter whether the governing entity is a “court” or an “agency.”

Here things get confusing -- the Third Circuit carved out an exception of cases where issue preclusion won't apply, because "collateral estoppel was borne of equity and is therefore 'flexible,' bending to satisfy its underlying purpose in light of the nature of the proceedings."

It's hard to comprehend the Third Circuit's analysis, but it ruled that the immigrant in this case could not invoke issue preclusion because she fell into an exception: (a) it's clear she's not a US citizen, (b) she committed crimes after the initial case ended, and (c) Congress has repeatedly tried to make it easier to deport people who commit serious crimes.

So, what's the rule going forward? It's unclear, but a plausible view is that issue preclusion can always be used in all cases except where the immigrant commits crimes after the initial case ended.


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