Madrid v. Robinson: federal courts have subject matter jurisdiction on I-864 enforcement cases

A federal district court has issued a ruling that is very helpful to I-864 beneficiaries who turn to federal courts to enforce their rights. Hats off to Devon Slovensky for her great work on this case. There are generally two ways to "get into" federal court. One is if you have a defendant and a plaintiff from different states - called "diversity" jurisdiction. The second is if you are suing on a federal law basis, called "federal question" jurisdiction. People are often surprised to learn at some judges are unsure whether I-864 claims qualify as federal law claims. That's seems somewhat odd, since a federal statute creates the Form I-864 and gives beneficiaries the right to sue.

The most thorough discussion of federal subject matter jurisdiction in any case to date comes from a recent decision in Madrid v. Robinson from the Western District of Virginia.[1] The defendant in Madrid argued that the plaintiff’s claim sounded only in contract law and was undermined by no federal cause of action. The Court first noted that the vast majority of courts to consider the issues “either explicitly or implicitly” found federal question jurisdiction in I-864 enforcement litigation.[2] The Court found the I-864’s statutory provisions similar to those at issue in the Supreme Court in Mims v. Arrow Fin. Servs., LLC.[3] There, federal question jurisdiction existed where a federal statute created a claim for relief, even though the statute referred only to suits in an “appropriate court of that State.”[4]

The Madrid Court found I-864 claims to be indistinguishable, where the statute authorizes enforcement ligation “in any appropriate court.”[5] “Under any formulation of the arising under standard, this federal statute ‘creates’ or ‘authorizes’ a private right of action to enforce an Affidavit of Support.”[6] The Court noted that jurisdiction was even clearer than in Mims, as the statute’s “appropriate court” provision did not mention only state courts.[7]

The Madrid Court went on to note the nature of enforcement claims, which go beyond reliance on merely the four corners of the Form I-864. The rules for calculating quarters of work – for purpose of determining whether the 40-quarters terminating condition has been met – are set forth in the statute but no the Form I-864 itself.[8] Likewise, the statute provides remedies – such as a judgment lien – which are not clear from the contract itself.[9]

Madrid is not an appellate decision, so it is not binding legal authority on any court. But it offers strong persuasive arguments in favor of allowing I-864 beneficiaries to enforce their rights in federal court. Again, hats off to Devon Slovensky for sucessfully arguing her side of this case.


[1] 6:16-CV-00047 (Oct. 31, 2016) (unpublished) (memorandum opinion denying defendant’s motion to dismiss).

[2] Id. at 6 (“At least four circuit courts and many more district courts have found, either explicitly or implicitly, that arising under jurisdiction exists for Form I-864 cases”).

[3] Id. at 7 (citing 132 S. Ct. 740 (2012)).

[4] Id. (citing 42 U.S.C. § 227(b)(3)).

[5] Id. (citing 8 U.S.C. § 1183a(e)(1)).

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id. at 8 (citing 8 U.S.C. § 1183a(a)(3)).

[9] Id.