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Valenzuela v. Ducey

United States District Court, D. Arizona

December 6, 2017

Lucrecia Rivas Valenzuela,, Plaintiffs,
Doug Ducey, et al, Defendants.


          David G. Campbell United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs have filed a motion to certify a class of noncitizens who possess certain categories of federally-issued Employment Authorization Documents, but nonetheless are denied Arizona driver's licenses or required to present additional documents to obtain them. Doc. 125. The motion is fully briefed, and the Court heard oral argument on December 1, 2017. Docs. 140, 141. For reasons stated below, the Court will grant the motion in part.

         I. Background.

         Arizona law states that noncitizens may obtain Arizona driver's licenses by presenting proof that their presence in the United States is “authorized under federal law.” A.R.S. § 28-3153(D). Plaintiffs are noncitizen residents of Arizona who have deferred action designations from the federal government - meaning that they presently are not subject to removal from the United States - and who have been issued Employment Authorization Documents (“EADs”) from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”). Plaintiffs' EADs are coded “(c)(14)” and authorize them to work in the United States.

         Defendants' current policy requires (c)(14) EAD holders to satisfy procedural requirements that other EAD holders need not satisfy to obtain an Arizona driver's license. Plaintiffs assert that this policy violates the Supremacy and Equal Protection Clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Doc. 1. Plaintiffs seek to represent a class of (c)(14) holders in Arizona. Plaintiffs also seek to represent holders of (a)(11) EADs who are prohibited entirely from obtaining Arizona driver's licenses.

         When Plaintiffs filed this case in September 2016, Defendants' Policy 16.1.4 stated that EADs coded (a)(11), (c)(14), or (c)(33) were insufficient to prove federally authorized presence in the United States, while all other categories of EADs were sufficient. See Doc. 27-4 at 5.[1] This Court and the Ninth Circuit prohibited Defendants from enforcing the policy with respect to noncitizens possessing (c)(33) EADs pursuant to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) program. See Ariz. Dream Act Coal. v. Brewer, 81 F.Supp.3d 795, 799 (D. Ariz. 2015), aff'd 855 F.3d 963 (9th Cir. 2017). Plaintiffs in this case seek similar declaratory and injunctive relief prohibiting Defendants from enforcing their policy with respect to (c)(14) and (a)(11) EADs. Doc. 125 at 6.

         The relevant version of Policy 16.1.4 was issued in 2013 and remained unchanged for several years. See Docs. 27-4, 125-12. In February 2017, in response to questions from this Court at oral argument on another motion in this case, Defendants issued a revised version of the policy. Doc. 125-13 at 17; Doc. 125-12. The 2017 version, like the 2013 version, contains section “S, ” which addresses certain categories of EADs. Doc. 125-12 at 5; Doc. 27-4 at 5. Consistent with the rulings in the Dream Act case, the 2017 version eliminates any reference to (c)(33) EADs. The policy continues to provide, however, that (a)(11) EADs are unacceptable as proof of authorized presence, and states that (c)(14) EAD holders “may be eligible” for a driver's license or other identification if they are a derivative of a self-petitioner under the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”) or have an application pending for a visa or change of status. Doc. 125-12 at 5. To prove that they fall into one of these categories, (c)(14) EAD holders must present an acceptable document in addition to his or her EAD, which “may include” a USCIS Notice of Action identifying the EAD holder as a VAWA derivative or an I-918 petition for a U nonimmigrant visa. Id. Defendants' website adds that “there may be alternative forms of documentation sufficient to establish authorized presence when accompanied with a C14 [EAD].” Doc. 125-15.[2]

         II. Plaintiffs' Proposed Class.

         Plaintiffs seek to certify the following class under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2):

All noncitizens who are being denied or will be denied the ability to present their [EADs] as sufficient proof of federally authorized presence to obtain an Arizona driver's license as a result of Defendants' 2013 and 2017 policies and related practices pursuant to Executive Order 2012-06, . . . Policy 16.1.4, and . . . Policy 16.1.4's implementation.

Doc. 125 at 6. Because the only classes of EAD holders who are denied the right to obtain driver's licenses solely on the basis of their EADs are (a)(11) and (c)(14) holders, those are the two categories that would be included in this proposed class.

         For several reasons, Plaintiffs cannot include (a)(11) EAD holders in their proposed class. First, no Plaintiff holds an (a)(11) EAD. As a result, no Plaintiff has been injured by Defendants' (a)(11) policy and no Plaintiff has standing to challenge that policy. Second, no Plaintiff has a claim typical of an (a)(11) EAD holder's claim. The gravamen of Plaintiffs' complaint is that Defendants are imposing burdens on (c)(14) EAD holders in the form of additional paperwork not required of other EAD holders. This is quite different from the complaint of (a)(11) EAD holders who are barred entirely from obtaining licenses. Third, no Plaintiff can adequately represent (a)(11) EAD holders because no Plaintiff can present an (a)(11) claim at trial. For these reasons, the Court concludes that (a)(11) EAD holders cannot be included in the class, and will focus the rest of this order on (c)(14) EAD holders.

         III. Standing.

         In arguing that Plaintiffs are not adequate class representatives, Defendants assert that Plaintiffs lack standing to pursue their claims. Doc. 140 at 13-14. Defendants argue that Plaintiffs, as (c)(14) holders under the VAWA and U visa programs, have obtained or can obtain driver's licenses under the Arizona policy. Although true, the Court is not persuaded that this fact deprives Plaintiffs of standing.

         The Supreme Court has recognized that equal protection is denied not only when government denies a benefit to a particular class, but also when government imposes a barrier to obtaining the benefit that is not imposed on others:

When the government erects a barrier that makes it more difficult for members of one group to obtain a benefit than it is for members of another group, a member of the former group seeking to challenge the barrier need not allege that he would have obtained the benefit but for the barrier in order to establish standing. The “injury in fact” in an equal protection case of this variety is the denial of equal treatment resulting from the imposition of the barrier, not the ultimate inability to obtain the benefit.

Ne. Fla. Chapter of Associated Gen. Contractors of Am. v. City of Jacksonville, Fla., 508 U.S. 656, 666 (1993). Even if noncitizens with (c)(14) EADs ultimately succeed in obtaining driver's licenses, Defendants' policy subjects them to requirements not applied to other EAD holders. Plaintiffs are treated differently from other EAD holders who can simply present their EADs as sufficient proof of authorized presence. This is an “injury in fact” as explained in the above quotation.[3]

         Nor is standing defeated by the fact that some Plaintiffs have obtained licenses. Defendants agreed at oral argument that (c)(14) EAD holders must renew their driver's licenses every year or two. Thus, Plaintiffs who presently have licenses will be required to comply with Defendants' policy when they seek to renew those licenses.

         What is more, “[i]n a class action, standing is satisfied if at least one named plaintiff meets the requirements.” Bates v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 511 F.3d 974, 985 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Armstrong v. Davis, 275 F.3d 849, 860 (9th Cir.2001)). Plaintiff Araceli Franco Gonzalez received a (c)(14) EAD in August 2017 based on her pending application for a U visa. Doc. 125-23 ¶ 2. The next month, Ms. Franco Gonzalez went to an Arizona motor vehicle division (“MVD”) office to obtain a driver's license. Id. ¶ 3. She presented her EAD and social security card, but was told that she would need additional documentation. Id. Ms. Franco Gonzalez contacted her attorney, asking what additional documents she needed. Id. ¶ 4. Her attorney e-mailed her a copy of her U-visa deferred action approval letter. Id. She returned to the MVD, but again was denied because she did not have the original letter. Id.

         Ms. Franco Gonzalez suffered a concrete, particularized harm when she encountered a barrier to obtaining a driver's license that is not faced by other EAD holders. This injury resulted directly from Defendants' policy and would be redressed by an injunction requiring Arizona to accept EADs as sufficient proof of authorized presence in the United States. And similar injury is likely to recur in the future - Ms. Franco Gonzalez will continue to hold a (c)(14) EAD during the pendency of her visa ...

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