In the recent case of Edwards v. Bryson (2013 WL 4504783 (C.A.3 (Pa.) Aug. 26, 2013), the United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit reaffirmed its prior decision in United States v. Moreno (3d Cir. July 3, 2013), in which the court held that a passport will serve as conclusive proof of United States citizenship only if “its holder was actually a citizen of the United States when the passport was issued.”
Gilberto Ernesto Edwards was born in Panama in 1965 and was admitted to the US as a lawful permanent resident in 1977. In 1982, Edwards was mother naturalized as a US citizen. At that time, Edwards was 17 years old and lived with his mother. Although living separately, Edwards’ father naturalized as a United States citizen, and in 1985, his parents divorced. Edwards applied for and received a United States passport in 1991, submitting his parents’ naturalization certificates and his own birth certificate as support.
Edwards was indicted in 2000 for narcotics trafficking offenses. He was convicted in March 2001, and soon thereafter filed an N–600 Application for Certificate of Citizenship with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). His passport was still valid when he filed, but it expired on December 15, 2001. In 2008, Edwards filed another N–600 application, this time with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Both of his N–600 applications were denied in 2009. Edwards appealed the decision to the Administrative Appeals Office and the case was remanded to USCIS to allow the Department of State to decide if it could revoke his passport. The USCIS again denied Edwards’s N–600 applications in June 2011, noting that his passport could not be revoked because it had already expired. That decision was affirmed by the Administrative Appeals Office.
Edwards then filed an action in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against the appellants seeking judgment pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1503(a) declaring him to be a United States citizen. Edwards and the government cross-moved for summary judgment. The District Court granted Edwards’s motion and declared him to be a United States citizen. The government appealed.
Edwards’ declaratory judgment action entitled him to a de novo proceeding before an Article III court to determine whether he was a United States citizen. In the § 1503(a) proceeding before the District Court, Edwards bore the burden of proving his citizenship, and the District Court held that Edwards’s expired passport was sufficient to satisfy this burden. The District Court’s decision relied principally on 22 U.S.C. § 2705, which provides that a “passport, during its period of validity (if such period is the maximum period authorized by law), issued by the Secretary of State to a citizen of the United States” will serve as conclusive proof of United States citizenship. 22 U.S.C. § 2705. In light of § 2705 and because Edwards had been issued a passport, the District Court held that, although there was a dispute as to whether “an expired passport can serve as conclusive proof of citizenship, there was no doubt that it was sufficient to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that Edwards is a U.S. citizen.”
While Edwards’ appeal was pending, the Third Circuit decided United States v. Moreno (3d Cir. July 3, 2013), in which the court held 22 U.S.C. § 2705 as providing that a passport will serve as conclusive proof of United States citizenship only if “its holder was actually a citizen of the United States when the passport was issued.” Here, however, the District Court held that under § 2705 Edwards’ expired passport was conclusive proof of his citizenship, even though there was no evidence that he was actually a citizen when his passport was issued to him. The Third Circuit found that this ruling was inconsistent with the appellate court’s decision in Moreno.
The parties acknowledged that Edwards was not already a citizen of the U.S. when his passport was issued in 1991. The Third Circuit held that Edwards made no showing that, at the time he obtained the passport, he was a U.S. citizen. As a result, under Moreno, his passport was not conclusive proof of his U.S. citizenship, and he has failed to meet his burden under 8 U.S.C. § 1503(a).
As a consequence, the Third Circuit reversed the judgment of the District Court and remanded the case to enter judgment in favor of appellants.