KUNGYS V. UNITED STATES, 485 U. S. 759 (1988)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Kungys v. United States, 485 U.S. 759 (1988)

Kungys v. United States

No. 86-228

Argued April 27, 1987

Reargued October 13, 1987

Decided May 2, 1988

485 U.S. 759


The Immigration and Nationality Act provides for the denaturalization of citizens whose citizenship orders and certificates of naturalization "were illegally procured or were procured by concealment of a material fact or by willful misrepresentation." 8 U.S.C. § 1451(a). In 1982, the United States filed a complaint pursuant to § 1451(a) to denaturalize petitioner, who came to the United States in 1948 under an immigration visa which he had applied for in Germany in 1947 and was naturalized as a United States citizen in 1954. The District Court entered judgment for petitioner. It rejected the Government's first claim that petitioner had participated in executing Lithuanian citizens (most of them Jewish) in 1941, holding that the evidence was insufficient to sustain the charges. Regarding the Government's second claim, the court held that, although petitioner had made false statements as to, inter alia, his date and place of birth in his visa and naturalization applications, the misrepresentations were not material within the meaning of § 1451(a), as illuminated by Chaunt v. United States, 364 U. S. 350. The court also rejected the Government's third asserted ground for denaturalization, that petitioner's citizenship had been "illegally procured" under § 1451(a) for lack of "good moral character," required for naturalization by 8 U.S.C. § 1427 (a). Although 8 U.S.C. § 1101(f)(6) makes the giving of false testimony to obtain immigration or naturalization benefits determinative of lack of "good moral character," the court ruled that petitioner's false statements were not covered by this provision, because they were not material. The Court of Appeals declined to pass on the Government's submission as to its first claim, and upheld the District Court's rejection of the third asserted ground for denaturalization. However, the Court of Appeals reversed the District Court's rejection of the second ground, concluding that petitioner's willful misrepresentation in his visa and naturalization applications of the date and place of his birth was material for purposes of § 1451(a)'s "concealment or misrepresentation" provision. The Court of Appeals therefore reversed the judgment of the District Court and remanded for denaturalization proceedings. chanrobles.com-red

Page 485 U. S. 760

Held: The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded.

793 F.2d 516, reversed and remanded.

JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II-A, and III-A, concluding that:

1. For purposes of § 1451(a)'s "concealment or misrepresentation" provision, the test of whether concealments or misrepresentations are "material" is whether they can be shown by clear, unequivocal, and convincing evidence to have been predictably capable of affecting, i.e., to have had a natural tendency to affect, the Immigration and Naturalization Service's decisions. This test is consistent with the lower federal courts' uniform understanding of the "materiality" concept as embodied in other federal statutes criminalizing false statements to public officials. See, e.g., 18 U.S.C. §§ 1001, 1621, and 1623. The dicta in Chaunt v. United States should not be used to construct a different materiality standard in the immigration context. Materiality under § 1451(a), as under other federal statutes, is an issue of law, which is for the court, and not one of fact, which must be decided by the trier of facts. Pp. 485 U. S. 767-772.

2. Contrary to the Court of Appeals' holding (for purposes of the Government's claim under § 1451(a)'s "illegally procured" provision), § 1101 (f)(6) does not impose a materiality requirement for false testimony. Section 1101(f)(6) -- which provides that a person shall be deemed not to be of good moral character if he "has given false testimony for the purpose of obtaining" immigration or naturalization benefits -- is to be given its plain meaning, denominating one who has made false oral statements under oath with the subjective intent of obtaining immigration or naturalization benefits. The absence of a materiality requirement in § 1101 (f)(6) can be explained by the fact that its primary purpose is not (like the misrepresentation clause of § 1451(a)) to prevent false pertinent data from being introduced into the naturalization process, but to identify lack of good moral character. Pp. 485 U. S. 779-782.

JUSTICE SCALIA, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE, JUSTICE BRENNAN, and (as to Part III-B) JUSTICE O'CONNOR, concluded in Parts II-B and III-B, that:

1. Under the "natural tendency" test, petitioner's misrepresentation of the date and place of his birth in his 1954 naturalization petition was not shown to be clearly, unequivocally, and convincingly material within the meaning of § 1451(a)'s "concealment or misrepresentation" provision. It is improper to address the 1947 episode when petitioner made the same misrepresentation in his visa application, since § 1451(a)'s "concealment or misrepresentation" clause is limited to falsehoods or deceptions that procure the order and certificate of naturalization. As to petitioner's chanrobles.com-red

Page 485 U. S. 761

naturalization petition, there has been no showing that the date and place of his birth were themselves relevant to his qualifications for citizenship or that true information, if supplied, would predictably have disclosed other facts relevant to his qualifications. For purposes of determining the natural tendency of a misrepresentation to affect a decision under § 1451(a), what must have a natural tendency to influence the official decision is the misrepresentation itself, not the failure to create an inconsistency with an earlier misrepresentation.

It is for the Third Circuit on remand to determine whether other misrepresentations or concealments that the District Court found to have been made in 1954 were supported by the evidence and material to the naturalization decision. If so, it will have to reach another, independent § 1451(a) issue: whether petitioner "procured" his citizenship by means of those misrepresentations or concealments. This does not require the Government to establish "but for" causality -- that is, that naturalization would not have been granted if the misrepresentations or concealments had not occurred. Section 1451(a)'s "procured by" language should be read to express the notion that one who obtained his citizenship in a proceeding where he made material misrepresentations was presumably unqualified. The naturalized citizen should be able to refute that presumption, and avoid the consequence of denaturalization, by showing, through a preponderance of the evidence, that the statutory requirement as to which the misrepresentation had a natural tendency to produce a favorable decision was in fact met. Pp. 485 U. S. 772-779.

2. Although the Third Circuit erred in importing a materiality requirement into § 1101(f)(6), denaturalization cannot be affirmed on the alternative basis of that section because the question whether any misrepresentation made by petitioner constituted "false testimony for the purpose of obtaining" immigration or naturalization benefits cannot be answered without resolving the additional question of law -- which this Court will not resolve because the case must be remanded -- as to whether petitioner's misrepresentation constituted "testimony." Moreover, an additional question, which must be resolved by the trier of fact, is whether, in making the misrepresentations, petitioner possessed the subjective intent of thereby obtaining immigration or naturalization benefits. P. 485 U. S. 782.

JUSTICE STEVENS, joined by JUSTICE MARSHALL and JUSTICE BLACKMUN, would vacate the decision below and remand for further proceedings consistent with the following conclusions:

1. Our conclusion in Chaunt that the Government cannot denaturalize a citizen under the misrepresentation clause of § 1451(a) without proving the existence of a disqualifying fact is supported by both the requirement that the misrepresentation be material and the requirement that it procure chanrobles.com-red

Page 485 U. S. 762

citizenship. Together and separately, the materiality and procurement requirements reflect congressional intent that citizenship status not be taken away unless the Government proves that the defendant was not qualified to hold that status at the time citizenship was obtained.

A misrepresentation is material within the meaning of § 1451(a) only if it is capable of influencing the decision whether to confer citizenship. Because the decision whether to confer citizenship is an objective one, the only statements that are capable of influencing the outcome are those that conceal disqualifying facts or that prevent or hinder the discovery of disqualifying facts.

To demonstrate that citizenship was "procured by" a material misrepresentation, the Government must demonstrate by clear, unequivocal, and convincing evidence that it relied on the misrepresentation in deciding whether to confer citizenship. Unless a disqualifying fact existed, it cannot be said that a misrepresentation procured citizenship. Thus, the existence of a disqualifying fact is a necessary element of the Government's proof of materiality and reliance. Pp. 485 U. S. 785-795.

2. A citizen cannot be found to lack good moral character under § 1101(f)(6) for giving "false testimony for the purpose of obtaining any benefits" under the naturalization laws unless the false statements were material and had the actual effect of securing some benefit under the immigration and naturalization laws. A materiality requirement is implicit in § 1101(f)(6). In Fedorenko v. United States, 449 U. S. 490, we held that the language of § 10 of the Displaced Persons Act providing for the exclusion from the United States of persons who willfully made misrepresentations for the purpose of gaining admission to the United States implicitly included a materiality requirement. The logic of our decision in Fedorenko applies equally here.

An objective test of whether a false statement was made for the purpose of obtaining a benefit under the immigration laws is more reasonable than a subjective test. An objective test is more consistent with the heavy burden of proof borne by the Government in denaturalization cases, and has the virtue of diminishing the risk of erroneous determinations. Pp. 485 U. S. 795-800.

SCALIA, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II-A, and III-A, in which REHNQUIST, C.J.,and BRENNAN, WHITE, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Parts II-B and III-B, in which REHNQUIST, C.J.,and BRENNAN and (as to Part III-B only) O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 485 U. S. 783. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which MARSHALL and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 485 U. S. 784. O'CONNOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in part chanrobles.com-red

Page 485 U. S. 763

and dissenting in part, post, p. 485 U. S. 801. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 485 U. S. 801. KENNEDY, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.


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