This is a really interesting case that addresses the issue of an I-864 contract. This immigration form is completed by a U.S. citizen who commits to ensuring that an applicant for residency maintains an income of 125% of the federal poverty level. This obligation is indefinite, unless a specific “terminating event” occurs. In the case of Pachal v. Bugreeff, Ms. Bugreeff signed an I-864EZ on behalf of Mr. Pachal, her fiance. Prior to marrying, they also signed a prenuptial agreement waiving alimony. About five years later, Bugreeff filed for divorce. The proceeding progressed, and nearly 2 years after the filing, Pachal was ordered to leave the marital home, at which time he sought temporary alimony. Separate from the ongoing state court divorce proceedings, Pachal filed a federal suit to enforce the I-864EZ. Ms. Bugreeff filed to dismiss the federal suit, using the abstention doctrine.
As a refresher, the Younger doctrine mandates a federal court to abstain if four requirements are met: “(1) a state-initiated proceeding is ongoing; (2) the proceeding implicates important state interests; (3) the federal plaintiff is not barred from litigating federal constitutional issues in the state proceeding; and (4) the federal court action would enjoin the proceeding or have the practical effect of doing so, i.e., would interfere with the state proceeding in a way that Younger disapproves.”
In addressing point 4 specifically, the federal court concluded abstention was not appropriate. An I-864 claim survives divorce. The parties had discussed the I-864 claim in the divorce proceedings, but, Pachal never filed a breach of contract claim under the I-864 in state court.
Bugreeff also argued the Colorado River doctrine. The court doubted its application, given that there was no parallel proceeding. The court nonetheless analyzed the 8 factors in Colorado River and concluded that the overwhelming number of factors support retaining jurisdiction over the I-864 case.
This case is a good reminder of the abstention doctrine’s basic elements, along with the basic rules of an I-864.