Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Middlesex
November 5, 2015
Complaint in equity filed in the Middlesex Division of the
Probate and Family Court Department on April 14, 2014.
case was heard by Patricia A. Gorman, J.
Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative transferred the
case from the Appeals Court.
Elizabeth Badger for the plaintiff.
K. Ryan, Cynthia M. Guizzetti, & Mara O'Malley, for
New England Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers
Association & others, amici curiae, submitted a brief.
Gants, C.J., Spina, Cordy, Botsford, Duffly, Lenk, &
N.E.3d 62] Spina, J.
this case, we are asked to determine whether the Probate and
Family Court Department has jurisdiction over youth between
the ages of eighteen and twenty-one to make special findings
that are necessary to apply for special immigrant juvenile
(SIJ) status under 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(27)(J) (2012).
Congress created the SIJ classification to permit immigrant
children who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by one
or both of their parents to apply for lawful permanent
residence while remaining in the United States. See
id. ; 8 C.F.R. § 204.11 (2009). "
[C]hild" under the Federal statute is defined as an
person under the age of twenty-one. 8 U.S.C. §
1101(b)(1). Before an immigrant child can apply for SIJ
status, she must receive the following predicate findings
from a " juvenile court" : (1) she is dependent
on the juvenile court; (2) her reunification with one or both
parents is not viable due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment;
and (3) it is not in her best interests to return to her
country of origin. 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(27)(J)(i). Once
these special findings are made, an application and
supporting documents may be submitted to the United States
Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
agency. An application for SIJ status must be
submitted before the immigrant's twenty-first birthday. 8
C.F.R. § 204.11.
Recinos, the plaintiff, was a twenty year old, unmarried
immigrant attempting to apply for SIJ status. She filed a
complaint in equity in April, 2014, in the Middlesex County
Division of the Probate and Family Court Department. The
plaintiff requested equitable and declaratory relief in the
form of a decree of special findings and rulings of law
concerning the findings necessary to apply for SIJ status.
She also filed various motions, including a motion for
special findings. A pretrial conference was held in January,
2015, at which the plaintiff submitted a stipulation signed
by both herself and her mother, the defendant. In March,
2015, a judge in the Probate and Family Court dismissed the
complaint, explaining that the plaintiff was over the age of
eighteen and that, therefore, the court did not have
jurisdiction over her. The plaintiff filed a timely notice
[46 N.E.3d 63] of appeal. At the plaintiff's request, the
Appeals Court stayed the proceedings so that she could pursue
an asylum application; however, in late September, 2015, her
asylum application remained unadjudicated. The plaintiff
informed the Appeals Court that she would like to pursue her
appeal as expeditiously as possible because her twenty-first
birthday would occur on December 5, 2015. We took this appeal
on our own motion and expedited the proceedings to preserve
the plaintiff's opportunity to apply for SIJ status. This
court heard oral arguments on November 5, 2015.
primary issue raised by the plaintiff on appeal is whether
the Probate and Family Court has jurisdiction pursuant to its
broad equity powers under G. L. c. 215, § 6, over
immigrant youth between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one
to entertain a request to make the necessary predicate
special findings under 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(27)(J). On
November 9, 2015, we issued the following order to the
Middlesex County Division of the Probate and Family Court
" The judgment of the Probate and Family Court dated
March 13, 2015, dismissing the plaintiff's complaint is
reversed. The Probate and Family Court has jurisdiction to
entertain the plaintiff's case, and the plaintiff is
dependent on the court for these purposes. The court shall
conduct proceedings forthwith on the plaintiff's
complaint and shall act on her requests for relief
expeditiously, such that, if the requested findings are made,
she will have time to apply to the Federal authorities for
special immigrant juvenile status before her twenty-first
birthday on December 5, 2015. This order will serve as the
rescript of this court for purposes of Mass. R. A. P. 1 (c),
and shall issue to the trial court immediately. Opinion or
opinions to follow. By the Court."
opinion states the reasons for that order.
plaintiff was born on December 5, 1994, in El Salvador. In
her complaint and affidavit, the plaintiff chronicles a
childhood riddled with instances of physical and emotional
abuse by her father. She also described her mother's
failure to protect her and her siblings from their
father's abuse and the chronic gang violence in their
neighborhood. She came to the United States in 2012, at the
age of seventeen, to escape the threats from her father and
the gang violence that overwhelmed her
neighborhood. At first, she settled in the area of
Baltimore, Maryland, with her brother. While residing in
Maryland, she was assigned a volunteer attorney. For
unexplained reasons, the attorney did not take any action in
helping the plaintiff obtain the findings she now seeks from
the Probate and Family Court. At the end of 2012, the
plaintiff relocated to Massachusetts and moved in with a
friend with whom she still currently lives. While living in
the United States, the plaintiff has had two children.
Preliminarily, the plaintiff and her experiences seem to be
of the type contemplated by the Federal statute.
Special immigrant ...