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Iowa Supreme Court Holds That Emotional Distress Damages Can Be Recovered In Legal Malpractice Case

The case is captioned, Klever Belisario Miranda v. Michael H. Said, 11-0552, Supreme Court of Iowa, July 19, 2013.

This is an immigration malpractice case. Plaintiffs were two citizens of Ecuador who entered the United States without documents. Their son, Cesar, joined them in 1995. They gave birth to another child, Ronaldo, in 1998.

In 2005 Klever received notice of a removal order. He consulted with Said. Said allegedly advised him to return to Ecuador and have his son Cesar sponsor him and Nancy for citizenship once Cesar obtained citizenship. ┬áHe advised Cesar to use form I-130, which permits a citizen to sponsor a relative’s application for citizenship. Further, he advised the plaintiffs to use form I-601, which permits an applicant who is otherwise ineligible, to be admitted into the country based on “extreme hardship” to a qualifying relative.

After their son was granted citizenship, the plaintiffs followed through on the plan and returned to Ecuador. Cesar filed the appropriate forms but the requests for citizenship were denied because a child is not a qualifying relative.

The court explained that the plaintiffs were also informed that they were subject to a ten-year bar to readmission to the United States because they had left the country voluntarily.

The end result of the case is that the plaintiffs were in Ecuador, but their son, an American citizen, was in Iowa.

At trial, the court awarded economic damages, but did not allow the plaintiffs to admit proof of the emotional distress they suffered.

The Iowa Supreme Court held that the plaintiffs could seek damages for emotional distress in this case of immigration malpractice. The facts of the case, if true, show legal malpractice. The plaintiffs were counseled to file an application that they had no standing to file. An immigration lawyer should know how to prepare such an application, or at least to advise the client that the plan (the I-130 application) would not work because a child is not a qualifying relative. The Iowa Supreme Court also allowed the plaintiffs to seek punitive damages against the lawyer for “reckless conduct.”

The Iowa Supreme Court sent the case back to the trial court for a new trial on damages.