United States District Court, D. Oregon
Merrill Schneider, Schneider Kerr Law Offices, Portland, Oregon, Attorney for plaintiff
S. Amanda Marshall, United States Attorney, Ronald K. Silver, Assistant United States Attorney, Portland, Oregon, Gerald J. Hill, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office of the General Counsel, Social Security Administration, Seattle, Washington, Attorneys for defendant
OPINION AND ORDER
ANN AIKEN, Chief District Judge.
Plaintiff, Tomiko Ernest Marcus ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act ("Act") to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for supplemental security income ("SSI"). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is reversed and remanded for further proceedings.
On April 9, 2007, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI. Tr. 25-28, 64-76. After the application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. Tr. 46-47. On March 13, 2009, Administrative Law Judge Marilyn Mauer ("the ALJ") issued a decision finding Plaintiff was a U.S. Citizen for purposes of receiving SSI, and granted her benefits. Tr. 95-101. Upon referral from the Seattle Regional Commissioner, and under the authority of 20 C. F. R. §§ 416.1469 and 519.1470, the Appeals Council reviewed the decision on its own motion. Tr. 91-92, 103-107. On May 12, 2009, the Appeals Council remanded the decision to the ALJ for further development of the record. Tr. 154-156. On April 19, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not a United States citizen for the purposes of receiving benefits. Tr. 14-21. After the Appeals Council declined review, Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court. Tr. 3-5, 8-10.
In 1940, Plaintiff was born on Moen Island, Truk District, now part of the Federated States of Micronesia ("FSM").Tr. 129. In 1970, Plaintiff moved to the island of Saipan, now part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands ("CNMI"). Tr. 70. Plaintiff lived in Saipan until 1979, when she and her family moved to Oregon. Tr. 129.
Following World War II, the area now known as Micronesia, which included the FSM and the CNMI, became part of a United Nations Trusteeship, the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands ("TTPI"), which was administered by the United States.
In 1972, the CNMI began negotiations with the United States in an effort to withdraw from the TTPI and become a commonwealth territory of the United States. The new CNMI government took office on January 9, 1978, and the CNMI officially became a commonwealth November 4, 1986. Upon the termination of the trusteeship, certain CNMI residents became U.S. citizens.
The CNMI passed a series of laws to facilitate a smooth transition from TTPI territory to U.S. Commonwealth. Relevant here are three laws determining who would become a citizen of the CNMI, and ultimately who would be granted full U.S. citizenship upon the termination of the trusteeship agreement.
1. Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in Political Union with the United States of America
In 1975, the people of the CNMI approved the Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in Political Union with the United States of America ("the Covenant"). The Covenant defined the CNMI's relationship with the United States. Pub L. 94-241, 90 Stat. 263 (1976) (codified at 48 U.S.C. § 1801 note). Article 3 of the Covenant addressed issues of nationality and citizenship, and provided that certain persons who met its requirements would become full U.S. citizens upon termination of the trusteeship. Id . Specifically, § 301 provides that the following persons, provided they owed no allegiance to any foreign country, became U.S. citizens on November 4, 1986, by operation of law:
(a) all persons born in the Northern Mariana Islands who are citizens of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands on the day preceding the effective date of this Section, and who on that date are domiciled in the Northern Mariana Islands or in the United States or any territory or possession thereof;
(b) all persons who are citizens of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands on the day preceding the effective date of this Section, who have been domiciled continuously in the Northern Mariana Islands for at least five years immediately prior to that date, and who, unless under age, registered to vote in elections for the Marianas Islands District Legislature or for any municipal election in the Northern Mariana Islands prior to January 1, 1975; and
(c) all persons domiciled in the Northern Mariana Islands on the day preceding the effective date of this Section, who, although not citizens of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, on that date have been domiciled continuously in the Northern Mariana Islands beginning prior to January 1, 1974.
Id. at § 301.
Section 304 of the Covenant, effective 1978, provided that those residents of the CNMI who met the requirements in § 301 of the Covenant would be entitled to "interim citizenship" before the end of the Trusteeship. Id . at § 304. Interim citizenship granted all the privileges and immunities held by U.S. citizens to citizens of the CNMI during the interim ratification period. Id . When the U.S. Congress approved the Covenant, it used the same language as Article 3 of the Covenant and provided that its provisions, including the grant of permanent U.S. citizenship, would become effective upon termination of the trusteeship, which occurred November 4, 1986. Pres. Proc. No. 5, 564, 51 Fed. Reg. 40, 399 (Nov. 3, 1986) reprinted in 48 U.S.C. § 1801.
2. The Constitution of the CNMI
The Covenant provided that the CNMI adopt a constitution consistent with both the Covenant and U.S. laws. See e.g. De Mesa v. Castro , 844 F.2d 642, 644 (9th Cir. 1988). Section 8 of the CNMI Constitution contained a Schedule of Transitional Matters which included an ...