A Rhode Island restaurant group challenged a USCIS denial and won H-1B “specialty occupation” status for its General Operations Manager, an Indian national, in federal court.
On March 26, 2020, U.S. District Court Judge Mary McElroy sitting in the District of Rhode Island issued a decision granting summary judgment in favor of a restaurant group, India House, Inc., and its employee Santosh Shanbhag. Santosh Shanbhag was granted H-1B status in a “specialty occupation” after being previously denied by USCIS. Leveraging support from its Providence office, attorneys for Green & Spiegel, based in Philadelphia, litigated the case on behalf of India House and Mr. Shanbhag.
Mr. Shanbhag sought “specialty occupation” classification as a “General and Operations Manager” for India House, Inc. After a 2018 denial by USCIS and a 2019 denial on appeal by the Administrative Appeals Office, the parties sued USCIS and sought relief in federal court pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act.
Stephen Antwine, who leads the Federal Litigation Practice at Green & Spiegel, and argued the case, hopes the decision will encourage further litigation in H-1B cases. “USCIS decisions are subject to federal court review, and it is an avenue for relief that is often overlooked,” according to Antwine. Although Green & Spiegel did not file the original H-1B petitions, Antwine said, “We felt that the evidence presented in the administrative record formed a strong basis to challenge the initial denial in federal court.”
District Judge McElroy granted summary judgment for India House, Inc. after briefing and oral argument. Most importantly, the Court concluded that “Hospitality Management” was a “specialty occupation” for the purposes of H-1B classification. Judge McElroy determined that Mr. Shanbhag’s educational background, including a degree in hospitality management from Johnson & Wales University, made him eminently qualified for the position of General Operations Manager of the restaurant group. She ruled that hospitality management was not a general degree, and based the decision on the course of study in which Mr. Shanbhag had engaged, including “food, food safety, food service, food culture, and franchising.”
Moreover, the Court saw through the mischaracterization of the business entity itself by USCIS which labeled it simply “a restaurant started in 1987.” In fact, the evidence clearly established that it was a restaurant group consisting of four restaurants and an expansive catering company. Judge McElroy concluded that the government’s approval of two prior H-1B petitions was instructive, and held that the government could not justify its arbitrary denial for a more senior position. In making the decision, she referenced increasing denial rates for H-1B cases, despite no changes in the actual law or any underlying applicable policy memoranda.
Jonathan Grode, Green & Spiegel’s U.S. Practice Director, lauded the decision of the Court: “This decision shows that the USCIS cannot arbitrarily dictate adjudication standards based on the whims of the federal administration. We applaud the Court for its concise and well-reasoned decision as well as swift action through summary judgment. The litigation team at Green and Spiegel went above and beyond for our client and I am proud of this tremendous team effort.”
Case Citation: India House, Inc. v. McAleenan, et. al, 1:19CV00296, (D.R.I2020).
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