By Bruce Buchanan, Siskind Susser


Contrary to the assertions of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) found two companies owned by the same shareholders and with the same officers, could not both be found liable for I-9 form violations. See U.S. v. PM Packaging, Inc and PM Corporate Group, Inc. d/b/a PM Packaging, 11 OCAHO no. 1253 (2015).

ICE served a Notice of Inspection (NOI) on PM Packaging at its one facility in Compton, California. Within a month, PM Packaging closed the facility but ICE continued the case with issuance of a Notice of Suspect Documents and Notice of Intent to Fine. After the parties could not resolve the matter, ICE issued a Complaint against PM Packaging and PM Corporate.

PM Corporate asserted it was a separate entity than PM Packaging because no assets or employees were ever transferred between companies, and they had different premises and purposes. The only connection between the two entities is the same shareholders and officers. OCAHO found common ownership alone was insufficient to pierce the corporate veil. Thus, PM Corporate was not liable for any of PM Packaging’s I-9 form violations.

As for the alleged violations, PM Packaging argued it was not liable for 28 violations, the failure to properly complete Section 2 of the I-9 forms, because they were technical errors. OCAHO found to the contrary, and stated they were substantive errors – failure to print the name of the employer representative who signed Section 2 (and the signatures were illegible) and failure to record the issuing authorities or expiration dates on many of the I-9 forms without retaining legible copies of the documents in question. Thus, penalties must be assessed for these substantive errors.

PM Packaging was successful in reducing the amount of the penalties. ICE sought $53,762.50 in penalties. PM Packaging asserted these penalties were excessive and OCAHO agreed. It found the penalties should be assessed at $500 or $600 each, rather than $1,075.25 each. OCAHO’s reasoning was this level of penalties could not have a deterrent effect because the business had ceased to exist. Furthermore, maximum penalties were reserved for the most egregious violations, of which more than half of the violations in question did not meet the criteria.