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IN RE: the Application of Ronnie Ramael TODD for Leave to Assume the Name of Ramael Blackwell El and for Leave to Assume the Race/Nationality of “Moor/Americas Aboriginal national, but not a citizen of the United States”
Petitioner, a United States citizen, has applied for leave of court to change his name from Ronnie Ramael Todd, to Ronnie Blackwell El, and to change his nationality to “Moor/Americas Aboriginal national, but not a citizen of the United States” (Petition, ¶¶ 2, 3, 5).
I. NAME CHANGE
That part of the application that seeks a name change is governed by Article 6 of the New York Civil Rights Law. Petitioner's application complies with Article 6. However, the Petition reflects a closed criminal matter, identified as “Case Number 09CR6335 Dekalb County Georgia” (Id., at ¶ 8).
The Court searched the DeKalb Judicial Information System on-line, and satisfied itself that the criminal matter pertains to the charge of forgery in the first degree, which is a felony, and that the matter was administratively closed on December 29, 2009.
It is well settled that petitions for name change by convicted felons, while serving their sentences, should be vetted by the New York State Department of Corrections and/or the prosecuting District Attorney's office. Often, one or both of these agencies will object to a prisoner's name change petition on the basis that, if granted, the name change would create record-keeping problems for corrections and law enforcement officials, as well as potentially endangering crime victims, and the general public. Accordingly, courts should defer to the expertise of these law enforcement officials in evaluating such applications (Matter of Holman, 217 A.D.2d 1012, 631 N.Y.S.2d 277 [4th Dept. 1995]; Matter of Rouson, 119 Misc. 2d 1069, 465 N.Y.S.2d 155 [Scoharie County Ct. 1983]; Matter of Furick, 33 Misc. 3d 169, 930 N.Y.S.2d 407 [Sup. Ct., Dutchess County 2011] ).
Even in the absence of any such objection, courts must carefully scrutinize a name change application, because the change order gives the new name an “aura of propriety and official sanction,” and makes it a public record (Furick, 33 Misc. 3d at 131, 930 N.Y.S.2d 407, quoting Matter of Linda Ann A., 126 Misc. 2d 43, 44, 480 N.Y.S.2d 996 [Civ. Ct., Queens County 1984] ).
Here, Petitioner is not currently incarcerated, and it is unknown to the Court whether he was ever incarcerated in Georgia for the aforementioned forgery charge. In addition, on February 9, 2018, the Erie County Clerk's Office ran a background check against Petitioner's name and found no pending or past matters that would militate against granting that part of the application seeking a name change.
Article 6 of the New York Civil Rights Law allows “a resident of the state [to make an application for a name change to] the supreme court in the county in which he resides” (Civil Rights Law ¶ 60) (emphasis added). In his Request for Judicial Intervention, Petitioner identified an address located in Phoenix, Arizona, whereas in his Petition, he identifies an address located in the City of Buffalo, New York (Petition ¶ 7) (emphasis added). Petitioner confirmed the City of Buffalo address as his legal residence in open court, under oath, and also testified that he frequently travels to Arizona for employment—thus, the Phoenix address.
As such, Petitioner has standing to apply to this Court for a name change.
II. NATIONALITY CHANGE
Petitioner also seeks to change his nationality from “United States of America” 1 to “Moor/Americas Aboriginal national, but not a citizen of the United States” (Petition, ¶ 5). By referring to his nationality as “African American”, Petitioner has confirmed that he is a U.S. citizen (Petition, ¶ 4). His birth certificate also reflects that he was born in Manhattan, New York, deeming him a U.S. citizen (see 8 USC § 1401[a] ).
As is apparent from the Petition, Petitioner seeks to renounce his U.S. citizenship.
However, the New York Civil Rights Law does not provide him with any authority to do so. Rather, renunciation of U.S. citizenship is controlled by 8 USC § 1481, which provides, in relevant part, as follows:
(a) A person who is a national of the United States whether by birth or naturalization, shall lose his nationality by voluntarily performing any of the following acts with the intention of relinquishing United States nationality
(1) obtaining naturalization in a foreign state upon his own application or upon an application filed by a duly authorized agent, after having attained the age of eighteen years; or ․
(5) making a formal renunciation of nationality before a diplomatic or consular officer of the United States in a foreign state, in such form as may be prescribed by the Secretary of State; or
(6) making in the United States a formal written renunciation of nationality in such form as may be prescribed by, and before such officer as may be designated by, the Attorney General, whenever the United States shall be in a state of war and the Attorney General shall approve such renunciation as not contrary to the interests of national defense ․
(b) Whenever the loss of United States nationality is put in issue in any action or proceeding commenced on or after September 26, 1961 under, or by virtue of, the provisions of this chapter or any other Act, the burden shall be upon the person or party claiming that such loss occurred, to establish such claim by a preponderance of the evidence ․ (emphasis added).
Petitioner has not satisfied any of the (relevant) provisions of § 1481, nor do said provisions provide Petitioner with a means of submitting the present application to this Court.
Petitioner relies on a purported “Resolution No. 75 of the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” adopted on May 4, 1933 (the “Pennsylvania Resolution”), in support of the application to change his nationality. However, resolutions from state legislative bodies outside New York State have no binding effect on this Court.
Moreover, the Pennsylvania Resolution does not provide Petitioner with any right to change his nationality from United States of America to “Moor/Americas Aboriginal national, but not a citizen of the United States.”
The Pennsylvania Resolution provides, in relevant part, as follows:
Resolved. That this House commends the Moorish–American Society of Philadelphia for the efficient service it has rendered the Nation in bringing about a speedy and thorough Americanization of these former Moors and that in accordance with the fullest right of religious independence guaranteed every citizen we recognize also the right of these people to use the name affixes El or Ali or Bey or any other prefix or suffix to which they have heretofore been accustomed to use or which they may hereafter acquire the right to use.
Accordingly, the Pennsylvania Resolution is limited to granting “former” Moors the right to change their name. It does not provide a means of renouncing U.S. citizenship. Indeed, by using the phrase “Americanization of these former Moors” and by recognizing the “religious independence guaranteed every citizen,” it clearly reaffirms that Morrish–Americans are U.S. citizens (emphasis added).
Next, Petitioner relies on a document reproduced from the National Archives and Records Administration. The Court did not consider it, because the copy he submitted to the Court is illegible.
Petitioner relies further on Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (the “Declaration”). The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration in 1948 (Wilson v. Hacker, 200 Misc. 124, 101 N.Y.S.2d 461 [Sup. Ct., Erie County 1950] ). Article 15 thereof states that “[e]veryone has the right to a nationality” and “[n]o one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality”.
The Declaration is not binding on this Court, because it is merely “a statement of principles” and “not a treaty or international agreement ․ imposing legal obligations” (Sosa v. Alvarez–Machain, 542 U.S. 692, 734–735, 124 S.Ct. 2739, 159 L.Ed.2d 718  ). Accordingly, the Declaration does not create any private right of action (Coffey v. U.S., 939 F.Supp. 185, 191 [E.D.N.Y. 1996] ).
Were the Declaration binding on this Court—which it is not, the result would be the same. This Court is not arbitrarily depriving Petitioner of his right to change his nationality. He may do so in accordance with 8 USC § 1481 which, as has been previously shown, may be accomplished, if at all, outside of this Court and its jurisdiction.
Finally, Petitioner relies on Matter of Tinequa Marie Hubbard [for Leave to Change Name and Race/Nationality] (Sup. Ct., Erie County, Index No. 2017–814468). In that case, the Court granted an application similar to Petitioner's, based upon similar authority, such as the Pennsylvania Resolution and the Declaration. However, this Court disagrees with the determination in Matter of Hubbard, is not bound by it, and declines to follow it (see Stewart v. Volkswagen of America, Inc., 181 A.D.2d 4, 7, 584 N.Y.S.2d 886 [2d Dept. 1992] [“the rule in New York is that the trial courts must follow an Appellate Division precedent set in any department in the State until its own Appellate Division decides otherwise”]; see also, 28 NY Jur2d, Courts and Judges, § 220 [“Although decisions of trial courts may, if well reasoned, be persuasive, precedents are established by appellate courts”] ).
Following his appearance before this Court on the March 1, 2018 return date, Petitioner submitted what he purports is a copy of the “First Constitution of the State of New York,” dated April 20, 1777. The Court did not consider it, because the copy submitted by Petitioner is illegible, and it has otherwise been largely superceded by amendments brought about by the various Constitutional Conventions held since then. Nor has Petitioner directed the Court's attention to any provision of the First (or current) New York State Constitution that would provide him standing to seek to change his nationality, pursuant to the Civil Rights Law (or any other law), in this Court.
In light of the foregoing, it is hereby
ORDERED, that the Petitioner, Ronnie Ramael Todd, born on December 10, 1985, in the City of New York (Borough of Manhattan) 2 , is authorized to assume the name Ramael Blackwell El, in place of his present name, upon compliance with the provisions of this Order; and it is further
ORDERED, that this Order shall be entered and the papers on which it was granted be filed, prior to the publication herein directed, in the Office of the Clerk of the County of Erie, wherein Petitioner resides; and it is further
ORDERED, that at least once within sixty (60) days after the signing of this Order, a notice in substantially the following form, shall be published in the Buffalo Law Journal:
Notice is hereby given that an Order entered by the Supreme Court, Erie County, on March 1, 2018, bearing Index Number 2017–818509, a copy of which may be examined at the Office of the Clerk of the County of Erie, located at 92 Franklin Street, City of Buffalo, New York 14202, grants Ronnie Ramael Todd the right to assume the name Ramael Blackwell El. My present address is 186 Cedargrove Circle, Buffalo, NY; the date of my birth is December 10, 1985; and the place of my birth is Manhattan, New York.
And it is further,
ORDERED, that within ninety (90) days of the signing of this Order, an affidavit of publication as herein directed shall be filed in the Office of the Clerk of the County of Erie; and it is further,
ORDERED, that upon full compliance with the above provisions of this Order, Ronnie Ramael Todd shall be known by the name Ramael Blackwell El, which he is authorized to assume and by no other name; and it is further
ORDERED, that Petitioner's application to change his nationality is denied.
1. The nationality of citizens of the United States should be referred to as “United States of America” as opposed to “American”, to avoid confusion with citizens of other North or South American countries. That is, and by way of example, those who identify as “Mexicans,” “Canadians,” or “Brazilians” are as much “Americans,” as are citizens of the United States of America. It is for this reason that U.S. passports refer to “United States of America” as a U.S. citizen's nationality.
2. The Court has reviewed a copy of Petitioner's Birth Certificate and has satisfied itself that it is a true and accurate copy of the original Birth Certificate filed with the Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Records, City of New York. The Court has not identified the Birth Certificate's number, because several of its digits are illegible.
Timothy J. Walker, J.
Response sent, thank you
Docket No: 2017–818509
Decided: March 09, 2018
Court: Supreme Court, Erie County, New York.
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