A federal appeals court has revived claims that the U.S. Border Patrol illegally stopped, searched and in some cases detained people who looked Hispanic at the Sandusky Bay Station in Ohio, at the Canadian border.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit on Friday reversed U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary’s October 2012 dismissal and remanded the case. Zouhary had held that the plaintiffs failed to prove the government defendants had waived sovereign immunity.
The court asked Zouhary to rule on two issues: whether the appellants lacked standing to seek an injunction because they hadn’t shown “a persistent pattern of police misconduct.” And, two, the defendants’ summary judgment argument that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a genuine issue of fact.
“The district court has not considered either of these issues, and we prefer that the issues be decided in the first instance by the district court,” wrote U.S. District Judge J. Ronnie Greer of the Eastern District of Tennessee, sitting by designation. Circuit judges Julia Smith Gibbons and Helene White joined him.
The Sixth Circuit joined the Third, Seventh, Eighth, D.C. and Federal circuits in interpreting the Administrative Procedures Act’s waiver of sovereign immunity for non-monetary claims against federal agencies and officials, holding that the waiver applies even if plaintiffs don’t seek court review of an “agency action” or “final agency action” as defined under the act.
The Sixth Circuit has made it clear that when the federal government takes action, even if it’s not a final agency action, that it is reviewable as long as one isn’t seeking monetary relief, said Leslie Murray, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers at Murray & Murray in Sandusky, Ohio. John Murray argued for the plaintiffs.
“We think it’s a great day for people who are seeking access to justice and review of the courts when the federal government has violated their constitutional rights,” Leslie Murray said.
Five individuals and two migrant worker advocacy organizations sued in December 2009, alleging Border Patrol agents violated the Immigration and Nationality Act and the fourth and fifth amendments. They also alleged a conspiracy between the Border Patrol and three local municipalities, their police chiefs and individual officers, to violate the civil rights of Hispanics.
The plaintiffs later added claims under the Administrative Procedures Act and the Federal Tort Claims Act. Their cases against the local agencies were ultimately settled and dismissed.
William Silvis, a trial attorney in the Justice Department’s office of immigration litigation, argued for the government defendants. A Justice Department representative declined to comment.
Sheri Qualters can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.