Garcia De La Paz v. Coy et al.

Garcia De La Paz v. Coy et al., No. cv-00957 (W.D. Tex., filed Oct. 9, 2012) sub nom. Garcia de la Paz et al. v. Coy et al.  No. 15-888 (U.S.)

Alejandro Garcia De La Paz was riding home from work in Texas in the passenger seat of his co-worker’s truck, with two other coworkers riding in the backseat, when they were pulled over by two Border Patrol vehicles using their emergency flashers. The two agents approached the truck on both sides of the car and, without explaining the reason for the stop, asked whether the passengers were U.S. citizens. Upon hearing Mr. Garcia’s answer, the agent opened Mr. Garcia’s door, grabbed him by the arm, pulled him out of the truck, and brought him to his patrol car.

At the time of the stop, the agents were not patrolling the U.S. border and had no reasonable suspicion that the driver of the car, Mr. Garcia, or the other two passengers had violated or were violating any law. The agents also had no reason to believe that Mr. Garcia and his co-workers were noncitizens, had recently come from a border area, or were in violation of any immigration law. Instead, the agents stopped Mr. Garcia and his co-workers solely because of their Hispanic appearance.

Mr. Garcia seeks damages from the individual agents for the violation of his constitutional right to be free from unlawful searches and seizures, and from the United States for his unlawful arrest by the agents.

The district court denied the individual agents’ request for qualified immunity. The agents appealed this denial of qualified immunity to the Fifth Circuit, raising two issues:

  1. Whether the district court improperly extended to a “new context” the remedy for unconstitutional conduct by a federal agent first recognized in Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971); and
  2. Whether the agents were entitled to qualified immunity from suit.

The parties fully briefed these issues. The National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers’ Guild and the American Immigration Council submitted an amicus brief addressing the Bivens issue. Amici argued that the plaintiff’s claims fell within Bivens’ core holding and purpose; the Immigration and Nationality Act did not serve as an alternate remedial scheme that would compensate him for his injuries; there were no special factors counseling against a Bivens remedy in a case such as this; and the defendants’ position would create virtual immunity for unconstitutional conduct by immigration agents.

The Fifth Circuit heard oral argument on September 3, 2014. On May 15, 2015, it reversed the district court, holding instead that a Bivens action was not available to redress the Border Patrol agents’ violation of the Fourth Amendment rights of an undocumented noncitizen. Notwithstanding the traditional Fourth Amendment claim presented , the court found that it presented a new “context” for a Bivens claim. It refused to extend Bivens to this new context, finding that removal proceedings provided an alternative remedial scheme for the plaintiff. It also found that special factors cautioned against such an extension.

The Fifth Circuit, sua sponte, took a vote as to whether to rehear the case en banc. Only four judges voted in favor and on October 14, 2015, the Court denied rehearing en banc. Three judges dissented from this denial in a strongly worded opinion which emphasized that this case fell squarely within the holding of Bivens.

In January 2016, de la Paz filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court (No. 15-888).  Briefing on the petition for writ of certiorari ended on June 1, 2016.  The petition was initially distributed to the Court for its June 16, 2016 conference, but was rescheduled on June 6, 2016. On June 26, 2017, the Supreme Court denied the petition.

Counsel: Mayer Brown LLP and De Mott, McChesney, Curtright & Armendáriz, LLP

Contact: David Armendáriz| 210.534.1844 |