Muniz-Muniz, et al. v. United States Border Patrol, et al.

Muniz-Muniz, et al. v. United States Border Patrol, et al., No. 09-02865 (N.D. Ohio, filed Dec. 10, 2009); No. 12-4419 (6th Cir.)

Fifteen individuals and two workers’ rights organizations brought this lawsuit to challenge Border Patrol (BP) agents and three local law enforcement agencies and their officers for their systematic racial profiling of Hispanic residents in three Ohio towns.  Plaintiffs have been stopped and questioned about their immigration status while driving, pumping gas, or walking their children home from school.  Plaintiffs allege that BP agents engaged in a pattern or practice of initiating these stops solely on the basis of their Hispanic appearance and did not have any reasonable suspicion or probable cause to suspect that they were present without authorization when they did so.  Additionally, the suit alleges that BP encouraged local law enforcement agencies to profile Hispanics and detain them for BP.

There have been considerable developments in this case since the original complaint was first filed in December 2009.  The parties have completed discovery; Plaintiffs have dismissed without prejudice their claims for monetary damages and claims against the federal agents in their individual capacity; and Plaintiffs have settled their claims against the three local law enforcement agencies for damages, attorney fees, and the adoption of non-discriminatory policing policies.  Additionally, Plaintiffs successfully appealed the lower court’s dismissal for lack of jurisdiction (sovereign immunity) to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.  In its December 2013 decision, the Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded the district court’s holding, concluding that § 702 of the Administrative Procedures Act conferred jurisdiction upon the court to consider the remaining claims in the suit—all non-monetary in nature—without being limited by the requirements established by § 704 of the Act.

Back in district court, Judge Jack Zouhary denied plaintiffs’ motion to compel discovery related to the use of racial slurs by Border Patrol. The court also refused to let plaintiffs add two Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) cases to the suit, which had been separately filed against the United States regarding the conduct of BP agents.

On February 24, 2016, Judge Zouhary found in favor of the defendants on all claims. The court held that plaintiffs failed to prove a Fifth Amendment violation of equal protection; that anecdotal evidence proffered by plaintiffs failed to amount to a “pattern or practice” of racially profiling Hispanics; and that Border Patrol agents’ use of the word “wetbacks” merely represented “isolated instances of poor judgment.” Furthermore, Judge Zahoury held that plaintiffs failed to establish a Fourth Amendment violation of the right against unreasonable search and seizure. Despite plaintiffs’ testimony that they believed that they were unable to leave during police interrogations, the court found that, in all cases, the encounters either did not constitute seizures or were lawful interrogations or seizures based on reasonable suspicion or probable cause.

Plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal to the Sixth Circuit on April 19, 2016.  Plaintiffs-Appellants filed their appeal brief on June 19, 2016.

Press:

Counsel: Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Inc. | Murray & Murray Co., L.P.A.

Contact: Mark Heller | ABLELAW | 419.255.0814 | mheller@ablelaw.org

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