Boule v. Egbert

Boule v. Egbert et al., Nos. 2:17-cv-00106-RSM (W.D. Wash., filed Jan. 25, 2017), 18-35789 (9th Cir., filed Sept. 20, 2018), and 21-147 (U.S. June 8, 2022)

A U.S. citizen filed a Bivens action for damages he suffered when a U.S. Border Patrol agent unlawfully entered his property in violation of the Fourth Amendment, refused to leave when told to do so, and knocked him to the ground. The district court granted the agent’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment claim. Although the court found that the agent had violated the Fourth Amendment, it nevertheless held that the case presents a new context for Bivens and that special factors existed which counseled against extending Bivens. In particular, the court found that the case implicated national security issues because the plaintiff’s property—where the incident occurred—is located right on the United States side of the U.S.-Canada border. The court indicated that the risk of personal liability would cause Border Patrol agents to hesitate and second guess their daily decisions about whether and how to investigate suspicious activity near the border.

The plaintiff appealed to the Ninth Circuit. Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and the American Immigration Council filed an amicus in support of the appeal. In August 2019, the Ninth Circuit stayed proceedings in this case pending issuance of the Supreme Court’s decision in Hernandez v. Mesa. Following the Supreme Court’s February 25, 2020, decision in Hernandez, the Ninth Circuit lifted the stay and heard oral arguments.

On November 20, 2020, the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion reversing the district court’s summary judgment for defendants and holding that Bivens remedies were available in the circumstances of this case.

On May 20, 2021, the Ninth Circuit denied a sua sponte request from an active judge on the Ninth Circuit for rehearing en banc. The Ninth Circuit simultaneously amended its opinion to include additional analysis to support the original holding that Bivens remedies are available in the circumstances of this case, including a more thorough discussion of the lack of alternative remedies.

Egbert then appealed to the Supreme Court. In November 2021, the Supreme Court granted certiorari on two specific issues: (1) whether Bivens extends to First Amendment retaliation claims; and (2) whether Bivens extends to Fourth Amendment claims involving immigration enforcement. However, the Supreme Court denied Egbert’s request to consider overruling Bivens.

The Supreme Court issued a decision on June 8, 2022, reversing the Ninth Circuit. The Court held that Mr. Boule could not bring his First or Fourth Amendment claims against Agent Egbert. With respect to the Fourth Amendment claim, the Court came to this conclusion by answering one central question: “whether there is any rational reason (even one) to think that Congress is better suited to ‘weigh the costs and benefits of allowing a damages action to proceed.’” According to the Court, a lawsuit against Border Patrol agents at the border necessarily implicates national security concerns. Because of that, only Congress could allow such a lawsuit. The Court made this finding even though this case involved a low-level officer engaged in routine law enforcement activity against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil on his own property.

The Court also found a Bivens remedy inappropriate because U.S. Border Patrol has a grievance process. The Court said it did not matter that this process did not allow Mr. Boule monetary damages, that it could not be appealed, or, as the dissent points out, that it offers “no meaningful protection of the constitutional interests at stake.”

The Court declined to extend a Bivens remedy to Mr. Boule’s First Amendment retaliation claim, stating that it could significantly expand litigation against federal agents.

Counsel: Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr; Breean L. Beggs, Paukert and Troppmann; Gregory Boos and W. Scott Railton, Cascadia Cross-Border Law

Contact: Gregory Boos | Cascadia Cross-Border Law | 360.671.5945 | gdboos@cascadia.com