Wilbur P.G. v. United States

Wilbur P.G, et al., v. United States, No. 4:21-cv-44657 (N.D. Cal., filed June 10, 2021)

Plaintiffs are three families who were separated at the Arizona border in May 2018 under the Department of Justice’s Zero Tolerance policy. The parents were separated from their children while in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody, under the guise of pursuing criminal prosecutions against the parents. Two parents were never criminally prosecuted, while the other parent was prosecuted for illegal entry—a misdemeanor—and served a three-day sentence in criminal custody.

After separating the children from their parents, CBP officers transferred the plaintiff children to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). The families were separated for weeks. While detained, one parent sustained lasting physical injuries after being denied medical attention. One of the children was sexually abused while in ORR custody.

The families sued under the Federal Tort Claims Act to recover damages caused by the separation itself, as well as the physical and emotional injuries suffered by various plaintiffs during their time in detention.

Plaintiffs filed suit on June 10, 2021 in the Northern District of California. On January 5, 2022, Defendant United States filed a motion to transfer the case to the District of Arizona. Defendants also moved to dismiss the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. On May 10, 2022, the district court denied Defendant’s motion to transfer and motion to dismiss. On May 24, 2022, Defendant filed its answer to the complaint; Defendant later amended the answer on July 29, 2022.

Documents:

Counsel: Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area | Keker, Van Nest & Peters

Contact: Victoria Petty | vpetty@lccrsf.org

Press:

Note: Other family separation cases filed in California include:

  • I.T. v. United States, 4:22-cv-5333 (N.D. Cal., filed Sept. 20, 2022);
  • J.R.G. and M.A.R. v. United States, 4:22-cv-5183 (N.D. Cal., filed Sept. 12, 2022);
  • Rodriguez v. United States, 2:22-cv-2845 (C.D. Cal., filed Apr. 28, 2022);
  • A.F.P. v. United States, 1:21-cv-780 (E.D. Cal., filed May 14, 2021);
  • Nunez Euceda v. United States, 2:20-cv-10793 (C.D. Cal., filed Nov. 25, 2020).

Other family separation cases filed in district courts in other states:

  • F.C.C. v. United States, 2:22-cv-5057 (E.D.N.Y., filed Aug. 25, 2022);
  • W.P.V. v. Cayuga Home for Children, Inc. and United States, 1:21-cv-4436 (S.D.N.Y., filed May 17, 2021);
  • C.D.A. v. United States, 5:21-cv-469 (E.D. Pa., filed Feb. 1, 2021);
  • R.Y.M.R v. United States, 1:20-cv-23598 (S.D. Fla., filed Aug. 28, 2020);
  • D.J.C.V. v. United States, 1:20-cv-5747 (S.D.N.Y., filed July 24, 2020).

For a list of District of Arizona family separation cases, consult the entry on C.M. v. United States.

Clark v. Wolf

Clark v. Wolf, No. 3:20-cv-1436 (D. Or., filed Aug. 24, 2020)

In July 2020, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers—in concert with other federal and local law enforcement officers—used violent crowd control devices on nonviolent protestors during ongoing Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, Oregon. This included the use of tear gas, pepper-spray balls, rubber bullets, and flashbangs, which disoriented and injured many protestors.

Four individuals who had participated in the protests brought a putative class action against federal law enforcement officers, seeking damages under Bivens for the physical and mental harms they had suffered from the defendants’ actions. Additionally, the plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that the use of tear gas on peaceful protestors violates the First Amendment.

On February 3, 2022, the district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ damages claims on the basis that special factors counseled against the extending of Bivens to the context of plaintiffs’ claims. A rule 54(b) judgment issued, which plaintiffs appealed to the Ninth Circuit.

On June 27, 2022, plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed the case and the pending appeal.

Documents:

Counsel: Pickett Dummigan McCall LLP | Elliot & Park PC | Sugerman Law Office | Harmon Johnson LLC | Chase Law PC | People’s Law Project | Piucci Law | Michelle R. Burrows PC

A.F.P. and J.F.C. v. United States of America

A.F.P. and J.F.C. v. United States of America, No. 1:21-cv-780 (E.D. Cal., filed May 14, 2021)

Plaintiff A.F.P. and his fifteen-year-old son J.F.C., both citizens of Honduras, approached Border Patrol agents near McAllen, Texas to seek asylum. Instead, Border Patrol agents separated J.F.C. from his father and detained both in a holding facility, often referred to as a hielera or “ice box” for its freezing cold temperatures. The hielera was cold and cramped, and the food provided was frozen and expired.

The two were only permitted to speak to each other for 30 minutes per day. Three days after the two were taken into custody, A.F.P. was charged with illegal entry and taken to federal criminal court. During A.F.P.’s court hearing, CBP and ICE officers designated J.F.C. as an unaccompanied minor, transferred his custody to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and moved him to a facility in New York. When A.F.P. returned to the detention center, his son was gone. The officers did not advise A.F.P. of the reason or destination of his son’s transfer.

In New York, J.F.C. resided at the Children’s Village facility, where he was not allowed to communicate with his father, was denied medical care, and was subject to emotional abuse. As a result of this neglect, J.F.C. suffers from hearing loss from an untreated ear infection and severe memory problems because of the trauma he experienced.

During this time, A.F.P. was held in ICE detention in Texas, where he had an interview with an asylum officer and was told he had a credible asylum case. After officers at the detention center put A.F.P. in touch with a notary public who led him to believe that pursuing his asylum case would keep him from reuniting with his son, A.F.P. withdrew his asylum application at his hearing in front of an immigration judge. He was then transferred to maximum security prisons and deported a month later. He was separated from his son for almost fifteen months. A human rights organization later helped A.F.P. lawfully re-enter the U.S. and reunite with J.F.C.

Plaintiffs filed suit against the federal government in the Eastern District of California, seeking damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) for intentional infliction of emotional distress, abuse of process, negligence as to family separation, and negligence. Defendant United States moved to dismiss the claims and moved to transfer the case to the Southern District of Texas. On July 11, 2022, the court dismissed Plaintiffs’ negligence cause of action regarding J.F.C.’s time in ORR custody as barred by the independent contractor exception to the FTCA’s waiver of sovereign immunity.  On July 26, 2022, Defendant filed its answer to the remaining claims.

Documents:

Counsel: Morgan, Lewis & Bockius L.L.P.

Johnson v. United States of America

Carey Johnson v. United States of America, No. 18-cv-2178 (S.D. Cal., filed Sept. 20, 2018)

Carey Johnson is a U.S. citizen and military veteran who resides in Mexico. Johnson has a disability and carries a Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) identification card with a disability designation. He frequently crosses the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego to receive treatment at VA facilities.  On September 22, 2016, Johnson approached Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at the Otay Mesa SENTRI gate and requested that he be allowed to use the SENTRI gate for expedited crossing as an accommodation for his disability. CBP denied his request, and officers told him he would need to request accommodations each time he crossed the border. After this encounter, the CBP officer wrote up a report that led to Johnson being repeatedly stopped and harassed on several future crossings.

During Johnson’s following border crossings, he attempted to request accommodations to expedite his border crossing. CBP officers repeatedly abused him. On one occasion, CBP officers impounded his car and shackled him to a bench for 3 hours. On another, officers dragged him from his car and tasered him. CBP agents seized his car on at least two occasions, allegedly based on SENTRI lane violations. CBP officers refused to return the car unless Johnson paid a $10,000 fine, which he was unable to afford.

Johnson eventually sued to seek redress for the repeated abuses he suffered. He sought damages under Bivens, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act,the Federal Tort Claims Act, and California’s Bane Act. On July 14, 2020, the district court dismissed Johnson’s Bivens claims against the individual CBP officers. On January 25, 2021, the court granted Defendant United States’ motion for summary judgment on the Rehabilitation Act and Bane Act claims.

The case settled and was dismissed pursuant to a joint motion on March 26, 2021.

Documents:

Counsel: Robbins & Curtin, P.L.L.C.
Contact: Joel Robbins | joel@robbinsandcurtin.com

Reyes v. United States, DOE CBP Officers 1-30

Reyes v. United States, DOE CBP Officers 1-30, No. 3:20-cv-01752 (S.D. Cal., filed Sept. 8, 2020)

On August 2, 2018, Marco Reyes was waiting in his car to cross into the United States at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry in California. Due to an incident in another vehicle lane, a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer knocked at Reyes’ car window and asked him to step out of the car. Reyes, who suffered from significant hearing loss from military service, did not immediately hear the officer or comply with his commands. When Reyes realized the officer was speaking to him, he immediately got out of the car and stood behind his vehicle. The CBP officer then began to yell profanities at Reyes and bumped him with his chest, accusing him of not immediately following directions. When Reyes raised his hand to keep the officer from bumping into him, the officer accused him of assault and called for back-up assistance. A larger group of CBP officers arrived, pushed Reyes to the ground, and proceeded to beat him up while he was on the ground, injuring his shoulder and arm and breaking several ribs. After beating Reyes up, the officers arrested him for assault on a federal officer. The U.S. Attorney’s office declined to pursue prosecution of Reyes.

On September 8, 2020, Reyes filed this action, alleging violations of his rights under California’s Bane Act, the federal Rehabilitation Act, and the Federal Tort Claims Act. On February 16, 2021, the district court dismissed Reyes’ Bane Act claims and Rehabilitation Act claims without prejudice and with leave to file an amended complaint. The court also dismissed on consent the FTCA claims against the individual CBP officers.

Reyes proceeded to file two amended complaints. The case settled and was dismissed pursuant to a joint motion to dismiss on January 11, 2022.

Documents:

Counsel: McKenzie Scott, P.C.
Contact: Timothy Scott | tscott@mckenziescott.com

Anibowei v. Morgan

Anibowei v. Morgan, No. 20-10059 (5th Cir., appeal filed Jan. 17, 2020); Anibowei v. Wolf, Civil Action No. 3:16-CV-3495 (N.D. Tex., filed Dec. 23, 2016)

Anibowei filed a lawsuit to challenge the actions of the CBP officers—and the underlying CBP and ICE directives—as violative of the First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). He sought damages under Bivens v. Six Unknown Agents as well as injunctive and declaratory relief. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint. On February 14, 2019, the court dismissed Anibowei’s claims under Bivens as improperly pled, with leave to replead. On March 14, 2019, Anibowei filed a second amended complaint, and shortly thereafter filed a motion for summary judgment and for a preliminary injunction. On January 14, 2020, the district court denied Anibowei’s motions for partial summary judgment and a preliminary injunction. 

George Anibowei—a U.S. citizen and licensed attorney based in Dallas, Texas—was repeatedly stopped and questioned by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers when returning to the United States from international travel. On several such occasions, CBP officers also searched Anibowei’s cellphone and copied the cellphone’s contents without a warrant. CBP conducted these nonconsensual searches of Anibowei’s cellphone in accordance with CBP and ICE internal directives that permit the search of electronic devices at the border without individualized suspicion.

On January 17, 2020, Anibowei appealed the district court’s decision, asking the Fifth Circuit to rule on whether searching a cellphone without exigent circumstances or a warrant violates the Fourth Amendment, even if said search is conducted at the U.S. border. On December 3, 2020, the Fifth Circuit heard oral argument in this case. No opinion has been issued.

Documents

Counsel: Arnold & Porter
Contact: Andrew Tutt | Andrew.tutt@arnoldporter.com

NYLAG v. DHS

New York Legal Assistance Group, Inc., v. United States Department of Homeland Security, et al., No. 1:22-cv-05928 (S.D.N.Y., filed Jul. 12, 2022)

New York Legal Assistance Group, Inc. (NYLAG), a not-for-profit civil legal services organization in New York, New York, filed a complaint in the Southern District of New York after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) failed to produce responsive records to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records related to the deployment of federal law enforcement personnel in New York City during protests related to the killing of George Floyd in 2020.

In June 2020, at a New York City protest against police brutality, a protestor was violently arrested on the Upper West Side by an officer identified as an agent for ICE or Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). After the identification of the officer, organizations like NYLAG raised concerns questioning the authority of the federal government to deploy federal agents to monitor local protests and surveil immigrant protestors.

NYLAG submitted an administrative FOIA request on September 29, 2020, requesting records from May 25, 2020, through the date of filing the request. Following their administrative request, NYLAG received some communications from DHS, ICE, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Secret Service (USSS), and the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), indicating that responsive records existed and were identified. However, after nearly two years, the agencies failed to produce to NYLAG any of the documents they identified as responsive to the FOIA request, prompting NYLAG to file suit in July 2022. On September 16, 2022, Defendants filed an answer to the complaint. 

Counsel: New York Legal Assistance Group | Cooley LLP

Contact: Danielle Tarantolo | NYLAG | (212) 613-5000
Marc Suskin | Cooley LLP | (212) 479-6000

Related Links: https://nylag.org/nylagvdhs/

Davis Wright Tremaine v. CBP

Davis Wright Tremaine LLP v. United States Customs and Border Protection, No. 2:19-cv-00334 (W.D. Wash., filed Mar. 6, 2019)

A Seattle-area law firm filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit against CBP after the agency refused to respond to a FOIA request for information concerning CBP’s widely publicized policy and practice of denying entry to noncitizens due to their involvement with the legal cannabis industry in Canada. Individuals subjected to the policy in the past have been detained and at times even told they are banned for life from entering the United States. In one instance cited in the complaint, the executive commissioner for CBP’s Office of Field Operations, Todd Owen, was quoted as claiming, “If you work for the [cannabis] industry, that is grounds for inadmissibility.” Owens also claimed that CBP had the authority to permanently ban from entering the U.S. even those who only invested in legal cannabis business.

The firm which filed the suit, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, sought access to records to assess whether CBP’s actions are within the scope of the authority granted to it by Congress, whether CBP was acting pursuant to any policies or procedures, and whether it promulgated any such policies or procedures consistent with the procedures Congress has required for agency rulemaking.

On June 16, 2020, plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment was granted in part and denied in part, and CBP’s motion for summary judgment was denied. The court found CBP’s production in response to the FOIA request inadequate, and the parties submitted periodic status reports on the agency’s ongoing production. Chief among the documents produced was a 2018 CBP Information Guide which acknowledged that foreign nationals who work in legal foreign cannabis industries are not inadmissible, assuming their visit to the United States is unrelated to domestic or cross-border cannabis operations – a policy which contradicts statements and actions by CBP in the past regarding Canadian citizens associated with the industry. The parties stipulated to dismiss the case in 2022.

Counsel: Davis Wright Tremaine LLP
Contact:
Bruce Johnson | brucejohnson@dwt.com
Caesar Kalinowski | caesarkalinowski@dwt.com

FTCA Suit on Behalf of U.S.-Citizen Child Held by CBP for 30 Hours

J.A.M., et al., v. United States of America, et al., No. 3:22-cv-00380 (S.D. Cal., filed Mar. 21, 2022)

The family of a 9-year-old girl and 14-year-old boy filed a damages suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act after the children, both U.S. citizens, were held in custody at the San Ysidro Port of Entry – the boy for more than 12 hours and his sister for more than 30 hours. The complaint recounts how J.A.M. and her brother O.A.M. were falsely imprisoned in San Ysidro and coerced into making false confessions about the girl’s identity. Officers insisted to the children that the girl was actually their cousin, who is not a U.S. citizen.

J.A.M. and her brother O.A.M. were on their way from Tijuana to school in San Diego with a family friend. Though both children presented officers with valid U.S. passports, a CBP officer sent them to secondary inspection, then to a holding area. According to the children, CBP officers interviewed them about other young relatives their age and then pressured them to sign false statements claiming that J.A.M. was actually their cousin. The children said they were told that O.A.M. would be taken to jail for smuggling if they did not sign. CBP allegedly intended to have the Mexican consulate interview J.A.M. to verify her identity, but claimed an appointment was not available until the following morning.

Upon learning her children had not made it out of the port of entry, their mother, Ms. Medina Navarro, left the medical facility where she was awaiting surgery to inquire at the port of entry for her children. At first, officers denied having the children in custody. More than 12 hours after her children were first taken into custody, Ms. Medina Navarro received a call that C.B.P. had her son in custody with a girl who was not her daughter, and was told she could come pick up her son. Though Ms. Medina Navarro took additional documents to prove the identity of her daughter, officers did not release J.A.M. to her mother until after J.A.M.’s interview with the Mexican consulate the following day, 33 hours after she was first taken into custody.

The family filed administrative Federal Tort Claims Act complaints. CBP denied the claims in full on September 29, 2021, and the family filed suit on March 21, 2022. The government filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction or motion for summary judgment, which was denied on July 21, 2022, and subsequently filed an answer to the complaint on August 4, 2022.

Counsel: Law Offices of Joseph M. McMullen

Contact: Joseph Mark McMullen ǀ (619) 501-2000 ǀ joe@imm-legal.com

Press: Lawsuit alleging border officials falsely imprisoned 9-year-old U.S. citizen girl passes legal hurdle

Transgender Law Center v. Immigration & Customs Enforcement

Transgender Law Center v. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, No. 3:2019-cv-03032 (N.D. Cal., filed May 31, 2019) and No. 20-17416 (9th Cir., filed December 15, 2020)

On May 25, 2018, Roxsana Hernandez, a transgender woman, died in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and ICE refused to provide her medical treatment. Roxsana entered the United States approximately two weeks before her death, seeking protection after fleeing persecution in her home country of Honduras, and also persecution she experienced in Mexico, due to her gender identity. Roxsana, who was suffering from untreated HIV, suffered from several physical ailments including frequent vomiting, diarrhea, persistent fever, severe weight loss and a cough in which she spat up bloody phlegm. She disclosed her condition no later than May 11, 2018, and requested medical attention multiple times. ICE refused and instead shuttled her to various holding, processing, and detention facilities, depriving her of food, water, sleep, and opportunities to relieve herself. She finally received treatment on May 17, 2018. The treatment did not come soon enough, and she died in the hospital on May 25, 2018.

On January 29, 2019, Plaintiffs Transgender Law Center and Jolene K. Youngers filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to ICE and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties for any documents pertaining to Roxsana. On April 19, 2019, Defendant ICE acknowledged the FOIA request and assigned it a tracking number. On May 31, 2019, after not receiving any records responsive to the FOIA request, the Plaintiffs filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief.

On November 24, 2020, the district court granted in part and denied in part motions for summary judgment from both the Plaintiffs and the Defendants. The case was argued on appeal on November 16, 2021. On May 12, 2022, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, vacated, and remanded this case to the district court. The court of appeals held that ICE and DHS had failed to meet their burden to show that their search for records was adequate “beyond material doubt,” failed to support their withholding of responsive documents—including by relying on mere boilerplate justifications—and failed to adequately segregate responsive, non-exempt records.

On October 17, 2022, a magistrate judge held a case management conference with the parties and referred the case to another magistrate judge for a settlement conference.

Documents:

Counsel: Grant & Eisenhofer P.A.; Transgender Law Center; Law Office of R. Andrew Free

Contact: Dale Melchert | Dale@transgenderlawcenter.org