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 |

Mireles v. Riano, et al.

Mireles v. United States Customs and Border Protection Agent Riano in his individual capacity and the United States of America, No. 1:13-cv-00197 (S.D. Tex., filed Oct. 21, 2013)

Laura Mireles brought this lawsuit against the United States and a CBP officer for violations of her Fourth Amendment rights as well as Texas state law after the officer used unwarranted force and physical abuse before arresting her without any justification at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Ms. Mireles is small in stature, approximately 5’1” tall and 100 pounds, and has a visible malformation of her hands and feet. She has worked at a store on the U.S. side of an international bridge in Brownsville, near the CBP inspection station, since 2005. On November 5, 2012, Ms. Mireles crossed to the Mexican side of the bridge for roughly 15 minutes to pick up keys to lock the store. After she closed the store, CBP Officer Riano stopped Ms. Mireles and searched her car. Ms. Mireles did not interfere with the search and no illegal items were found. Yet the officer became agitated and reacted violently when Ms. Mireles asked him about his search of her handbag. He grabbed her with both hands and threw her onto the ground with such force that her jeans ripped open at the knee and she suffered a large knee wound as well as several cuts and abrasions on her elbows; the officer put his full weight—roughly double that of her own—on Ms. Mireles’s small frame and handcuffed her so tightly that the fire department later had to be summoned to cut the handcuffs from her wrists. Ms. Mireles, who was understandably confused, scared, and crying, asked the agent to explain what was happening. He responded by threatening to hit her if she didn’t “shut up.” After being treated by paramedics for her injuries, Ms. Mireles was released from custody without being charged with an offense.

Ms. Mireles first filed a formal administrative complaint with CBP in March 2013, seeking damages for the serious harm she suffered as a result of Officer Riano’s unlawful actions. That complaint was denied a little more than a month later without explanation. Ms. Mireles subsequently filed suit in federal district court, alleging claims against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) and constitutional claims against Officer Riano pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971).

The United States moved to dismiss, arguing that it had not waived sovereign immunity under the FTCA based on the customs-duty exception set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 2860(c). Officer Riano sought dismissal based on qualified immunity. Adopting the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation, the Court found that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the FTCA claims because the United States has not waived sovereign immunity under the customs-duty exception for “[a]ny claim arising in respect of …the detention of any goods, merchandise, or other property by any officer of customs or excise or any other law enforcement officer.” 28 U.S.C. § 2860(c), The Court denied Officer Riano’s Motion to Dismiss, finding that Riano had “violated Mireles’s established constitutional rights,” and was thus not entitled to qualified immunity.

On May 3, 2016, the district court stayed the case pending the outcome of Simmons v. Himmelreich, a Supreme Court case dealing with whether the dismissal of a claim against the U.S. on the basis of an FTCA exception effectively bars separate Bivens actions against individual federal employees because of the FTCA’s judgment bar provision. The Supreme Court unanimously held in June 2016 that the FTCA’s judgment bar provision does not apply, and thus does not affect the claims against the individual defendants. On July 29, 2016, a magistrate judge issued a report and recommendation finding Defendant Riano was not entitled to qualified immunity and recommending the denial of his motion for summary judgment. On September 15, 2016, the court adopted the report and recommendation, and in October of 2016, the parties stipulated to dismiss the case.


Counsel: ACLU of Texas | Law Office of Gilberto Hinojosa & Associates, P.C. | University of Texas School of Law Civil Rights Clinic

ContactTom Hargis | ACLU of Texas | 832.291.4776 | (press)
Edgar Saldivar | ACLU of Texas | (legal)

FTCA Administrative Complaint Against the United States Denouncing Hieleras

FTCA Administrative Complaint Against the United States Denouncing Hieleras (filed Mar. 12, 2013)

Jose Alberto* was apprehended at the United States Texas border by Customs and Border Protection and was told by an agent that he was being taken to a “hielera” (“freezer” or “icebox”). Mr. Alberto was placed in a small, freezing cold holding cell with approximately thirty men. The temperature was so cold that Mr. Alberto’s lips split and his face became red and felt sunburned. The cell had no beds or chairs, and had a single toilet, a sink, and two urinals out in the open. The cold made it difficult to sleep, and the size of the cell made it impossible for all of the men in the cell to lie down at the same time. The only water provided to the men was in a single thermos, shared by all. The water smelled like bleach and burned Mr. Alberto’s throat when he drank it. Mr. Alberto was held in one “hielera” for one day and night, and was transferred to a second similar “hielera” at another location, where he spent another day before he was ultimately transported to Broward Transitional Center in Florida.

While in the holding cells, Mr. Alberto was called out to speak with an officer. After answering some questions about his family, Mr. Alberto was told he had to sign documents printed in English, which Mr. Alberto does not speak or read. He repeatedly refused to sign the documents and asked what the documents said. The CBP agent ultimately told Mr. Alberto they were for his “deportation.” Mr. Alberto refused to sign the documents, saying he was afraid to go back to his country because he would be killed by a gang. The CBP agent told Mr. Alberto that he would send him to federal prison if he did not sign. Mr. Alberto became upset and began crying, and the CBP agent laughed and mocked him. After he continued to refuse to sign the documents, Mr. Alberto was taken back to the holding cell and again threatened with being sent to federal prison.

After arriving at the Broward Transitional Center, Mr. Alberto filed an FTCA administrative complaint. 

The government failed to respond to the administrative complaint within the six-month deadline. Mr. Alberto decided not to file a federal complaint.

*Not his actual name.

Counsel: Americans for Immigrant Justice

Contact: Jennie Santos |

Jaimes v. Garibay, et al.

Jaimes v. Garibay, et al., No. 3:13-CV-01040-P (N.D. Tex., filed Mar. 12, 2013)

On the morning of January 31, 2012, Francisco Jaimes Villegas was driving with two of his Hispanic coworkers on Highway 84 outside Santa Anna, Texas, when he was pulled over by two Border Patrol (BP) agents using their emergency lights. Mr. Jaimes was driving an unaltered, uncovered pick up truck, with a tool box and a generator in the truck bed, and was obeying all relevant traffic laws when he was stopped. When the two BP agents approached, one on each side of the truck, one agent immediately handcuffed Mr. Jaimes to the person sitting in the rear, and the other agent handcuffed the person sitting in the passenger seat to himself, before asking them any questions. The agents then interrogated the handcuffed men as to whether they had any “papers,” after which they pulled the three men out of the truck and put them in the back seat of their own car. Mr. Jaimes and his co-workers remained in the car while the BP agents similarly stopped another truck and arrested two more men, who were then squeezed into the back seat of the BP vehicle as well. The agents continued looking for people on the same road, arresting one other man who was put in a second vehicle, until they finally brought the men to the Border Patrol station in San Angelo.

At the station, Mr. Jaimes was questioned by one of the arresting agents. Mr. Jaimes informed the agent that he did not want to sign a form agreeing to be sent out of the country. He then was questioned a second time by a different agent, who told him that he had to sign, and tried to convince him that it would be better for him to do so, telling him he was going to be deported anyway. Mr. Jaimes refused to sign, which appeared to upset the agent. CBP proceeded to hold Mr. Jaimes in a cell for three hours and then transported him to another holding facility where he spent the night in a room with 10 other people.

The case was stayed by the district court in 2014 pending a decision by the Fifth Circuit in De La Paz v. Coy, which also raised the issue of the availability of a Bivens remedy to address 4th Amendment violations arising from a Border Patrol roving patrol.

Following the Fifth Circuit’s decision in De la Paz, the district court, on September 30, 2015, granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment with respect to the Bivens action but denied summary judgment with respect to plaintiff’s FTCA claims.

In December 2015, the parties filed a joint motion for a stay pending decision on a forthcoming petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court in De la Paz v. Coy et al., which was filed in January 2016 (No. 15-888) and denied June 2017. The case was administratively closed in district court.

Counsel: De Mott, McChesney, Curtright & Armendáriz, LLP

Contact: David Armendáriz | 210.534.1844 |