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The procedural component of the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution does not protect everything that might be described as a "benefit." To have a property interest in a benefit, a person clearly must have more than an abstract need or desire and more than a unilateral expectation of it. He must, instead, have a legitimate claim of entitlement to it. Such entitlements are, of course, not created by the Constitution. Rather, they are created and their dimensions are defined by existing rules or understandings that stem from an independent source such as state law.
Several weeks after a state trial court in Colorado had issued Jessica Gonzales a restraining order against her estranged husband, which required him to remain at least 100 yards from the home in which Gonzales and her three daughters resided. Gonzales claimed that the husband allegedly, without notifying Gonzales, took the daughters while they were playing outside the home and killed the daughters.
Gonzales filed a 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 suit alleging that the Town of Castle Rock had violated the Due Process clause of the Federal Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment when the town's police officers, acting pursuant to official policy or custom, had failed to respond to Gonzales’ repeated reports over several hours that her husband had taken the three children in violation of the restraining order. The United States District Court for the District of Colorado, concluding that Gonzales had failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted, granted the town's motion to dismiss.
On appeal, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit found that Gonzales had alleged a cognizable procedural due process claim and reversed the dismissal of her complaint. On rehearing en banc, the Court of Appeals, reaching the same disposition as had the panel, ruled that Gonzales had possessed a protected property interest in enforcement of her restraining order.
Did Gonzales have a protected property interest in the police enforcement of a restraining order?
Reversing, the Supreme Court of the United States held that Gonzales did not, for purposes of the due process clause, have a property interest in police enforcement of the restraining order. Therefore, even under the facts as alleged by Gonzales, the police officers had not violated Gonzales’ procedural due process rights by failing to respond to her requests that the police enforce the order. Colorado law did not make enforcement of restraining orders mandatory, as the state had not created a personal entitlement to such enforcement. Prior Supreme Court cases had recognized that a benefit was not a protected entitlement if government officials could grant or deny the benefit in their discretion. Finally, it was not clear that an individual entitlement to enforcement of a restraining order, which has no ascertainable monetary value, could constitute a "property" interest for purposes of the due process clause.