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CA9 on Fourth Amendment: Reynaga Hernandez v. Skinner

August 11, 2020 (2 min read)

Reynaga Hernandez v. Skinner

"In late 2017, a witness in a courtroom in Billings, Montana, testified that one of the other witnesses, Miguel Reynaga Hernandez (“Reynaga”), was “not a legal citizen.” On the basis of this statement, the Justice of the Peace presiding over the hearing spoke with the local Sheriff’s Office and asked that Reynaga be “picked up.” Deputy Sheriff Derrek Skinner responded to the call. Outside the courtroom, Skinner asked Reynaga for identification and questioned him regarding his immigration status in the United States. Reynaga produced an expired Mexican consular identification card but was unable to provide detailed information regarding his immigration status because he does not speak English fluently. Skinner then placed Reynaga in handcuffs, searched his person, and escorted him to a patrol car outside the courthouse. With Reynaga waiting in the back of the patrol car, Skinner ran a warrants check and, after Reynaga’s record came back clean, asked Immigration and Custom Enforcement (“ICE”) if the agency had any interest in Reynaga. Reynaga was ultimately taken to an ICE facility and remained in custody for three months. Upon his release, Reynaga sued Skinner and Pedro Hernandez, the presiding Justice of the Peace (“Hernandez”), under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating his Fourth Amendment rights. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court denied each defendant qualified immunity and held that Reynaga’s Fourth Amendment rights had been violated. Skinner and Hernandez interlocutorily appeal the court’s denial of qualified immunity. We affirm."

From NWIRP: "This decision is important as it makes clear that state and local law enforcement officers may be held liable under the civil rights statute if they unlawfully detain community members in order to turn them over to immigration enforcement,” said Matt Adams, legal director for NWIRP. “Police officers—and even local judicial officials—may be held accountable when, instead of serving the community, they take it upon themselves to stop people based on their suspected immigration status, the language they speak, or their ethnicity or the color of their skin.”  “The harm that [Judge Hernandez and Deputy Skinner] did to me is hard to explain,” said Mr. Reynaga in reacting to the court of appeals decision. “It’s something that lives in me and in my family now. It’s hard to describe what this harm represents to a person. But I’m very grateful for the work NWIRP has done for me. I’m very happy and proud that now immigrants here in Montana and in other states can know that we also have rights.”  Following the court of appeals decision, Mr. Reynaga’s case will return to the district court for further proceedings on the damages he is entitled to in light of the violation of his constitutional rights."

[Hats way off to Matt Adams (argued), Leila Kang, Aaron Korthuis, and Anne Recinos, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Seattle, Washington, and Shahid Haque, Border Crossing Law Firm P.C., Helena, Montana; for Plaintiff-Appellee!]