United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division
OPINION AND ORDER
P. WATTERS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Miguel Angel Reynaga Hernandez seeks compensatory and
punitive damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 from Defendants
Derrek Skinner and Pedro Hernandez. Miguel also seeks a
declaratory judgment that the Defendants' actions were
illegal. Before the Court are cross-motions for summary
judgment on Miguel's claims.
October 2, 2017, Miguel accompanied his wife to Yellowstone
County Justice Court in Billings, Montana. (Doc. 64 at 2).
His wife had a hearing on her request for an order of
protection against a third party and Miguel planned to
testify on her behalf. (Doc. 64 at 3). Pedro Hernandez, a
Justice of the Peace at the time, presided over the hearing.
(Doc. 64 at 1-3). Before the hearing began, Justice Hernandez
excluded Miguel and other witnesses from the court room so
they wouldn't hear the testimony. (Doc. 64 at 3).
the hearing, the third party against whom the order of
protection was sought testified that Miguel was "not a
legal citizen." (Doc. 64 at 3-4). The third party made a
similar accusation against another witness. When the third
party's testimony concluded, Justice Hernandez stated
"What I'm hearing here are allegations about illegal
immigrant [sic]." (Doc. 64 at 5). Justice Hernandez
halted the hearing and told his staff to "call me a
deputy. I have two illegals sitting outside. I want them
picked up." (Doc. 64 at 7). On the phone a few seconds
later, Justice Hernandez told the Sheriffs Office to
"send me a couple of deputies. I have two illegal
immigrants out in the hallway ... they are in the hall. Get
them here as quickly as possible." (Doc. 64 at 8).
Justice Hernandez ordered Miguel's wife to remain in the
courtroom to prevent her from telling Miguel a deputy was
coming to investigate his immigration status. (Doc. 64 at
the Sheriffs Office dispatch told Derrek Skinner, a deputy
sheriff at the time, that Justice Hernandez called about
"two illegal immigrants outside his courtroom that he
wants picked up." (Doc. 64 at 10-11). When Deputy
Skinner entered Justice Hernandez's courtroom, Justice
Hernandez said "the information I have from them two
under oath, they are illegal aliens," to which Deputy
Skinner responded "I'll take care of it." (Doc.
64 at 11-13). Justice Hernandez responded "see what
happens. If you guys take them, let me know please," and
suggested "you may have to call immigration ... their
testimony from the witness stand is they are illegal."
(Doc. 64 at 11-13).
Skinner stepped into the hallway, detained Miguel, and asked
him for identification and about his immigration status.
(Doc. 64 at 14-15). Miguel gave Deputy Skinner an expired
Mexican consulate ID but could not answer Deputy
Skinner's questions about immigration because Miguel was
not fluent in English. (Doc. 64 at 16-17). When Miguel
attempted to enter the courtroom to see his wife, Deputy
Skinner blocked and handcuffed him. (Doc. 64 at 18). Deputy
Skinner searched Miguel's person and, finding nothing
suspicious, walked Miguel outside the courthouse and placed
him into a patrol car. (Doc. 64 at 18). While Miguel sat
handcuffed in the patrol car, Deputy Skinner ran a warrants
check. (Doc. 64 at 19). When the warrants check came back
clean, Deputy Skinner asked dispatch to see if Immigration
and Customs Enforcement "wanted him." (Doc. 64 at
19). An ICE agent contacted Deputy Skinner on the phone and
asked Deputy Skinner to transport Miguel to the Yellowstone
County Detention Facility. (Doc. 64 at 18).
remained in ICE custody, being transported amongst various
detention facilities, while a deportation proceeding was
initiated. After three months, the Department of Homeland
Security dismissed its deportation proceeding against Miguel.
(Doc. 59). Miguel filed this § 1983 action against
Justice Hernandez and Deputy Skinner, claiming they deprived
him of his constitutional rights under color of state law and
requesting compensatory and punitive damages and a
declaratory judgment that Justice Hernandez and Deputy
Skinner acted illegally.
Summary judgment standard
court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A party seeking summary judgment always
bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of
the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of
the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and
admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,
which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue
of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 323 (1986).
facts are those which may affect the outcome of the case.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986). A dispute as to a material fact is genuine if there
is sufficient evidence for a reasonable fact-finder to return
a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477
U.S. at 248. If the moving party meets its initial
responsibility, the burden then shifts to the opposing party
to establish that a genuine issue of fact exists.
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,
475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).
Discussion The parties moved for summary judgment on
the § 1983 claims, punitive damages, and the request for
§ 1983 claims
1983 provides a tort remedy for persons whose constitutional
or statutory rights have been violated by state officials
acting "under color of law." Whalen v.
McMuIlen, 907 F.3d 1139, 1145 (9th Cir. 2018) (citing 42
U.S.C. § 1983). To prove a § 1983 claim, the
plaintiff must show (1) his constitutional or statutory
rights were violated by (2) a person acting under color of
law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).
Overlapping these elements is the protection afforded public
officials against § 1983 claims, known as qualified
immunity. Qualified immunity shields public officials from
suit unless the plaintiff can show (1) a violation of a
constitutional right and (2) the constitutional right was
clearly established at the time of the violation.
Whalen, 907 F.3d at 1144-1146 (citing Person v.
Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009)). When, as here, the
parties agree the public officials were acting under color of
law, the qualified immunity determination necessarily
resolves § 1983 liability because qualified immunity and
§ 1983 share the same first element.
Hernandez does not assert he is entitled to absolute judicial
immunity. See Briscoe v. LaHue,460 U.S. 325, 334
(1983). The Court therefore only examines whether ...