308 F.3d 523 (6th Cir. 2002), 00-3653, Farm Labor Organizing Committee v. Ohio State Highway Patrol

Docket Nº:00-3653.
Citation:308 F.3d 523
Party Name:FARM LABOR ORGANIZING COMMITTEE, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. OHIO STATE HIGHWAY PATROL, et al., Defendants-Appellants.
Case Date:October 17, 2002
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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308 F.3d 523 (6th Cir. 2002)

FARM LABOR ORGANIZING COMMITTEE, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees,

v.

OHIO STATE HIGHWAY PATROL, et al., Defendants-Appellants.

No. 00-3653.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

October 17, 2002

Argued: Dec. 4, 2001.

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Kimberly M. Skaggs (argued and briefed), J. Mark Finnegan (briefed), Equal Justice Foundation, Columbus, OH, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Todd R. Marti (argued and briefed), Office of the Attorney General, Corrections Litigation Section, Columbus, OH, for Defendant-Appellants.

Before KENNEDY, MOORE, and COLE, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

MOORE, Circuit Judge.

Defendants-Appellant, Trooper Kevin Kiefer, appeals the district court's denial of qualified immunity in this § 1983 action alleging that he (1) targeted the individual plaintiffs for questioning concerning their immigration status based solely upon their race or national origin in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and (2) unreasonably detained the plaintiffs' green cards for four days without probable clause in violation of the Fourth Amendment.1 For the reasons stated below, we AFFIRM the denial of qualified immunity as to the plaintiffs' Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims. Furthermore, we AFFIRM the district court's grant of partial summary judgment to plaintiffs on the issue of Fourth Amendment liability and REMAND for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

Plaintiffs Jose Aguilar and Irma Esparza ("plaintiffs") are lawfully admitted permanent resident aliens. On Sunday,

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March 26, 1995, Aguilar and Esparza were driving from their home in Chicago, Illinois, to Toledo, Ohio, to visit family members. During this trip, an Ohio State Highway Patrol ("OSHP") trooper, Kevin Kiefer, stopped Aguilar and Esparza for driving with a faulty headlight. After the plaintiffs pulled over, Trooper Kiefer approached the plaintiffs' car and asked to see Aguilar's driver's license. Aguilar provided Trooper Kiefer with a valid Illinois driver's license. Trooper Kiefer then ordered Aguilar out of the car and placed him in the back of his cruiser.

Almost immediately thereafter, a second OSHP cruiser arrived. A trooper from the second cruiser walked a drug-sniffing dog around the outside of the plaintiffs' vehicle. The dog "alerted," indicating that the vehicle contained narcotics.2

The second trooper then asked Esparza for identification. She offered the trooper an Illinois identification card, but the trooper reportedly grabbed her wallet and removed her green card. The trooper then instructed Esparza to step out of the vehicle. She was locked in the back of Trooper Kiefer's cruiser next to Aguilar. Trooper Kiefer then demanded to see Aguilar's green card. The green cards of both Aguilar and Esparza were valid and in force at the time of this encounter.

After examining the green cards, the troopers asked Aguilar and Esparza where they had obtained their green cards and whether they had paid for them. The troopers were attempting to inquire whether the documents were forged, since green cards are not offered for sale. Aguilar and Esparza speak limited English, however, and believed that the troopers were asking whether they had paid the required processing fees. They responded that they had paid for the cards, meaning that they had paid all required fees. Trooper Kiefer interpreted the plaintiffs' response as an indication that the cards were likely forged, and retained the green cards for authentication.

Trooper Kiefer was unable to contact the INS to verify the authenticity of plaintiffs' green cards at the time of the encounter, because it was a Sunday, so he took the green cards and let the plaintiffs go. Trooper Kiefer "did not issue the plaintiffs a receipt for their green cards, tell them when they could expect them back if the cards were indeed authentic, or tell them where or how to inquire if they had any questions about the seizure." Farm Labor Org. Comm. v. Ohio State Highway Patrol, 95 F.Supp.2d 723, 728 (N.D.Ohio 2000).

The next day (Monday), the plaintiffs retained an attorney. That day, paralegal Arturo Ortiz contacted the OSHP on behalf of Aguilar and Esparza, but was unable to obtain assistance because he lacked information regarding the incident. On Thursday, Ortiz again contacted OSHP and spoke to Trooper Kiefer. Kiefer returned the green cards personally that same day, four days after the initial seizure. When asked in his deposition why it took so long to verify the green cards, Trooper Kiefer explained that he had taken a few days off from work and was unable to reach the INS during that time.

The plaintiffs contend that Trooper Kiefer's actions were, in part, the product of a pattern and practice by the OSHP of questioning motorists about their immigration status on the basis of their Hispanic appearance. From the record, it appears that the OSHP—particularly its Traffic

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and Drug Interdiction Team (TDIT)—began taking a more active role in immigration enforcement in 1995. Pursuant to this role, OSHP troopers have been known to inquire into motorists' immigration status during routine traffic stops. When these inquiries lead an OSHP trooper to conclude that an individual may be an illegal immigrant, the trooper will contact the Border Patrol and detain the suspect until the Border Patrol arrives. Pursuant to this practice, "the OSHP has detained hundreds of motorists who were suspected to be illegally in the United States following routine traffic stops; such detention, in all likelihood, was precipitated by answers given to questions regarding the motorists' immigration status." Farm Labor Org. Comm., 95 F.Supp.2d at 735. Although the OSHP maintains that it does not do so frequently, troopers sometimes seize alien registration cards of suspected illegal immigrants and deliver them to federal authorities.

B. Procedural History

This case was brought as a class action lawsuit. The plaintiff class (the "class") is composed of migrant workers who claim that the OSHP has violated their constitutional rights by interrogating them about their immigration status, and, in some cases, confiscating immigration documents, on the basis of their Hispanic appearance. The class's initial motion for a preliminary injunction to enjoin this practice was denied without prejudice, because none of the named plaintiffs had ever been stopped, and the class therefore lacked standing. Farm Labor Org. Comm. v. Ohio State Highway Patrol, 991 F.Supp. 895, 899 (N.D.Ohio 1997). The class subsequently amended its complaint to add plaintiffs Jose Aguilar and Irma Esparza, who were stopped by the OSHP. The district court then granted in part the class's request for a preliminary injunction, ordering the OSHP to (1) refrain from questioning motorists about their immigration status absent consent or reasonable suspicion based upon articulable objective facts, (2) refrain from seizing immigration documents without "lawful cause for doing so," and (3) provide effective substitutes for any immigration documents seized. Id. at 907.

On August 17, 1998, the district court certified the class under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2). Farm Labor Org. Comm. v. Ohio State Highway Patrol, 184 F.R.D. 583 (N.D.Ohio 1998). On September 8, 1999, the district court issued an order granting summary judgment to all defendants, except Trooper Kevin Kiefer, on the class's Fourth Amendment claims. The court granted the motion of plaintiffs Aguilar and Esparza for summary judgment against Trooper Kiefer based upon the claim that Trooper Kiefer had unreasonably detained their green cards for four days after the March 26, 1995, stop. The court found that questioning regarding immigration status, however, did not offend the Fourth Amendment, so long as it took place pursuant to lawful traffic stops and the duration of these stops was not extended beyond the time required to complete the legitimate purposes of a traffic stop. The court found that the questioning of Aguilar and Esparza took place after the police had probable cause to perform a search for narcotics, based upon the alert of the drug detection dog. Consequently, the questioning of Aguilar and Esparza regarding their immigration status did not violate the Fourth Amendment. The district court also dissolved the preliminary injunction it issued on December 8, 1997.

The class subsequently moved for reconsideration of the September 8th order. The class asserted that the September 8th order failed to address a number of matters,

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including its motion for injunctive relief under Title VI, the status of class-wide claims for injunctive relief under the Fourth Amendment, and claims for relief under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

On April 20, 2000, the district court granted the motion for reconsideration in part and denied it in part. Farm Labor Org. Comm., 95 F.Supp.2d 723. The court found that the class lacked standing for class-wide injunctive relief, because the named plaintiffs had been stopped only once and the court did not find a sufficient likelihood that they would be subjected to similar practices again in the future. Id. at 730-33 (citing City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 103 S.Ct. 1660, 75 L.Ed.2d 675 (1983)). The court found that plaintiffs Aguilar and Esparza did have standing to sue for damages on an equal protection theory, however. Id. at 730. The district court then denied Trooper Kiefer's motion for summary judgment based upon qualified...

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