Ramon v. Short

Decision Date25 March 2020
Docket NumberDA 18-0661
Citation2020 MT 69,399 Mont. 254,460 P.3d 867
Parties Agustin RAMON, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Darren SHORT, in his official capacity as Sheriff of Lincoln County and Administrator of Lincoln County Detention Center, Defendant and Appellee.
CourtMontana Supreme Court

For Appellant: Alex Rate (argued), Elizabeth K. Ehret, ACLU of Montana, Missoula, Montana, Shahid Haque, Border Crossing Law Firm, Helena, Montana, Cody Wofsy, Spencer Amdur, ACLU Foundation, Immigrants' Rights Project, San Francisco, California, Omar C. Jadwat, Daniel Galindo (argued), ACLU Foundation, Immigrants' Rights Project, New York, New York

For Appellee: Maureen H. Lennon (argued), MACo Defense Services, Helena, Montana

For Amicus Curiae Scholars: James H. Goetz, Jeff Tierney, Goetz, Baldwin & Geddes, P.C., Bozeman, Montana

For Amicus Curiae Montana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers: Colin M. Stephens, Smith & Stephens, P.C., Missoula, Montana, Katherine Evans, University of Idaho College of Law, Moscow, Idaho

For Amicus Curiae United States: Kurt G. Alme, United States Attorney, Chad C. Spraker, Assistant United States Attorney, Helena, Montana, Joseph P. Hunt, Assistant Attorney General, William C. Peachey, Director, Erez Reuveni, Assistant Director, Lauren Bingham, Senior Litigation Counsel, Francesca M. Genova (argued), Trial Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.

Chief Justice Mike McGrath delivered the Opinion of the Court.

Chief Justice Mike McGrath delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶1 Appellant Agustin Ramon ("Ramon") appeals from a November 16, 2018 Nineteenth Judicial District Court, Lincoln County, order denying his application for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. In August 2018, Ramon was arrested on a charge of burglary and booked into the Lincoln County Detention Center ("Detention Center") in Libby, Montana. When Ramon attempted to post bond, the Detention Center informed the bond company that Lincoln County Sheriff Darren Short ("Sheriff")1 would continue to detain Ramon, even if his bond were paid and he was otherwise entitled to release, since the U.S. Customs and Border Protection ("Border Patrol") had sent the Detention Center a civil immigration detainer request under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

¶2 We restate the following issues on appeal:

Issue One: Whether an exception to the mootness doctrine applies to a challenge to the lawfulness of a Montana law enforcement officer detaining an individual for a suspected violation of civil immigration law at the request of the federal government.
Issue Two: Whether a Montana law enforcement officer carrying out a federal detainer constitutes an arrest under Montana law.
Issue Three: Whether a Montana law enforcement officer has state law authority to conduct a civil immigration arrest in response to a federal detainer request.

¶3 We affirm in part and reverse in part.


¶4 On August 3, 2018, Ramon was arrested on a charge of burglary and booked into the Lincoln County Detention Center. At the time of his arrest, Ramon lived in Eureka, Montana, with his wife. Ramon's bond was set at $25,000. The day Ramon was booked, the Detention Center received a Form I-247A detainer request from the Border Patrol, a division within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security ("DHS"), requesting the Detention Center detain Ramon for up to 48 hours after he was entitled to release on his state charges. The immigration detainer stated:

DHS HAS DETERMINED PROBABLE CAUSE THE SUBJECT IS A REMOVABLE ALIEN. THIS DETERMINATION IS BASED ON [...] Statements made by the alien to an immigration officer and/or other reliable evidence that affirmatively indicates the alien either lacks immigration status or notwithstanding such status is removable under U.S. Immigration law. IT IS THEREFORE REQUESTED THAT YOU: maintain the custody of the alien for a period NOT TO EXCEED 48 HOURS beyond the time he/she would otherwise have been released from your custody.

¶5 Ramon's wife paid a bail bond company to post Ramon's bond. However, when the bondsman attempted to post Ramon's bond, Detention Center personnel told him that doing so would be futile as the Sheriff was granting Border Patrol's detainer request and that Ramon would not be released even if he posted bond. The Detention Center jail roster reflected as much, noting next to Ramon's name "can bond but do not release." Specifically, the statement, as explained by Detention Center staff, meant that Ramon could not be released to anyone except DHS personnel because a detainer request was issued. Under those circumstances, the bondsman declined to post Ramon's $25,000 bond since it would be futile.

¶6 Use of federal civil immigration detainers in Montana has increased in recent years. Since 2003, approximately 543 detainers have been issued to Montana detention facilities. During the years 2017, 2018, and 2019, there was a significant increase in detainers in Montana with a total of 190 issued, more than doubling the previous three years.2

¶7 As a result of Ramon's continued detention, Ramon filed a complaint on October 30, 2018, in the Nineteenth Judicial District Court alleging that the Sheriff's grant of the federal civil immigration detainer violated Montana law. Along with the complaint, Ramon filed an application for temporary restraining order ("TRO"), preliminary injunction, and order to show cause concurrently with his complaint. In response to the complaint, the Sheriff conceded the material facts, submitted evidence confirming that his office holds people in response to immigration detainers (occurring "one or two times each year"), and stated Ramon would not be released even if his family were to post bail.

¶8 After a hearing, on November 16, 2018, the District Court issued an order denying Ramon's complaint and application for TRO and preliminary injunction. The District Court first ruled that Ramon's claims were not moot and were ripe for consideration. The District Court noted the public importance of effective judicial relief on the issue and that such cases present difficulties in obtaining review due to the short-lived nature of detainers, concluding that "[u]nder Defendant's argument, the matter will never be ripe or by the time a court can review the issue it will be moot."

¶9 However, the District Court ruled against Ramon on the merits and denied his request for preliminary injunction. The District Court concluded that under § 7-32-2203(3), MCA —Montana's statute addressing who may be confined in Montana jails—the Sheriff had authority to detain Ramon on a federal civil immigration detainer request since it provides that the jails may be used to confine "persons committed for contempt or upon civil process or by other authority of law." Section 7-32-2203(3), MCA. Ramon now appeals.3

¶10 On appeal, several amicus curiae briefs were filed. Supporting Ramon's argument included an amicus brief from the Montana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and an amicus brief from thirty-nine legal scholars. The United States filed an amicus brief supporting the Sheriff's argument.


¶11 The interpretation of a statute is a question of law that is reviewed for correctness. Mont. Dep't of Revenue v. Priceline.com, Inc. , 2015 MT 241, ¶ 6, 380 Mont. 352, 354 P.3d 631. Where a grant or denial of an injunction is based solely upon conclusions of law, no discretion is involved, and we review the district court's conclusions of law de novo to determine whether the interpretation is correct. City of Whitefish v. Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs of Flathead Cnty. , 2008 MT 436, ¶ 7, 347 Mont. 490, 199 P.3d 201.


¶12 Under the Montana Constitution, "physical liberty is a fundamental right, without which other constitutionally guaranteed rights would have little meaning." In re C.H. , 210 Mont. 184, 201, 683 P.2d 931, 940 (1984) (citing Mont. Const. Preamble; Mont. Const. art. II, §§ 3, 4, 17 ). Any deprivation of one's physical liberty amounts to an infringement upon the fundamental right requiring a compelling state interest sufficient to warrant such an infringement. In re C.H. , 210 Mont. at 201-02, 683 P.2d at 940.

¶13 Importantly, immigration detainers, like the Form I-247A used in this case, are civil in nature and do not amount to a criminal detainer or warrant. "As a general rule, it is not a crime for a removable alien to remain present in the United States," and the administrative removal process "is a civil, not criminal, matter." Arizona v. United States , 567 U.S. 387, 407, 132 S. Ct. 2492, 2505, 183 L.Ed.2d 351 (2012). Indeed, the statute governing immigration in the United States, the Immigration and Nationality Act ("INA"), 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101 through 1537, specifically provides that certain violations of the INA are criminal offenses, while others are not. For example, it is a crime for an alien to enter the country illegally. 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a). However, "unlike illegal entry, mere unauthorized presence in the United States is not a crime." Melendres v. Arpaio , 695 F.3d 990, 1000 (9th Cir. 2012) ; Arizona , 567 U.S. at 407, 132 S. Ct. at 2505. Accordingly, "[i]llegal presence without more is only a civil violation of the act that subjects the individual to possible removal." Lunn v. Commonwealth , 477 Mass. 517, 522, 78 N.E.3d 1143, 1149 (2017) (citing 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(1)(B) ).

¶14 While warrants that sometimes accompany detain requests, including Forms I-200 and I-205, are constitutionally valid in the federal immigration law enforcement context, "such warrants are civil and administrative, and not judicial, in nature." People ex rel. Wells v. DeMarco , 2018 N.Y. Slip Op. 07740, ¶ 5, 168 A.D.3d 31, 41, 88 N.Y.S.3d 518, 527 (App. Div.). These administrative warrants are "civil administrative warrants approved by, and directed to, Federal immigration officials." Lunn , 477 Mass. at 524 n 17, 78 N.E.3d...

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