Wood v. Moss

Decision Date27 May 2014
Docket NumberNo. 13–115.,13–115.
Citation188 L.Ed.2d 1039,134 S.Ct. 2056,572 U.S. 744
Parties Tim WOOD and Rob Savage, Petitioners v. Michael MOSS et al.
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Ian H. Gershengorn, for Petitioners.

Steven M. Wilker, Portland, OR, for Respondents.

Steven M. Wilker, Counsel of Record, Tonkon Torp LLP, Portland, OR, Kevin Diaz, Portland, OR, Arthur B. Spitzer, Washington, DC, Steven R. Shapiro, Ben Wizner, New York, NY, for Respondents.

Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., Solicitor General, Stuart F. Delery, Assistant Attorney General, Ian Heath Gershengorn, Deputy Solicitor General, Counsel of Record, Eric J. Feigin, Assistant to the Solicitor General, Barbara L. Herwig, Edward Himmelfarb, Jeremy S. Brumbelow, Attorneys, Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for Petitioners.

Justice GINSBURG delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case concerns a charge that two Secret Service agents, in carrying out their responsibility to protect the President, engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint-based discrimination. The episode in suit occurred in Jacksonville, Oregon, on the evening of October 14, 2004. President George W. Bush, campaigning in the area for a second term, was scheduled to spend the evening at a cottage in Jacksonville. With permission from local law enforcement officials, two groups assembled on opposite sides of the street on which the President's motorcade was to travel to reach the cottage. One group supported the President, the other opposed him.

The President made a last-minute decision to stop in town for dinner before completing the drive to the cottage. His motorcade therefore turned from the planned route and proceeded to the outdoor patio dining area of the Jacksonville Inn's restaurant. Learning of the route change, the protesters moved down the sidewalk to the area in front of the Inn. The President's supporters remained across the street and about a half block away from the Inn. At the direction of the Secret Service agents, state and local police cleared the block on which the Inn was located and moved the protesters some two blocks away to a street beyond handgun or explosive reach of the President. The move placed the protesters a block farther away from the Inn than the supporters.

Officials are sheltered from suit, under a doctrine known as qualified immunity, when their conduct "does not violate clearly established ... constitutional rights" a reasonable official, similarly situated, would have comprehended. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982). The First Amendment, our precedent makes plain, disfavors viewpoint-based discrimination. See Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of Univ. of Va., 515 U.S. 819, 828, 115 S.Ct. 2510, 132 L.Ed.2d 700 (1995). But safeguarding the President is also of overwhelming importance in our constitutional system. See Watts v. United States, 394 U.S. 705, 707, 89 S.Ct. 1399, 22 L.Ed.2d 664 (1969) (per curiam ). Faced with the President's sudden decision to stop for dinner, the Secret Service agents had to cope with a security situation not earlier anticipated. No decision of this Court so much as hinted that their on-the-spot action was unlawful because they failed to keep the protesters and supporters, throughout the episode, equidistant from the President.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled otherwise. It found dispositive of the agents' motion to dismiss "the considerable disparity in the distance each group was allowed to stand from the Presiden[t]." Moss v. United States Secret Serv., 711 F.3d 941, 946 (2013). Because no "clearly established law" so controlled the agents' response to the motorcade's detour, we reverse the Ninth Circuit's judgment.


On October 14, 2004, after a nearby campaign appearance, President George W. Bush was scheduled to spend the night at a cottage in Jacksonville, Oregon. Anticipating the visit, a group of individuals, including respondents (the protesters), organized a demonstration to express their opposition to the President and his policies. At around 6:00 p.m. on the evening the President's motorcade was expected to pass through the town, between 200 and 300 protesters gathered in Jacksonville, on California Street between Third and Fourth Streets. See infra, at 2062 (map depicting the relevant area in Jacksonville). The gathering had been precleared with local law enforcement authorities. On the opposite side of Third Street, a similarly sized group of individuals (the supporters) assembled to show their support for the President. If, as planned, the motorcade had traveled down Third Street to reach the cottage, with no stops along the way, the protesters and supporters would have had equal access to the President throughout in delivering their respective messages.

This situation was unsettled when President Bush made a spur-of-the-moment decision to stop for dinner at the Jacksonville Inn before proceeding to the cottage. The Inn stands on the north side of California Street, on the block where the protesters had assembled. Learning of the President's change in plans, the protesters moved along the block to face the Inn. The respective positions of the protesters and supporters at the time the President arrived at the Inn are shown on the following map, which the protesters attached as an exhibit to their complaint:1

As the map indicates, the protesters massed on the sidewalk directly in front of the Inn, while the supporters remained assembled on the block west of Third Street, some distance from the Inn. The map also shows an alley running along the east side of the Inn (the California Street alley) leading to an outdoor patio used by the Inn's restaurant as a dining area. A six-foot high wooden fence surrounded the patio. At the location where the President's supporters gathered, a large two-story building, the U.S. Hotel, extended north around the corner of California and Third Streets. That structure blocked sight of, and weapons access to, the patio from points on California Street west of the Inn.

Petitioners are two Secret Service agents (the agents) responsible for the President's security during the Jacksonville visit. Shortly after 7:00 p.m. on the evening in question, the agents enlisted the aid of local police officers to secure the area for the President's unexpected stop at the Inn. Following the agents' instructions, the local officers first cleared the alley running from Third Street to the patio (the Third Street alley), which the President's motorcade would use to access the Inn. The officers then cleared Third Street north of California Street, as well as the California Street alley.

At around 7:15 p.m., the President arrived at the Inn. As the motorcade entered the Third Street alley, both sets of demonstrators were equally within the President's sight and hearing. When the President reached the outdoor patio dining area, the protesters stood on the sidewalk directly in front of the California Street alley, exhibiting signs and chanting slogans critical of the President and his policies. In view of the short distance between California Street and the patio, the protesters no longer contest that they were then within weapons range of the President. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 3–4, 35, 39–40; Brief for Petitioners 44.

Approximately 15 minutes later, the agents directed the officers to clear the protesters from the block in front of the Inn and move them to the east side of Fourth Street. From their new location, the protesters were roughly the same distance from the President as the supporters. But unlike the supporters, whose sight and access were obstructed by the U.S. Hotel, only a parking lot separated the protesters from the patio. The protesters thus remained within weapons range of, and had a direct line of sight to, the President's location. This sight line is illustrated by the broken arrow marked on the map below.2

After another 15 minutes passed, the agents directed the officers again to move the protesters, this time one block farther away from the Inn, to the east side of Fifth Street.

The relocation was necessary, the agents told the local officers, to ensure that no demonstrator would be "within handgun or explosive range of the President." App. to Pet. for Cert. 177a. The agents, however, did not require the guests already inside the Inn to leave, stay clear of the patio, or go through any security screening. The supporters at all times retained their original location on the west side of Third Street.

After the President dined, the motorcade left the Inn by traveling south on Third Street toward the cottage. On its way, the motorcade passed the President's supporters. The protesters remained on Fifth Street, two blocks away from the motorcade's route, thus beyond the President's sight and hearing.


The protesters sued the agents for damages in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. The agents' actions, the complaint asserted, violated the protesters' First Amendment rights by the manner in which the agents established a security perimeter around the President during his unscheduled stop for dinner. See Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388, 91 S.Ct. 1999, 29 L.Ed.2d 619 (1971) (recognizing claim for damages against federal agents for violations of plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights).3 Specifically, the protesters alleged that the agents engaged in viewpoint discrimination when they moved the protesters away from the Inn, while allowing the supporters to remain in their original location.

The agents moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the protesters' allegations were insufficient to state a claim for violation of the First Amendment. The agents further maintained that they were sheltered by qualified immunity because the constitutional right alleged by the protesters was not clearly established.

The District Court denied the motion, see Moss v. United States Secret Serv....

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