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Morales v. Chadbourne

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

January 24, 2017

ADA MORALES, Plaintiff,
v.
BRUCE CHADBOURNE, EDWARD DONAGHY, ASHBEL T. WALL, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN J. McCONNELL, JR., United States District Judge.

         Ada Morales was born in Guatemala, and became a naturalized United States citizen on September 11, 1995 under her maiden name, Ada Amavilia Cabrera. She has a social security number and a United States passport. Despite this, Ms. Morales was held at the state prison on an Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") detainer that was issued solely based on her Hispanic last name and her Guatemalan birthplace. This twenty-four hour illegal detention revealed dysfunction of a constitutional proportion at both the state and federal levels and a unilateral refusal to take responsibility for the fact that a United States citizen lost her liberty due to a baseless immigration detainer through no fault of her own. There is plenty of blame to go around amongst the Defendants in this case. This opinion will attempt to sort it out, guided by the principle that: "[t]o allow ICE to issue a detainer against an American citizen, with unlimited discretion and without any accountability, sets a dangerous precedent and offends any and all notions of due process." Ortega v. U.S. Immigration & Customs Enft, 737 F.3d 435, 444 (6th Cir. 2013) (Keith, J., dissenting).

         I. FACTS AND BACKGROUND

         ICE is charged with enforcing immigration laws. Its agents issue detainers[1] based on information about potential undocumented individuals gathered by its own officers and, when available, from information from state and local police[2] and corrections institutions collected upon intake. ICE rightly acknowledges its sole responsibility and ownership over the process of investigating potential immigration law violators.[3] State and local law enforcement have no investigatory responsibilities, but receive the detainers from ICE because potential immigration violators are being held by them on state or local charges. Upon recipient of an ICE detainer, the Rhode Island Department of Corrections' ("RIDOC") Adult Corrections Institution ("ACI"), consistent with its decades-long practice, blindly honored the immigration detainer.[4] At the time, no law enforcement agency in New England refused to honor an ICE detainer.

         Thus, the prism through which the Court must filter undisputed facts is that ICE was in sole charge of investigating and issuing detainers on those believed to be in violation of immigration laws and ICE expected state and local law enforcement to perform the "dirty work" of holding the individuals in their custody until ICE can retrieve them. Ms. Morales' case resulted from what happens when this federal-state balance of power fails. Now the Court must determine who bears responsibility in the face of both state and federal defendants pointing fingers at each other.

         The Rhode Island State Police arrested Ms. Morales on state criminal charges on May 2, 2009 and transported her to the ACI for booking. As part of the typical commitment process, staff from the RIDOC ID Unit asked Ms. Morales to provide her address, emergency contact information, race, eye color, hair color, nativity, date of birth, and social security number. They also took her height and weight measurements and a photograph. This information was entered into RIDOC's inmate database, INFACTS.

         While it is expected that RIDOC ID Unit officers would ask about an individual's citizenship and there is a field in INFACTS to indicate as much, that information is not required to complete the commitment process. Ms. Morales testified that RIDOC officials asked her about her citizenship and she answered that she was a citizen. The citizenship field in INFACTS, however, was left blank in Ms. Morales' case, not indicating affirmatively or negatively about her citizenship. The RIDOC held Ms. Morales for the weekend at the ACI on the state charge until she could appear before a state court magistrate judge on Monday, May 4, 2009.

         As was his practice, Agent Edward Donaghy arrived at the Rhode Island ICE Field Office on Monday morning, logged on to INFACTS and downloaded the RIDOC commitment report for the weekend's activities.[5] Ms. Morales' name appeared on that report, along with approximately 100 other individuals. Agent Donaghy testified that if he believed an individual's citizenship was in question after his initial INFACTS search, he would check two additional federal databases, Central Index System ("CIS")[6] and National Crime Information Center ("NCIC"), [7] for that person's name. In this case, Agent Donaghy saw that Ms. Morales was born in Guatemala and the citizenship field in INFACTS was blank so he turned to CIS and NCIC. Agent Donaghy did not use any of the other information available to him in INFACTS, such as Ms. Morales' social security number, to investigate further. Neither search yielded any results for "Ada Morales."

         However, claiming to believe he had probable cause to do so, Agent Donaghy issued the detainer against Ms. Morales based on her married name and nativity, indicating, "an investigation has been initiated to determine whether [Ada Morales] is subject to removal from the United States." He faxed it to RIDOC at 8:32 a.m. Monday. The detainer informed the RIDOC that "federal regulation (8 C.F.R. § 287.7) requires that you detain the alien for a period not to exceed 48 hours ... to provide adequate time for DHS to assume custody of the alien."

         RIDOC received the fax and logged the detainer into INFACTS. Neither state nor federal officials informed Ms. Morales that ICE had issued the detainer. Transported from the ACI by the Rhode Island Sheriffs Department, Ms. Morales appeared in Rhode Island Superior Court around noon that Monday for her initial appearance on the state charges. The state court withdrew the warrant and released Ms. Morales on $10, 000 personal recognizance. The state court informed Ms. Morales of an "immigration hold, " however, mandating that she report to the Attorney General's office for "routine processing in this matter which will include fingerprinting." Ms. Morales' husband was in court, holding her United States passport, but neither ACI nor ICE officials were in court to witness his display.

         Ms. Morales remained in custody based solely on the ICE detainer. The Sheriffs Department then returned Ms. Morales to the ACI sometime during the afternoon of May 4th. Meanwhile, her husband attempted to consult with another attorney and immigration officials to clear up his wife's immigration issue. He was unsuccessful. Ms. Morales was also unsuccessful in convincing RIDOC employees that she was a United States citizen and that her husband could produce the documentation to prove it. She was booked into the ACI, a process that includes a strip search. RIDOC faxed ICE at 8:28 p.m. to inform ICE that Ms. Morales was in custody on the detainer, but RIDOC never heard back from anyone at the ICE office that evening. Apparently, the Rhode Island ICE Office closed at 4:00 p.m. During the time the State held her under the ICE detainer, Ms. Morales testified that RIDOC employees threatened her with deportation, harassed, taunted, and accused her of lying about her immigration status. She spent a night in prison, which she described as "the worst night of [her] life."

         The following day, May 5, 2009 at 10:00 a.m., ICE picked up Ms. Morales at the ACI and transported her to its Rhode Island office. Agents interviewed and, after confirming that she was a citizen, released her.[8]

         Ms. Morales filed this lawsuit in 2012. She sued federal defendants Agent Donaghy, Boston Field Office Director (which has responsibility for ICE operations in Ehode Island) Bruce Chadbourne, and the United States. She also sued RIDOC Director A.T. Wall and two correctional officers, Gregory Mercurio and David Riccio. All Defendants filed motions to dismiss on various grounds, with the federal defendants asserting qualified immunity. The Court denied those motions.[9]Morales v. Chadbourne, 996 F.Supp.2d 19 (D.R.I. 2014) (?Morales I'). The First Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed several of the grounds and affirmed. Morales v. Chadbourne, 793 F.3d 208 (1st Cir. 2015) ("Morales II'). The parties developed the record through discovery and are now all before the Court on cross motions for summary judgment.

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         On a motion for summary judgment, the burden is on the moving party to establish that there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and that the party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986); Asociacion de Periodistas de Puerto Rico v. Mueller, 529 F.3d 52, 56 (1st Cir. 2008). Once the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party may only defeat the motion by "set[ting] forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial, " Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255, and present evidence sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to find in the nonmoving party's favor. Soto-Padro v. Pub. Bldgs. Auth., 675 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2012).

         In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court will not "weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but [must] determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the trial court must consider the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in its favor as well. Id. at 255; Franceschi v. U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, 514 F.3d 81, 84 (1st Cir. 2008). Summary judgment "hinges on the presence or absence of evidence, not on the adequacy of the pleadings." Garcia-Catalan v. United States, 734 F.3d 100, 104 (1st Cir. 2013).

         When evaluating "'cross-motions for summary judgment, the standard does not change; [courts] view each motion separately and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the respective non-moving party.'" Bonneau v. Plumbers & Pipefitters Local Union 51 Pension Trust Fund, 736 F.3d 33, 36 (1st Cir. 2013) (quoting Roman Catholic Bishop of Springfield v. Springfield, 724 F.3d 78, 89 (1st Cir. 2013)).

         III. CLAIMS AGAINST THE FEDERAL DEFENDANTS

         Ms. Morales has brought claims individually against Agent Donaghy and ICE Field Office Director Chadbourne for violating her Fourth Amendment rights. She has also sued the United States of America for negligence and false imprisonment claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Ms. Morales moves for summary judgment on these claims, arguing that it is undisputed that the federal defendants unreasonably detained her without probable cause. Director Chadbourne and Agent Donaghy object and cross move for summary judgment and also reassert a qualified immunity defense to Ms. Morales' claims. The United States objects and moves for summary judgment as well. The Court will now consider each Defendant separately.

         A. Agent Edward Donaghy

         One of Agent Donaghy's jobs is to issue immigration detainers. Federal law states that "[a]ny officer or employee of the [Immigration] Service authorized under regulations prescribed by the Attorney General shall have power without warrant... to interrogate any alien or person believed to be an alien as to his right to be or to remain in the United States." 8 U.S.C. § 1357(a)(1). Immigration officers also have authority to arrest without a warrant "any alien ... if he has reason to believe that the alien so arrested is in the United States in violation of any [immigration] law or regulation and is likely to escape before a warrant can be obtained for his arrest." 8 U.S.C. § 1357(a)(2). This authority is not a blank check for immigration agents to arrest without a warrant, however.

         "The Fourth Amendment applies to all seizures of the person, including seizures that involve only a brief detention short of traditional arrest." United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 878 (1975). Seizures of the person must be either based on a warrant or supported by probable cause to believe that the person has committed the violation in question. Ker v. California, 374 U.S. 23, 34-35 (1963). The First Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed that "immigration stops and arrests [are] subject to the same Fourth Amendment requirements that apply to other stops and arrests-reasonable suspicion for a brief stop, and probable cause for any further arrest and detention." Morales II, 793 F.3d at 215. Therefore, it is clear as a matter of law that Agent Donaghy needed probable cause to issue the detainer for Ms. Morales because her detention was for more than a brief stop. Id. at 216-17 ("it is beyond debate that an immigration officer in 2009 would need probable cause to arrest and detain individuals for the purpose of investigating their immigration status.").

         When the First Circuit addressed this legal issue, however, it did not decide whether Agent Donaghy in fact had probable cause to issue the detainer, finding that it lacked jurisdiction at that time to make such a factual determination. Id. at 219-20. That is this Court's province, and it is now in the position to do so in light of the undisputed facts in the record.

         1. Probable Cause

         The main issue for the Court to decide on the Fourth Amendment claim is whether Agent Donaghy had probable cause to issue a detainer for Ms. Morales. "Probable cause exists 'when the arresting officer, acting upon apparently trustworthy information, reasonably concludes that a crime has been (or is about to be) committed and that the putative arrestee likely is one of the perpetrators."' Cox v. Hainey, 391 F.3d 25, 31 (1st Cir. 2004) (quoting Acosta v. Ames Dept. Stores Inc., 386 F.3d 5, 9 (1st Cir. 2004)). "The test is objective in nature ... and the proof must be such as to give rise to a reasonable likelihood that the putative arrestee committed the suspected crime." Cox, 391 F.3d at 31 (internal citations omitted).

         The record shows that Agent Donaghy issued the ICE detainer based on one affirmative piece of information - the notation on the INFACTS database that Ms. Morales was born in Guatemala - and two inferences drawn on the absence of information - the blank citizenship field in INFACTS and his failure to find her name in the CIS and NCIC databases. The Court will consider whether any one or a combination of these clues supported Agent Donaghy's conclusion that he had probable cause to issue the detainer.

         a. Foreign Birth

         Of the approximately 40 million foreign born[10] individuals living in the United States as of 2010, 17.6 million or 44% of those individuals are naturalized citizens. See https://www.census.gov/prod/2012pubs/acs-19.pdf. This Court has already held that foreign birth cannot alone provide a basis for detention. Morales I, 996 F.Supp.2d at 35; see also Brignonr-Ponce, 422 U.S. at 886. Even Agent Donaghy acknowledged in his deposition that "it would be constitutionally improper ... to issue an immigration detainer simply because the inmate was born outside the U.S." ECF No. 177 at ¶ 94, Therefore, he cannot now argue that Ms. Morales' foreign birth alone was a legitimate basis to establish probable cause upon which he could issue the detainer.

         b. Blank Citizenship Field

         When Agent Donaghy checked the INFACTS database on the morning of May 4, 2009, the citizenship status field in Ms. Morales' record was blank. He argues that the blank field along with her birth in Guatemala provided an indicia of probable cause to issue the detainer. That field, however, did not provide any information about whether Ms. Morales was a citizen. It was blank and, by virtue of its vacuity, cannot be classified as "apparently trustworthy" evidence upon which Agent Donaghy could conclude that Ms. Morales was not a citizen. See Cox, 391 F.3d at 31. Agent Donaghy never contacted RIDOC to inquire about why the citizenship box was empty. Moreover, ICE did not expect the RIDOC to collect citizenship information at intake, noting that it is not part of a local law enforcement officers' job to make citizenship determinations. ECF No. 177 at ¶¶ 64, 71. In fact, Agent Donaghy testified that he did not know if anyone at the RIDOC ever asked Ms. Morales if she was a citizen. Id., at ¶ 70. Relying on the blank box for probable cause was unreasonable.

         c. Other Database Checks

         Agent Donaghy believes that he would have also queried the CIS and NCIC databases using Ms. Morales' name and date of birth. No record appeared in either database providing another indicia of probable cause to support the detainer. But he testified that he did not know whether the CIS database contained complete immigration benefits information. ECF No. 177 at ¶ 91. The answer to that question bore itself out in discovery, where it was revealed that agents were trained in 2009 to be aware that CIS is not complete and that "not all aliens will be found in CIS, " ECF No. 177 at ¶ 74. The lack of record in an acknowledged incomplete database cannot form the basis for a probable cause determination. Significantly, there is one piece of information that Agent Donaghy could have inputted into CIS to determine whether Ms. Morales was a citizen - her social security number. This number is unique for each individual and not name-dependent. That is perhaps why ICE directed its agents to check an individual's social security number if available because "numbers are the best search mechanisms inside of CIS." Id. at ¶ 87. Agent Donaghy failed to search the CIS database using Ms. Morales' social security number despite ICE's directive to do so.

         There is also the matter of the name Agent Donaghy used to search the CIS database. He only searched "Ada Morales" even though he knew from the INFACTS database that she was married and that her husband's last name was Morales. Id. at ¶ 67. He acknowledged that women often change their last name when they get married. Id. at ¶ 80. There is no indication in the record that Agent Donaghy knew what Ms. Morales' maiden name was, but at a minimum, he should have known that searching for a record using only her married name could be under inclusive.

         The Court finds that it was not reasonable for Agent Donaghy to infer that Ms. Morales was not a citizen from the absence of information in CIS or NCIC because neither his search criteria nor the CIS database was complete, especially since the other database he searched, INFACTS, did not indicate definitively that she was not a citizen. The uncontroverted evidence shows that the absence of reliable information, other than foreign birth, demonstrates that Agent Donaghy did not have ...


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