United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
J. McCONNELL, JR., United States District Judge.
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).
FACTS AND BACKGROUND
charged with enforcing immigration laws. Its agents issue
detainers based on information about potential
undocumented individuals gathered by its own officers and,
when available, from information from state and local
police and corrections institutions collected
upon intake. ICE rightly acknowledges its sole responsibility
and ownership over the process of investigating potential
immigration law violators. 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. At the time, no
law enforcement agency in New England refused to honor an ICE
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.
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.
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.
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. 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") and National Crime Information
Center ("NCIC"),  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
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."
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.
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."
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.
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.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
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
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
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).
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)).
CLAIMS AGAINST THE FEDERAL DEFENDANTS
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.
Agent Edward Donaghy
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.
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.").
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
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).
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.
approximately 40 million foreign born individuals
living in the United States as of 2010, 17.6 million or 44%
of those individuals are naturalized citizens. See
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.
Blank Citizenship Field
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.
Other Database Checks
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.
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.
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 ...