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Melendres v. Arpaio

United States District Court, D. Arizona

January 5, 2016

Manuel de Jesus Ortega Melendres, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated; et al. Plaintiffs,
Joseph M. Arpaio, in his official capacity as Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona; et al. Defendants. and United States of America, Plaintiff-Intervenor,


Honorable G. Murray Snow United States District Judge

Pending before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment of Retired Executive Chief Brian Sands. (Doc. 1214.) Defendant Joseph Arpaio, in his official capacity as Sheriff of Maricopa County, and the named putative civil contemnors, Chief Deputy Gerard Sheridan, Lieutenant Joseph Sousa, and Deputy Chief John MacIntyre, join in Sands’ Motion. (Doc. 1569.) For the following reasons, the Court denies the Motion.


I. Legal Standard

The Court grants summary judgment when the movant “shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In making this determination, the Court views the evidence “in a light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Warren v. City of Carlsbad, 58 F.3d 439, 441 (9th Cir.1995). “[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The party opposing summary judgment “may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [the party’s] pleadings, but . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); see Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986); Brinson v. Linda Rose Joint Venture, 53 F.3d 1044, 1049 (9th Cir. 1995). Substantive law determines which facts are material, and “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “A fact issue is genuine ‘if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.’” Villiarimo v. Aloha Island Air, Inc., 281 F.3d 1054, 1061 (9th Cir. 2002) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248).

II. Analysis

A. Laches

Sands argues that “Plaintiffs’ contempt claim against [him] is barred because it was not timely raised” and therefore seeks summary judgment under the doctrine of laches. (Doc. 1214 at 2.)

“Laches is an equitable time limitation on a party’s right to bring suit, resting on the maxim that one who seeks the help of a court of equity must not sleep on his rights.” Jarrow Formulas, Inc. v. Nutrition Now, Inc., 304 F.3d 829, 835-36 (9th Cir. 2002) (internal citations omitted). “Traditionally, laches is invoked when witnesses have died or evidence has gone stale.” Trustees For Alaska Laborers-Constr. Indus. Health & Sec. Fund v. Ferrell, 812 F.2d 512, 518 (9th Cir. 1987). The application of laches “depends upon the facts of the particular case.” Brown v. Cont’l Can Co., 765 F.2d 810, 814 (9th Cir. 1985).

“Because laches is an equitable remedy, laches will not apply if the public has a strong interest in having the suit proceed.” Jarrow, 304 F.3d at 840; cf. Coal. for Canyon Pres. v. Bowers, 632 F.2d 774, 779 (9th Cir. 1980) (laches is disfavored in environmental cases); Cady v. Morton, 527 F.2d 786, 793 (9th Cir. 1975) (same). “Citizens have a right to assume” that law enforcement officials “will comply with the applicable law.” Bowers, 632 F.2d at 779. “The public has an interest in compliance . . . that should not be impaired lightly.” Cady, 527 F.2d at 793.

“The decision to apply laches is primarily left to the discretion of the trial court.” Bowers, 632 F.2d at 779. “Because the application of laches depends on a close evaluation of all the particular facts in a case, it is seldom susceptible of resolution by summary judgment.” Couveau v. Am. Airlines, Inc., 218 F.3d 1078, 1083 (9th Cir. 2000). “To establish laches a defendant must prove both an unreasonable delay by the plaintiff and prejudice to itself.” Id.

1. Reasonableness of Plaintiffs’ Delay

On December 23, 2011, the Court entered an order enjoining the MCSO “from detaining any person based solely on knowledge, without more, that the person is in the country without lawful authority.” Ortega-Melendres v. Arpaio, 836 F.Supp.2d 959, 992 (D. Ariz. 2011) aff’d sub nom. Melendres v. Arpaio, 695 F.3d 990 (9th Cir. 2012). The Court held that the MCSO may enforce state law or any federal crime, but not federal civil violations. Id. at 993. Federal crimes include entering the United States other than at a legal border crossing, remaining and willfully failing to register or be fingerprinted after thirty days, and filing a fraudulent application. Id. at 970. Federal law does not criminalize unauthorized presence in the country. Id. at 971. Thus, belief or knowledge that a person is an “illegal” alien (present in the country without authorization) does not provide MCSO deputies with a reasonable suspicion that the person has committed any state or federal crime. Detaining persons believed or known to be present without authorization-without a reasonable suspicion of criminality- violates the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Id.; see also Melendres v. Arpaio, 695 F.3d 990, 1001 (9th Cir. 2012) (“[B]ecause mere unauthorized presence is not a criminal matter, suspicion of unauthorized presence alone does not give rise to an inference that criminal activity is ‘afoot.’”).

In July 2012, Sheriff Arpaio testified that the MCSO’s “LEAR” policy, which required deputies to detain individuals believed to be in the country without lawful authority, remained in effect: “[W]e still had the authority, pursuant to a legitimate arrest, to determine that person was here illegally. And then if there was no state charge to book that person into jail, we would turn that person over to ICE.” (Trial Tr. at 502:14-17, Doc. 572 at 225.)

In autumn 2012, the MCSO issued a series of three press releases, each of which suggested that the LEAR policy was still in effect. (Doc. 843-2 at Exh. A.) The first press release, dated September 27, 2012, stated that deputies found “five suspected illegal aliens” while conducting a drug interdiction operation. (Id. at A3.) Three members of the group admitted to being illegally smuggled into the country. Although the MCSO lacked evidence to charge the other two with a state crime, it “attempted to turn the suspects over to ICE as has been the practice during the last six years.” (Id. at A4.) When ICE refused to accept them, Sheriff Arpaio directed deputies to take the “suspects” to the Border Patrol, which he referred to as his “back up plan.” (Id.) Arpaio expressed displeasure with federal Homeland Security and stated that he planned “to continue to enforce all of the illegal immigration laws.” (Id. at A5.)

The second press release, dated September 27, 2012, stated that MCSO deputies followed up on a tip that several employees at a warehouse “were suspected of being illegal aliens and using false identifications.” (Id. at A6.) The press release further reported that ICE “refused to arrest two illegal aliens that were looking for work while deputies were investigating the establishment, ” and that “Arpaio refused to allow the suspected illegal aliens to ...

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