Chavez v. United States

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Procedure
  • Date Filed: 06-20-2012
  • Case #: 10-17659
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Senior District Judge Rakoff for the Court; Circuit Judge M. Smith; Concurrence by Circuit Judge Wallace
  • Full Text Opinion

To state a claim against a supervisor for a subordinate's alleged violation of the Fourth Amendment, the plaintiff must plausibly allege facts tending to show that a reasonable supervisor would find that the defendant's conduct was clearly "unlawful in the situation he confronted."

Jose and Maria Elena Chavez (collectively, “plaintiffs”) brought a Bivens claim against Border Patrol agents, alleging that the agents stopped plaintiffs’ shuttle service between Phoenix, Arizona and Sesabe, Arizona on “almost a daily basis” for discriminatory reasons. Plaintiffs also brought claims against the supervisors who allegedly reviewed and directed the stops (collectively, the “supervisory defendants”). The supervisory defendants appealed the district court’s negative ruling on their motion for judgment on the pleadings. Although the district court did not rule on qualified immunity, the Ninth Circuit considered the issue because it was intertwined with the other rulings of the district court. The supervisory defendants claimed that under Iqbal, plaintiffs were required to allege that the supervisors acted with a “discriminatory purpose.” However, the Court declined to adopt this standard, because the U.S. Supreme Court in Iqbal “derived [the ‘discriminatory purpose’ standard] from the Fifth Amendment rather than from the fact that the plaintiff pled claims against supervisors.” Iqbal established that a plaintiff may not rely solely on a theory of respondeat superior, but must allege individual unconstitutional actions by a supervisor. The Court held that plaintiffs failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted for all but one of the supervisory defendants, because the conduct of those supervisory defendants would not be “a clear Fourth Amendment violation to a reasonable officer.” The claim against the remaining supervisory defendant was valid, because plaintiffs plausibly alleged that a reasonable officer would find that the supervisory defendant’s conduct violated the Fourth Amendment. AFFIRMED in part, and REVERSED in part.

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