Vasques v. Rackacuckas

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Rights § 1983
  • Date Filed: 11-05-2013
  • Case #: 11-55795
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Berzon for the Court; Circuit Judges Tallman and M. Smith
  • Full Text Opinion

The Procedural Due Process Clause requires some constitutionally adequate process to determine gang membership when state officials enforce a broad public nuisance abatement injunction under state law against individuals that significantly interferes with their protected liberty interests. Comity doctrine does not prohibit the district court's grant of equitable relief for non-party plaintiffs to a state-court proceeding from challenging enforcement procedures of such an injunction. However, plaintiffs are barred from bringing a state constitutional due process claim in district court against a state official effectuating a state law in his official capacity, because he is not a "local" official for purposes of § 1983.

Plaintiffs filed a 42 U.S.C. §1983 action against District Attorney Tony Rackacuckas and Chief of Police Robert Gustafson (Orange), in their official capacities, for "dismiss-and-serve" strategy in violation of California and U.S. Constitution Due Process Clause. In 2009, Orange served Plaintiffs with a permanent public nuisance abatement injunction, "Order" and "Notice," stating Plaintiffs were criminally liable for violating the Order, issued by the Orange County Superior Court. The court previously dismissed Plaintiffs from the injunctive action against the Orange Varrio Cypress Criminal Street Gang (OVC) because they contested insufficient evidence of their active OVC membership. The district court granted Plaintiffs' declaratory and permanent injunctive relief because it determined Orange's conduct in dismissing and serving Plaintiffs—who disputed membership—and attempted to defend against the Order's imposition, deprived protected liberty interests, without first providing an adequate hearing or further procedural safeguards. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit rejected Orange's comity and federalism claims and affirmed the declaratory and injunctive relief because it did not challenge the terms of the Order or its validity; the Order was silent concerning enforcement procedures or process determining membership. Rather, the relief narrowly proscribed Orange's federally unconstitutional enforcement against Plaintiffs—made strangers to the case by dismissal—denying an opportunity to contest impositions. Applying Mathew v. Eldridge, the panel held: (i) the extraordinarily broad scope of the Order interfered with Plaintiff's protected liberty interests; family relationships; freedom of movement; and all manner of quotidian life, (ii) Orange's procedures assessing membership posed an unacceptably high risk of error, (iii) jeopardized significant private interests require additional procedural safeguards, (iv) the available post-deprivation remedies are inadequate to provide full relief, and (v) Orange failed to establish a justified government interest to subject Plaintiffs to the Order without some additional procedural safeguards. The Panel reversed the federal relief for state due process violations against Rackacuckas, because he acted in state official capacity—not local—to effectuate a state law, and therefore protected by state-law §1983 immunity. The panel remanded the determination of Rackacuckas' possible responsibility for some portion of awarded attorneys' fees because he is immune from equitable remedies for state law violations. AFFIRMED in part, REVERSED in part, and REMANDED.

Advanced Search