7th Circuit reversal: Indiana may intervene in ACLU immigration case

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed and remanded a district court’s denial of Indiana’s motion to intervene in a federal immigration case that prohibited the Marion County Sheriff’s Department from cooperating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention requests, finding the district court did not have jurisdiction to strike the motion.

The appeal dates to July 2017, when Indiana Southern District Judge Sarah Evans Barker entered a consent decree between the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and the city of Indianapolis in the case of Antonio Lopez-Aguilar v. Marion County Sheriff’s Department, et al., 1:16-cv-2457.

That agreement prohibited the sheriff’s department from detaining immigrants for the federal government, unless ICE could produce a signed warrant or probable cause.

Lopez-Aguilar filed a complaint in September 2016, claiming the sheriff’s department violated his Fourth Amendment rights by arresting and holding him in the local jail without being charged with a crime. Local law enforcement had detained him only at the request of federal immigration officials.

After Barker struck down the Indiana Attorney General’s Office’s motion to intervene in the case in January 2018, the AG’s office filed a notice of appeal with the 7th Circuit, arguing that under Indiana Code section 5-2-18.2, state and local law enforcement officials have a “duty to cooperate” with federal immigration efforts.

In a 40-page opinion, a 7th Circuit panel concluded that the district court erred in its denial of the state’s motion to intervene. In its decision, the appeals court noted that the stipulated judgment granting declaratory and prospective injunctive relief would directly impair Indiana’s ability to protect its substantial interest in cooperating with federal immigration enforcement efforts.

It additionally concluded that the district court’s interpretation of the statute, although not a total declaration of unconstitutionality, significantly restricted the statute’s vitality. It therefore found that Indiana demonstrated it “suffered a cognizable injury sufficient for standing to appeal.”

The 7th Circuit also found that the injunction’s terms obliged “the Sheriff’s Department of Indiana’s most populous county to disregard, in a significant way, what the State believes is a legislative command to cooperate with the federal government.”

“Because the State has demonstrated a direct, significant, and legally protectable interest in this litigation, which will be impaired absent intervention and is not adequately represented by the existing parties, the State is entitled to intervention as of right,” Circuit Judge Kenneth Ripple wrote for the unanimous panel.

“Mr. Lopez-Aguilar simply fails to demonstrate a ‘likelihood of substantial and immediate irreparable injury,’ a prerequisite for equitable relief,” the panel continued. “Without a ‘showing of any real or immediate threat that the plaintiff will be wronged again,’ Mr. Lopez-Aguilar lacked standing to request, and the district court lacked jurisdiction to award, the declaratory judgment and permanent injunction set forth in the Stipulated Judgment.”

Thus, the 7th Circuit concluded that the parties’ agreement to resolve Lopez-Aguilar’s claims by stipulated judgment did not relieve the district court of its obligation to confirm that it had Article III jurisdiction to enter the declaratory judgment and permanent injunction.

It further concluded that Lopez-Aguilar did not have standing to request equitable relief, and at no point during litigation of the case maintained standing to seek the prospective injunctive relief awarded by the district court.

It therefore reversed and remanded the case, finding district court erred when it entered the Stipulated Judgment without regard to Lopez-Aguilar’s standing to seek equitable relief.

The AG’s office celebrated the decision as a “win for common sense, state sovereignty and public safety,” according to a Friday statement.   

“When federal authorities ask an Indiana police agency to detain a person in the agency’s custody, Indiana law requires the agency to cooperate,” Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill said in a statement. “To establish any contrary policy at the local level not only violates Indiana law but jeopardizes the safety and security of Hoosiers.”

“We are obviously disappointed in the decision, and are in the process of evaluating our options with our client,” said Gavin Rose, ACLU attorney and counsel for Lopez-Aguilar.

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