Castle Rock v. Gonzales

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Castle Rock v. Gonzales
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued March 21, 2005
Decided June 27, 2005
Full case name Town of Castle Rock, Colorado, Petitioner v. Jessica Gonzales, individually and as next friend of her deceased minor children, Rebecca Gonzales, Katheryn Gonzales, and Leslie Gonzales
Docket nos. 04-278
Citations 545 U.S. 748 (more)
125 S. Ct. 2796; 162 L. Ed. 2d 658; 2005 U.S. LEXIS 5214; 18 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 511
Prior history On writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. Gonzales v. City of Castle Rock, 366 F.3d 1093, 2004 U.S. App. LEXIS 19049 (10th Cir. Colo., 2004)
Subsequent history On remand at Gonzales v. City of Castle Rock, 144 Fed. Appx. 746, 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 19072 (10th Cir., Sept. 2, 2005)
Holding
The town of Castle Rock, Colorado and its police department could not be sued under 42 USC §1983 for failure to enforce a restraining order against respondent's husband, as enforcement of the restraining order does not constitute a property right for 14th Amendment purposes.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Scalia, joined by Rehnquist, O'Connor, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, Breyer
Concurrence Souter, joined by Breyer
Dissent Stevens, joined by Ginsburg
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. XIV, Due Process Clause

Castle Rock v. Gonzales, 545 U.S. 748 (2005), is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court ruled, 7–2, that a town and its police department could not be sued under 42 U.S.C. §1983 for failing to enforce a restraining order, which had led to the murder of a woman's three children by her estranged husband.

Background[edit]

Restraining order and police inaction[edit]

During divorce proceedings, Jessica Lenahan-Gonzales, a resident of Castle Rock, Colorado, obtained a permanent restraining order against her husband Simon, who had been stalking and controlling her, on June 4, 1999, requiring him to remain at least 100 yards from her and her four children (son Jesse, who is not Simon's biological child, and daughters Rebecca, Katherine, and Leslie) except during specified visitation time. On June 22, at approximately 5:15 pm, Simon took possession of his three daughters in violation of the order. Jessica called the police at approximately 7:30 pm, 8:30 pm, 10:10 pm, and 12:15 am on June 23, and visited the police station in person at 12:40 am on June 23. However, since she from time to time had allowed Simon to take the children at various hours, the police took no action, despite Simon having called Jessica prior to her second police call and informing her that he had the daughters with him at an amusement park in Denver, Colorado. At approximately 3:20 am on June 23, Simon appeared at the Castle Rock police station and was killed in a shoot-out with the officers. A search of his vehicle revealed the corpses of the three daughters, who it has been assumed he killed prior to his arrival.

Lower court proceedings[edit]

Gonzales filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado against Castle Rock, Colorado, its police department, and the three individual police officers with whom she had spoken under 42 U.S.C. §1983, claiming a federally protected property interest in enforcement of the restraining order and alleging "an official policy or custom of failing to respond properly to complaints of restraining order violations." A motion to dismiss the case was granted, and Gonzales appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. A panel of that court rejected Gonzales's substantive due process claim but found a procedural due process claim; an en banc rehearing reached the same conclusion. The court also affirmed the finding that the three individual officers had qualified immunity and as such could not be sued.

Opinion of the Court[edit]

The Supreme Court reversed the Tenth Circuit's decision, reinstating the District Court's order of dismissal. The Court's majority opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia held that enforcement of the restraining order was not mandatory under Colorado law; were a mandate for enforcement to exist, it would not create an individual right to enforcement that could be considered a protected entitlement under the precedent of Board of Regents of State Colleges v. Roth; and even if there were a protected individual entitlement to enforcement of a restraining order, such entitlement would have no monetary value and hence would not count as property for the Due Process Clause.

Justice David Souter wrote a concurring opinion, using the reasoning that enforcement of a restraining order is a process, not the interest protected by the process, and that there is not due process protection for processes.

Stevens' dissent[edit]

Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a dissenting opinion, in which he wrote that with respect to whether or not an arrest was mandatory under Colorado law, the court should either have deferred to the 10th Circuit court's finding that it was or else certified the question to the Colorado Supreme Court rather than decide the issue itself. He went on to write that the law created a statutory guarantee of enforcement, which is an individual benefit and constitutes a protected property interest under Roth, rejecting the court's use of O'Bannon v. Town Court Nursing Center to require a monetary value and the concurrence's distinction between enforcement of the restraining order (the violator's arrest) and the benefit of enforcement (safety from the violator).

Subsequent developments[edit]

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights[edit]

In 2011, the case came before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a commission composed of representatives from the members of Organization of American States (the United States is a full member by its ratification of the charter document, which is a treaty itself) which found that "the state failed to act with due diligence to protect Jessica Lenahan and (her daughters) Leslie, Katheryn and Rebecca Gonzales from domestic violence, which violated the state’s obligation not to discriminate and to provide for equal protection before the law." The Commission also said that "the failure of the United States to adequately organize its state structure to protect (the Gonzales girls) from domestic violence was discriminatory and constituted a violation of their right to life."[1][2]

Response[edit]

As this case is the latest in a lineage of high-profile cases, such as DeShaney v. Winnebago County, in which lawsuits against governmental entities for failure to prevent harm to an individual were dismissed, it has also been used by gun rights advocates in the United States to add additional weight to the self-defense argument for private gun ownership.[3]

The National Organization for Women has argued the Supreme Court's decision reduced the utility of restraining orders and "effectively gives law enforcement a green light to ignore restraining orders."[4]

References[edit]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]