CHICAGO (CN) – The Seventh Circuit on Thursday vacated a settlement between an Indiana sheriff’s office and the American Civil Liberties Union that prohibited cooperation with federal immigration authorities without a warrant, finding the state has standing to protect its interest in cooperating with immigration enforcement efforts.
Antonio Lopez-Aguilar traveled to Indianapolis in 2014 to appear in Marion County Traffic Court on the misdemeanor charge of operating a vehicle without a license. The case was closed after the hearing, and he was not ordered to serve jail time.
But as he was leaving the courtroom, a Marion County sheriff’s deputy took Lopez-Aguilar into custody on the request of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and turned him over to federal authorities, who opened an immigration removal case against him.
Represented by the ACLU, Lopez-Aguilar filed a civil rights lawsuit alleging the sheriff’s office violated the Fourth Amendment by seizing him without probable cause, and a federal judge ruled in his favor.
“For the avoidance of doubt, an ICE request that the sheriff’s department seize or hold an individual in custody based solely on a civil immigration violation does not justify a Fourth Amendment seizure,” U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker wrote in her July 2017 opinion.
The sheriff’s office later settled with the ACLU and agreed to end warrantless ICE detention requests.
Indiana’s attorney general’s office, however, filed an appeal – although it was not a party before the lower court – seeking to intervene in opposition to the settlement agreement, which it claims is based on a misunderstanding of state law.
In his appeal, Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher, joined by the federal government as amicus, asked the Seventh Circuit to vacate the settlement agreement prohibiting Marion County, home to Indianapolis, from cooperating with warrantless ICE detainer requests and allow the state to intervene in the case.
The Seventh Circuit issued a 40-page ruling on Thursday, first finding that Indiana has standing to pursue the appeal.
“Indiana simply asks that we vacate a federal district court order requiring local law enforcement officers in Marion County to act in perpetuity contrary to state law,”Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Kenneth Ripple said, writing for the unanimous three-judge panel. “Because we can directly redress that injury by vacating the stipulated judgment, we conclude that the state has standing to bring this appeal.”
After addressing the standing issue, the Chicago-based appeals court declined to rule on the merits of Judge Barker’s decision.
Instead, the panel ruled that the district court judge lacked jurisdiction to make any ruling in the case because Lopez-Aguilar failed to show he was likely to suffer immediate injury absent an injunction.
“The requirement that the plaintiff must have standing to seek equitable relief does not cease when the parties agree to such relief by stipulated judgment,” wrote Ripple, who was appointed by Ronald Reagan.
Lopez-Aguilar does not live in Marion County, and has had no other contact with Marion County police since he was arrested at the courthouse, the incident that forms the basis of his lawsuit.
“Therefore, ‘the odds’ that Mr. Lopez-Aguilar will return to Marion County, again commit a traffic violation or other infraction resulting in an encounter with the sheriff’s department, and again be detained at ICE’s request are not ‘sufficient to make out a federal case for equitable relief,’” Ripple said.
U.S. Circuit Judges Joe Flaum, another Reagan appointee, and Amy Coney Barrett, appointed by President Donald Trump, joined Ripple on the panel.