Recent supreme court ruling regarding restraining orders

Discussion in 'Politics & Current Events' started by DJPoopypants, Jun 28, 2005.

  1. DJPoopypants

    DJPoopypants New Member

    Ok, I'm no lawyer here, but sometimes enjoy seeing reasonable (and unreasonable) debate on legal matters.

    So what gives with the SC ruling that the lady can't hold the cops responsible for not enforcing her restraining order (which led to the death of her kids)?

    I'm confused. Is that saying we cannot hold the cops responsible for not doing their jobs - or was the legal argument used just a really bad one?
  2. yossarian

    yossarian Moderator
    Staff Member

    Jun 16, 1999
    Big City Blinking
    Arsenal FC
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    I have not read Ms. Gonzales original complaint so I'm not sure if she attempted to hold the Castle Rock police department liable for negligence under state law. I would not see any reason why she would be precluded from attempting to do so.

    In this case, however, what the Supreme Court was ruling on was whether the restraining order gave Gonzales a due process claim under the 14th Amendment in a situation where that restraining order was not being enforced. The issue is a very technical one but I think the Supreme Court got it right when they ruled that she did not.

    A little more background...... 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 is a federal statute that allows one to sue state actors for violations of 14th Amendment rights. Section 1983 claims (as they're called) are commonly used by people to enforce their civil rights against authorities at the state or local level. It's also commonly used by state prisoners as a means to sue prison officials over their treatment (but not with regard to release...those are habeas corpus claims). After the Civil Rights era, some plaintiffs began asserting Section 1983 claims if they felt that property rights had been violated by state actors. For instance, a vendor awarded a state contract could sue under Section 1983 if they felt that the contract had been unfairly revoked later on by state or local officials. Another example is cases where tenured faculty members sue when they feel the state university fired them unfairly. In these cases the question became both whether one had a substantive due process right to the property itself and also whether one had a procedural due process that some procedures had to be initiated by the state officials before the property could be taken from you.

    In this case, Gonzales filed a Section 1983 claim stating that she had a property interest in the restraining order granted to her and that the failure to enforce that restraining order constituted a violation of both her substantive and procedural due process rights under the 14th Amendment. In ruling against her, the Court's majority held that the due process procedural component does not protect everything that could be described as a government benefit. To have a property interest in a benefit like this, you have to show an entitlement to it. A benefit is not protected property if the state has discretion to grant or deny it. Here, the state could have denied the restraining order and therefore Gonzales cannot claim this was something to which she was, she did not have a property interest in the restraining order. Since she had no property interest in the restraining order itself, she could not claim a due process violation for the police's failure to enforce it.

    Justice Stevens' dissent (joined by Ginsburg) basically agrees with much of the majority opinion that under normal circumstances one does not have a property interest in having the police do their job. Where Stevens differs is that he believes the state of Colorado created such a property interest in this situation because of the very specific way they worded the statute that allows people such as Gonzales to obtain the order.

    Even the long winded ramble I've posted does not do the technical aspects of this decision justice. Section 1983 litigation can be very confusing and most Federal Courts classes in law school devote 2 or 3 weeks to studying it. To overly simplify, the Court said that a restraining order doesn't amount to a property interest protected by the 14th Amendment. The SCOTUS decision doesn't mean that Gonzales could not sue the police at all (although most states do make such states difficult) just means that she does not have a federal claim by which to do it.

    Hope that helps.

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