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Ramirez v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

March 23, 2015

GUSTAVO VARGAS RAMIREZ, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant

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For Gustavo Vargas Ramirez, Plaintiff: Glenda Melinda Aldana Madrid, Matt Adams, LEAD ATTORNEY, NORTHWEST IMMIGRANT RIGHTS PROJECT (SEA), SEATTLE, WA; Mary Elizabeth Hawkins, LEAD ATTORNEY, BEAN PORTER HAWKINS PLLC, SEATTLE, WA.

For United States of America, Defendant: Kristin Berger Johnson, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE (SEA), SEATTLE, WA.

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ORDER ON CROSS MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

JAMES L. ROBART, United States District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the court on Defendant United States of America's (" United States" ) motion for summary judgment (Def. Mot. (Dkt. # 34) (sealed), (Dkt. # 37 (redacted)) and Plaintiff Gustavo Vargas Ramirez's (" Mr. Vargas" ) motion for partial summary judgment (Plf. Mot. (Dkt. # 44)). Having considered the submissions of the parties, the balance of the record, and the relevant law, and having heard oral argument, the court grants in part and denies in part both motions.

II. BACKGROUND

Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed. At approximately 9:00 p.m. on June 23, 2011, Officer Leetz of the Anacortes Police Department pulled Mr. Vargas over in Anacortes, Washington, for failing to signal a left turn. (Aldana Decl. (Dkt. # 36) Ex. 1 (" Leetz Dep." ) at 7:20-22; Aldana Decl. USAO000283-288 (" Leetz Rep" ).) Officer Leetz states that he had difficulty communicating with Mr. Vargas in English at the scene of the traffic stop. (Leetz Dep. at 8:1-4; 26:20-27:7; Leetz Rep.) Nonetheless, Officer Leetz was able to obtain Mr. Vargas' driver's license, registration, and insurance. (Leetz Dep. at 8:1-4; 22:7-23; Leetz Rep.)

While processing Mr. Vargas' documents, Officer Leetz noticed that the Washington Department of Licensing database showed Mr. Vargas' Social Security number as all zeros. (Leetz Dep. at 8:5-14; Leetz Rep.) Officer Leetz was unaware that Washington State drivers are not required to provide a Social Security number in order to qualify for a license. (Leetz Dep. at 8:17-22.) Officer Leetz then called the United States Border Patrol (" Border Patrol" ). (Leetz Dep. at 37:11-25; Leetz Rep.) Officer Leetz identifies two reasons he contacted Border Patrol: (1) he suspected Mr. Vargas' presence in the United States was not lawful because Mr. Vargas was not conversant in English and because the database did not identify Mr. Vargas' Social Security number, and (2) he hoped that a Border Patrol agent who spoke Spanish could explain to Mr. Vargas how to comply with the ticket.[1] (Leetz Dep. at 9:1-7; 24:15-17; 29:16-30:5; 41:4-8.)

Officer Leetz reached Agent Hafstadt at the Border Patrol station in Bellingham, Washington. (Hafstadt Dep. at 10:23-11:6.) Officer Leetz informed Agent Hafstadt that he suspected Mr. Vargas was illegally present in the United States. (Leetz Dep. at 10:4-14; Leetz Rep.) It is undisputed that Officer Leetz provided Agent Hafstadt with Mr. Vargas' name and date of birth, as well as the facts that there was no Social Security number associated with Mr. Vargas' driver's license and that he was not conversant in English. (Leetz Dep. at 8:5-9:7; 38:24-39:23; Hafstadt Dep. at 12:9-17.) There is inconsistent testimony as to whether Officer Leetz provided Agent Hafstadt with information regarding Mr. Vargas' apparent ethnicity. (Leetz Dep. at 9:16-21, 10:1-3, 39:24-40:12; 84:3-23; Hafstadt Dep. at 12:7-17.)

Officer Leetz informed Agent Hafstadt that he could not detain Mr. Vargas any longer than it took him to finish processing the traffic infraction unless specifically requested

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to do so by Border Patrol. (Leetz Dep. at 9:9-15, 10:4-11; Leetz Rep.) Because he believed that enforcing immigration laws was beyond his purview, Officer Leetz intended to release Mr. Vargas without further questions unless Agent Hafstadt called him back. (Leetz Dep. at 10:12-14; 24:1-2; 88:15-24.)

Agent Hafstadt proceeded to run Mr. Vargas' information through a series of databases, none of which returned any records, with the exception of a record indicating that Mr. Vargas possessed a driver's license. (Hafstadt Dep. at 12:24-13:4; 15:19-19:2.) Overall, the results of the search showed that Mr. Vargas (1) did not have any warrants against him, (2) did not have a state or federal criminal history, (3) was not registered as inspected or admitted to the United States while travelling, (4) had not previously been deported, (4) had not had any sort of interaction with the immigration system, (5) had not been issued an employment authorization card, (6) did not have an immigration case pending, (7) had not filed an application for lawful status, (8) had not entered the United States at a port of entry, and (9) had not previously been arrested by immigration authorities. ( Id. at 15:19-19:3.)

After running the background checks, Agent Hafstadt called Officer Leetz back and informed him that he had no documentation of Mr. Vargas legally entering or residing in the country. (Leetz Dep. at 11:20-12:3.) When Officer Leetz asked whether he should detain or release Mr. Vargas, Agent Hafstadt asked to speak to Mr. Vargas. ( Id. at 12:4-6.) Officer Leetz switched his cell phone to speakerphone and held the phone through the window of Mr. Vargas' vehicle. ( Id. at 12:10-24.) Agent Hafstadt does not recall speaking with Mr. Vargas. (Hafstadt Dep. at 33:17-34:8.) Mr. Vargas recalls that Agent Hafstadt asked him in English for his name, how long he had been in the United States, and whether he had any documentation authorizing his presence in the country. (Vargas Dep. (Dkt. # 44-2) at 49:10-50:18.) Mr. Vargas responded in English that he would not answer any questions without a lawyer. ( Id. at 50:6-15; Leetz Dep. at 13:2-12; 49:6-50:10.)

At that point, Officer Leetz pulled the phone back and resumed talking with Agent Hafstadt. (Leetz Dep. at 49:20-50:10; Vargas Dep. at 50:19-23.) Officer Leetz asked whether the agent wanted him to detain or release Mr. Vargas. (Leetz Dep. at 55:11-14.) Agent Hafstadt instructed Officer Leetz to detain Mr. Vargas and transport him to the Anacortes Police Department. ( Id. at 13:13-14:10, 55:11-14; Leetz Rep.) Officer Leetz recalls that Agent Hafstadt asked him to " [h]old on to him for us." (Leetz Dep. at 55:14-23.) Officer Leetz recalls that Agent Hafstadt told him that a Border Patrol agent would come down from Bellingham to meet them at the Anacortes Police Department. ( Id. at 56:4-22.) Agent Hafstadt, however, did not direct Officer Leetz how to detain Mr. Vargas. ( Id. at 58:16-59:3.)

Officer Leetz believed that Agent Hafstadt, as a member of the United States Border Patrol, had the legal authority to detain Mr. Vargas to investigate his immigration status. ( Id. at 14:18-15:4; 16:4-8.) Accordingly, Officer Leetz had Mr. Vargas exit his vehicle and advised him that he was being detained at Border Patrol's request. ( Id. at 59:10-15; Leetz Rep.; Vargas Dep. at 53:9-20, 54:14-19.) Officer Leetz then patted Mr. Vargas down, placed Mr. Vargas in handcuffs, and drove him to the police station in the patrol car. (Leetz Dep. at 14:11-13; Vargas Dep. at 57:5-11; 16:9-17.)

The police station is located approximately one mile from the site of the traffic stop. (Leetz Dep. at 56:23-25.) At the station, Officer Leetz placed Mr. Vargas in

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a holding cell, removed the handcuffs, confiscated Mr. Vargas' shoes, and informed him that a Border Patrol officer was on his way from Bellingham to Anacortes to interview him. (Vargas Dep. at 55:23-56:13, 57:15-17; Leetz Dep. at 16:18-17:8.)

In the meantime, Agent Hafstadt contacted Agent Orr, who was driving a patrol car in Bellingham, and asked him to interview a person being held at the Anacortes Police Department regarding his immigration status. (Aldana Decl. Ex. 4 (" Orr Dep." ) at 12:1-18, 13:17-19.) Bellingham, Washington, is located approximately 40 miles from Anacortes, Washington. ( See generally Orr Dep. at 34:1-4.) Agent Orr arrived at the Anacortes Police Department about 30 to 40 minutes after he received the call from Agent Hafstadt. ( Id. at 17:7-14; see also Leetz Dep. at 67:10-14.) At the station, Officer Leetz provided Agent Orr with Mr. Vargas' driver's license and explained to Agent Orr that it was difficult to communicate with Mr. Vargas in English and that Mr. Vargas' Social Security number came up in the Washington Department of Licensing database as all zeros. (Orr Dep. at 18:6-16; 28:9-16.)

Agent Orr interviewed Mr. Vargas in an area outside the holding cell. (Leetz Dep. at 69:17-22.) Because Agent Orr was not fluent in Spanish, the conversation took place at least partly in English.[2] (Orr Dep. at 20:25-21:11; 23:3-23; Leetz Dep. at 70:11-24.) Mr. Vargas stated that at first he refused to answer any questions, but later relented because he " felt scared and intimidated" and " was in a cold cell without heat and without shoes and I was hungry, and I thought there was no other way." (Vargas Dep. at 62:17-63:1.) During the interview, Mr. Vargas admitted that he had been borne in Mexico, that he had been living in the United States for about ten years, and that he did not have any immigration documents. (Orr Dep. ...


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