U.S. Supreme Court denies civil rights claim against border agent

WASHINGTON, June 8 (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed the lawsuit of a Washington state bed and breakfast owner accusing a Border Patrol agent of civil rights violations during a violent encounter in 2014, when his conservative majority further reduced the possibility of suing. federal officials in damages.

The court ruled in a 6-3 decision written by conservative judge Clarence Thomas that Robert Boule, owner of the lodging establishment “Smuggler’s Inn” in the town of Blaine along the Canadian border, could not sue the Officer Erik Egbert for using excessive force in violation of the United States Constitution’s Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure.

The court’s conservative judges were in the majority and its dissenting liberal members. The lawsuit accused Egbert of knocking Boule to the ground after the innkeeper objected to the officer investigating the immigration status of a Turkish citizen guest at the bed-and-breakfast.

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The court also unanimously found that Boule could not pursue a separate claim under the First Amendment’s free speech protections accusing Egbert of unlawful retaliation against him for complaining about his treatment at the hands of the agent.

The court overturned a 2021 ruling by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that sided with Boule, allowing his lawsuit filed in 2017 to continue.

The Supreme Court’s ruling was the latest in a series of rulings by its conservative majority that limit the scope of a 1971 ruling that allows people to sue federal officials individually for civil rights violations. The court stopped short of overturning this precedent altogether in a case called Bivens v. Six named agents unknown.

Thomas wrote that it is for Congress, not the courts, to decide under what circumstances federal officials can be prosecuted, noting that the 1971 decision “is not without critics.”

In a similar vein, the court ruled in 2020 that a Border Patrol agent could not be prosecuted for fatally shooting a Mexican teenager who was standing on Mexican soil.

The Boule bed-and-breakfast was known to federal agents as a place where people seeking to cross the border illegally would stay, according to the ruling. Boule offered a shuttle service to the border, charged for a night’s accommodation even if guests did not plan to stay, and often informed officers of people staying with him. He was driving a car with a personalized license plate that read: “SMUGLER”.

In 2021, Boule was convicted in Canada of helping to smuggle people into the country.

The 2014 incident happened when Boule told Egbert about a Turkish guest at a bed and breakfast. Egbert arrived at the facility to verify the client’s immigration status. Boule asked Egbert to leave the property, sparking a physical altercation that allegedly resulted in Egbert pushing Boule against a car and pushing him to the ground, according to court records.

The lawsuit accused Egbert of asking various U.S. agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service, to investigate Boule, which was the basis of the innkeeper’s request for retaliation.

Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a dissenting opinion that the allegation of excessive force should have been allowed under existing precedent.

“The court is making extraordinary efforts to avoid this outcome,” Sotomayor wrote, adding that Wednesday’s ruling bars civil rights claims filed by “many people who will suffer serious constitutional violations from federal agents.” “.

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Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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