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Media Alerts - Santos v. Frederick County Board of Commissioners, et al. - Fourth Circuit
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September 28, 2013
  Santos v. Frederick County Board of Commissioners, et al. - Fourth Circuit
Headline: Sheriff's Deputies Unable to Detain Individuals Based on Civil Deportation Warrants Alone

Area of Law: Constitutional Law; Criminal Procedure; Immigration Law

Issues Presented: Whether a Fourth Amendment seizure occurred when two deputy sheriffs encountered Santos outside of her workplace. Whether the seizure of Santos was sufficiently justified. Whether the deputies are entitled to qualified immunity, preventing recovery for Santos.

Brief Summary: After Roxana Orellana Santos' Section 1983 claims were dismissed in the District Court for the District of Maryland, she appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The Fourth Circuit held that Santos' seizure and subsequent arrest were unconstitutional because the deputies who stopped her had neither express direction from ICE to detain Santos, nor the authority under 9 U.S.C. § 1357(g) to participate in civil immigration enforcement. The Fourth Circuit found that an arrest based solely on an outstanding ICE civil warrant is unconstitutional and runs afoul of the Fourth Amendment. Despite the constitutional violations, the court held that the officers who arrested Santos were immune in their individual capacities. However, the court remanded the case to the district court for resolution on the claims against the municipal defendants.

Extended Summary: Roxana Orellana Santos, a native of El Salvador, was arrested on an outstanding Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") warrant for "immediate deportation" by two Frederick County Deputy Sheriffs. The two deputies were on routine patrol when they first approached Santos. At the time, Santos was doing nothing more than sitting outside her place of work. Upon request, Santos produced her El Salvadoran national identification card, which led the deputies to run a warrant check. Dispatch informed the deputies that a deportation warrant existed. While dispatch was confirming whether the warrant was active, Santos asked if there was a problem. One of the deputies responded, "No, no, no," and although they had not received confirmation that the warrant was active, gestured with his hand for Santos to remain seated. Several minutes later, Santos attempted to stand in an effort to go inside and begin her shift. Soon after, the two deputies received verification of the active warrant and placed Santos under arrest. Approximately forty-five minutes after arresting Santos, ICE requested that the Maryland detention center hold Santos on ICE's behalf.

Santos filed a §1983 complaint against several sheriff's deputies, the Frederick County Board of Commissioners, several individuals from ICE and the Department of Homeland Security alleging violations of her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The District Court granted the deputies' motion for summary judgment and dismissed Santos' claims against the other parties.

The Fourth Circuit first found that Santos was seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment when the deputy gestured for her to remain seated. The court found that this non-verbal communication would signal to any reasonable person that they were not "at liberty to rise and leave." Next, the court considered whether that seizure, and ultimate arrest, violated Santos' constitutional rights. In Arizona v. United States, the Supreme Court held that state and local law enforcement agencies may participate in the enforcement of federal immigration laws under certain circumstances. However, as the Fourth Circuit noted, Arizona prohibited local law enforcement officers from arresting individuals based exclusively on civil immigration violations (i.e., ICE warrants), since these violations do not constitute crimes and therefore cannot produce the necessary "probable cause." Applying these rules to the case before it, the Fourth Circuit found that at the time the deputies arrested Santos, the active civil ICE warrant was the sole basis for that arrest. The Sheriff's Office had an agreement with ICE, which authorized designated deputies to assist ICE in their duties. However, both of the deputies who interacted with Santos were not among the deputies authorized to do so. Accordingly, since the deputies were not authorized to enforce civil immigration law, and since they lacked express direction from ICE (at the time of the seizure and arrest), Santos' arrest violated the Fourth Amendment.

Despite the Fourth Amendment violation, the Fourth Circuit finally found that the deputies were entitled to qualified immunity because the right violated was not clearly established at the time of the seizure. At the time of the encounter, the Supreme Court had not yet decided Arizona, the Fourth Circuit had not recognized a rule prohibiting local law enforcement officers from seizing individuals for civil immigration violations, and several other circuits were split on the issue. Thus, the Fourth Circuit held that qualified immunity barred Santos' individual capacity claims. However, the court remanded Santos' claims against the Frederick County Board of Commissioners and the several sheriff deputies in their official capacities. These suits will be treated as suits against the municipality, and qualified immunity from suit under Section 1983 is not extended to municipal defendants. On remand, the court instructed the District Court to resolve whether the municipal defendants were "responsible" for the deputies unconstitutional conduct on the day of the encounter with Santos.

To read the full opinion, please visit:

Panel: Judges Wynn, Davis and Spencer

Date of Issued Opinion: 08/07/2013

Docket Number: No. 12-1980

Decided: 08/07/2013

Case Alert Author: Samantha Spencer

Counsel: ARGUED: John Carney Hayes, Jr., NIXON PEABODY, LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellant. Sandra Diana Lee, KARPINSKI, COLARESI & KARP, P.A., Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellees. ON BRIEF: Daniel Karp, KARPINSKI, COLARESI & KARP, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellees. Michael M. Hethmon, Garrett R. Roe, IMMIGRATION REFORM LAW INSTITUTE, Washington, D.C., for Amicus Supporting Appellees.

Author of Opinion: Wynn, J.

Case Alert Supervisor: Professor Renée Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 09/28/2013 06:04 AM     4th Circuit  

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