Castle Rock v. Gonzales

Castle Rock v. Gonzales
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Supreme Court of the United States
Argued March 21, 2005
Decided June 27, 2005
Full case name Town of Castle Rock, Colorado, Petitioner v. Jessica Gonzales, individually and as next friend of her deceased minor children, Rebecca Gonzales, Katheryn Gonzales, and Leslie Gonzales
Docket nos. 04-278
Citations 545 U.S. 748; 125 S. Ct. 2796; 162 L. Ed. 2d 658; 2005 U.S. LEXIS 5214; 18 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 511
Prior history On writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. Gonzales v. City of Castle Rock, 366 F.3d 1093, 2004 U.S. App. LEXIS 19049 (10th Cir. Colo., 2004)
Subsequent history On remand at Gonzales v. City of Castle Rock, 144 Fed. Appx. 746, 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 19072 (10th Cir., Sept. 2, 2005)
The town of Castle Rock, Colorado and its police department could not be sued under 42 USC §1983 for failure to enforce a restraining order against respondent's husband, as enforcement of the restraining order does not constitute a property right for 14th Amendment purposes.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Scalia, joined by Rehnquist, O'Connor, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, Breyer
Concurrence Souter, joined by Breyer
Dissent Stevens, joined by Ginsburg
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. XIV, Due Process Clause

Castle Rock v. Gonzales, 545 U.S. 748 (2005), was a case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States, in which the court ruled, 7-2, that a town and its police department could not be sued under 42 U.S.C. §1983 for failing to enforce a restraining order, which had led to the murder of a woman's three children by her estranged husband.


Background of the case

Restraining order and police inaction

During divorce proceedings, Jessica Gonzales, a resident of Castle Rock, Colorado, obtained a restraining order against her husband on June 4, 1999, requiring him to remain at least 100 yards from her and their three daughters except during specified visitation time. On June 22, at approximately 5:15 pm, her husband took possession of the three children in violation of the order. Gonzales called the police at approximately 7:30 pm, 8:30 pm, 10:10 pm, and 12:15 am on June 23, and visited the police station in person at 12:40 am on June 23, 1999. However, the police took no action, despite the husband's having called Gonzales prior to her second call to the police and informing her that he had the children with him at an amusement park in Denver, Colorado. At approximately 3:20 am on June 23, 1999, the husband appeared at the Castle Rock police station and instigated a fatal shoot-out with the police. A search of his vehicle revealed the corpses of the three daughters, whom the husband had killed prior to his arrival.

Lower court proceedings

Gonzales filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado against Castle Rock, Colorado, its police department, and the three individual police officers with whom she had spoken under 42 U.S.C. §1983, claiming a Federally-protected property interest in enforcement of the restraining order and alleging "an official policy or custom of failing to respond properly to complaints of restraining order violations." A motion to dismiss the case was granted, and Gonzales appealed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. A panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit rejected Gonzales's substantive due process claim but found a procedural due process claim; an en banc rehearing reached the same conclusion. The court also affirmed the finding that the three individual officers had qualified immunity and as such could not be sued.

The court's decision

The Supreme Court reversed the Tenth Circuit's decision, reinstating the District Court's order of dismissal. The Court's majority opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia held that enforcement of the restraining order was not mandatory under Colorado law; were a mandate for enforcement to exist, it would not create an individual right to enforcement that could be considered a protected entitlement under the precedent of Board of Regents of State Colleges v. Roth; and even if there were a protected individual entitlement to enforcement of a restraining order, such entitlement would have no monetary value and hence would not count as property for the Due Process Clause.

Justice David Souter wrote a concurring opinion, using the reasoning that enforcement of a restraining order is a process, not the interest protected by the process, and that there is not due process protection for processes.

Stevens' dissent

Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a dissenting opinion, in which he wrote that with respect to whether or not an arrest was mandatory under Colorado law, the court should either have deferred to the 10th Circuit court's finding that it was or else certified the question to the Colorado Supreme Court rather than decide the issue itself. He went on to write that the law created a statutory guarantee of enforcement, which is an individual benefit and constitutes a protected property interest under Roth, rejecting the court's use of O'Bannon v. Town Court Nursing Center to require a monetary value and the concurrence's distinction between enforcement of the restraining order (the violator's arrest) and the benefit of enforcement (safety from the violator).

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

In 2011, the case came before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which found that "the state failed to act with due diligence to protect Jessica Lenahan and (her daughters) Leslie, Katheryn and Rebecca Gonzales from domestic violence, which violated the state’s obligation not to discriminate and to provide for equal protection before the law." The Commission also said that "the failure of the United States to adequately organize its state structure to protect (the Gonzales girls) from domestic violence not only was discriminatory, but also constituted a violation of their right to life."[1]


The National Organization for Women has argued the Supreme Court's decision reduced the utility of restraining orders and gave abusers a "green light."[2]


See also

External links

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