Tuesday, May 8, 2018
Ninth Circuit Decision in United States v. County of Maricopa: Joe Arpaio, Policymaker Liability & Issue Preclusion
Yesterday the Ninth Circuit issued a unanimous decision in United States v. County of Maricopa. The opinion begins:
The United States brought this action to halt racially discriminatory policing policies instituted by Joseph Arpaio, the former Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona. Under Arpaio’s leadership, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) routinely targeted Latino drivers and passengers for pretextual traffic stops aimed at detecting violations of federal immigration law. Based on that and other unlawful conduct, the United States sued Arpaio, MCSO, and the County of Maricopa under two statutes: Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d, and 34 U.S.C. § 12601 (formerly codified at 42 U.S.C. § 14141). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the United States on the claims relating to the unlawful traffic stops; the parties settled the remaining claims. Maricopa County is the lone appellant here. Its main contention is that it cannot be held liable for the unlawful traffic-stop policies implemented by Arpaio.
The panel’s decision affirms the district court’s ruling. It concludes that: (1) Arpaio was a final policymaker for the county; (2) policymaker liability applies under Title VI and § 12601; and (3) the county is bound as a matter of issue preclusion by the findings in the earlier litigation against Arpaio.