Limit on Illegal-Immigrant Lawsuits Faces Test of Constitutionality

Alia Beard Rau, Arizona Republic (Phoenix), May. 30, 2011

As an Arizona rancher faced a court order earlier this year to pay $87,000 to illegal immigrants he caught on his land, the Legislature set out to right what many considered a wrong.

The Legislature passed a law to make retroactive to 2004 a 2006 referendum banning courts from awarding punitive damages to illegal immigrants. The rancher, Roger Barnett, had lost a civil lawsuit alleging that he held the immigrants at gunpoint in the 2004 incident, assaulted them and caused emotional distress.

But opponents of the law say it’s unconstitutional. They say the Legislature lacks authority to overturn court decisions and that lawmakers can’t pass a law to benefit only one person.

{snip}

The first test of the law’s constitutionality could come as early as Tuesday. A Cochise County judge will decide how to proceed with a request from a different rancher who says a judgment against him in a similar civil lawsuit should be overturned.

Barnett case

In March 2004, Barnett apprehended a group of illegal immigrants on his ranch and turned them over to law enforcement. The immigrants alleged that Barnett held them at gunpoint and kicked one of the women. Barnett, who claimed to have apprehended thousands of illegal immigrants crossing through his ranch, disputed the allegations.

A year later, a Texas-based civil-rights organization, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, filed a civil lawsuit against Barnett on behalf of the immigrants and sought $32 million in damages.

{snip}

The case garnered national attention and outraged many in the Legislature. Lawmakers in 2006 passed a measure asking voters to change the state Constitution to forbid Arizona courts from awarding punitive damages to illegal immigrants. Prop. 102 passed with 74 percent approval.

{snip}

In 2009, a federal court jury found that Barnett didn’t violate the civil rights of the immigrants but ordered him to pay $77,000 to the victims for the claims of assault and causing emotional distress.

Barnett appealed. This February, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld the lower-court ruling. With interest the amount came to about $87,000.

Less than a week later, Republican lawmakers tacked an amendment onto an unrelated bill that would put the constitutional restriction created under Proposition 102 into state statute and make that state statute retroactive to Jan. 1, 2004.

It’s illegal for the Legislature to change a voter-approved measure without getting permission from voters. Creating the state statute and changing it instead of the voter-approved constitutional provision may get the Legislature around that problem. It’s not uncommon for the Legislature to repeat things in the state Constitution in state statute.

{snip}

Another case

Although the debate over the law focused on the Barnett case, another Arizona rancher believes the new law will help him as well.

In 2003, Arizona rancher Casey Nethercott and several other members of a volunteer border-patrol group called Ranch Rescue stopped two illegal immigrants on a ranch they were patrolling in Texas. The immigrants alleged that Nethercott threatened them and pistol-whipped a male immigrant in the head. Nethercott was criminally charged with aggravated assault, unlawful restraint and unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon. He was ultimately convicted of the unlawful possession charge and sentenced to serve several years in a Texas prison.

A year after the incident, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a civil lawsuit against Nethercott and several of the other men on behalf of the immigrants. The Texas state court in 2005 issued a civil judgment of $850,000 against Nethercott. A Cochise County judge later signed over Nethercott’s ranch to the immigrants to cover some of the judgment.

The ranch was divided up and sold.

Nethercott called the passage of HB 2191 an “absolute victory.”

“I hope everybody in America knows that they stole my home,” Nethercott said. “Now, nobody else can go through this.”

{snip}

[Additional stories about the Roger Barnett case are listed here. Additional stories on the Casey Nethercott case are listed here.]

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  • Mr.White

    Illegal invaders shouldn’t even have standing to bring a civil case to court, much less collect punitive damages! The only courtroom illegal invaders should have access to are criminal courts when being prosecuted and immigration courts when being deported!

    I like to keep things simple, especially concerning a class of people who entered this country in violation of our immigration laws, as well as sovereignty.

  • Kingoldby

    ”A Cochise County judge later signed over Nethercott’s ranch to the immigrants to cover some of the judgment.”

    A Judge gave an Americans home to ILLEGAL immigrants who were trespassing on it.

    What exactly will it take before American’s physically stop Judges legislating and imposing their liberal agenda on people?

  • Anonymous

    Why were Mexicans ever leaving Mexico, it’s such productive country with great people? Alright, why were the mexicans ever awarded anything, yet another case to try and teach white people that they may never defend themselves.

  • olewhitelady

    Any illegal caught in this country should be shipped back to where he came from, preferably in the back of a non-AC truck! Let him sue from there if he can!

  • Tim in Indiana

    The leftists and anarchists have been engaged in a steady chipping away at respect for our nation’s laws for decades now. The skyrocketing of the crime rate after 1960 was one result of this, and the idiocy of allowing illegal immigrants, who are by definition lawbreakers, to be able to work the legal system to their own advantage in filing lawsuits is just the latest phase of this display of contempt for our laws. The leftist hatred of America in their eagerness to use this nation’s legal system to destroy itself should be evident to all.

    Assault, if it should happen, is already illegal under the current laws. The concept of illegals being able to sue makes a mockery of the laws protecting our sovereignty. If they weren’t here illegally, they couldn’t have been assaulted in the first place.

  • rjp

    U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit needs to go.

    The judges who sit on it completely believe they have the right to legislate though adjudication. This is one reason why I am beginning to think that lower level judges in the federal system should not be appointed for life as they are.

    And we need a president who has some common sense who will look at attempts to legislate though adjudication and stand up and say “You are gone. You have usurped your appointed powers. You lose your pension too.”

  • Anonymous

    Have you ever wondered where organizations like the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund get their funding?

    Well, here ya go!

    http://goo.gl/kKxQs

  • Jim

    Both of these cases are disgusting, americans can’t even defend their property anymore, what if those illegals had a gun and the rancher’s shot them and the authorities found the weapon next to the bodies, it probably would have been found to be justifiable self defense and would not have lost there ranch, shame on the Southern Poverty Law Center.

  • white is right, black is whack

    No, illegals can not and should not be allowed to sue for anything. If they broke into someone’s house or trespassed on someone’s property and got killed or injured for it, tough. Too bad. They are criminals just be their being here. Hello, I’m Earth. Have we met?

  • Anonymous

    8 — Jim wrote at 9:34 AM on June 3:

    Both of these cases are disgusting, americans can’t even defend their property anymore, what if those illegals had a gun and the rancher’s shot them and the authorities found the weapon next to the bodies, it probably would have been found to be justifiable self defense and would not have lost there ranch, shame on the Southern Poverty Law Center.

    —————————-

    We wouldn’t be having any of the problems in America today, if White people understood who they are to begin with.

    http://goo.gl/CagnE

    One of the chief distinctions that must to be brought up is the difference between a nation and a country. A country is geographic and political in nature, and is a group of people who occupy the same territory and share a common government. A nation constitutes a group of people who share common ethnic origin, and usually implies common culture, religion, and language.

    Ideally countries and nations would overlap as much as possible, but there are historic and contemporary examples of when this is not the case. After the Second World War, and during the Cold War between the Soviet Union and America, the nation of Germany was divided up into the separate countries of East and West Germany. The nation of Korea remains divided into North and South Korea for political reasons to this day. There are also several examples, both historical and modern, in which multiple nations occupy the same country. The Roman Empire is a classic example.

    The distinction between nations and countries or governments is one that is also recognized in the Bible. Christ distinguished between nations and kingdoms when he predicted in the Olivet Discourse that would rise against nation, and kingdom would rise against kingdom. 1 Both Old and New Testaments use separate words for nations and kingdoms.

    —————————-

    America was meant to be a NATION which constitutes a group of people who share common ethnic origin, and usually implies common culture, religion, and language. That means us White folks, period. Inform your family and friends of this fact.