Castle Rock v. Gonzales

PETITIONER: Town of Castle Rock, Colorado
RESPONDENT: Jessica Gonzales, Individually and as Next Best Friend of Her Deceased Minor Children, Rebecca Gonzales, Katheryn Gonzales, and Leslie Gonzales
LOCATION: City of New London Town Hall

DOCKET NO.: 04-278
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

CITATION: 545 US (2005)
GRANTED: Nov 01, 2004
ARGUED: Mar 21, 2005
DECIDED: Jun 27, 2005

Brian J. Reichel - argued the cause for Respondents
John C. Eastman - argued the cause for Petitioner
John P. Elwood - argued the cause for Petitioner

Facts of the case

Jessica Gonzales requested a restraining order against her estranged husband. A state trial court issued the order, which prohibited the husband from seeing Gonzales or their three daughters except during pre-arranged visits. A month later, Gonzales's husband abducted the three children. Gonzales repeatedly urged the police to search for and arrest her husband, but the police told her to wait until later that evening and see if her husband brought the children back. During the night Gonzales's husband murdered all three children and then opened fire inside a police station, where police returned fire and killed him. Gonzales brought a complaint in federal District Court, alleging that the Castle Rock police had violated her rights under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution by willfully or negligently refusing to enforce her restraining order. The Due Process Clause states: "No state shall...deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law..." The District Court dismissed the complaint, ruling that no principle of substantive or procedural due process allowed Gonzales to sue a local government for its failure to enforce a restraining order. On appeal, however, a panel of the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit found that Gonzales had a legitimate procedural due process claim. A rehearing by the full appeals court agreed, ruling that Gonzales had a "protected property interest in the enforcement of the terms of her restraining order," which the police had violated.


Can the holder of a restraining order bring a procedural due process claim against a local government for its failure to actively enforce the order and protect the holder from violence?

Media for Castle Rock v. Gonzales

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 21, 2005 in Castle Rock v. Gonzales

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 27, 2005 in Castle Rock v. Gonzales

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in the Town of Castle Rock versus Gonzales will be announced by Justice Scalia.

Antonin Scalia:

This is case No. 04-278, Town of Castle Rock versus Gonzales.

I thought Castle Rock was a 1920s dance but it is also a town in Colorado.

The case is here on writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

The facts are truly horrible.

Jessica Gonzales the respondent sued the Town of Castle Rock in Federal District Court alleging that the Town had violated her rights under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause when its police officers acting pursuant to official policy in customs she alleges failed to respond to her repeated reports over several hours that her estranged husband had taken their three children in violation of her restraining order against him.

The restraining order had been entered as part of a divorce proceeding.

It generally prevented the husband from coming within 100 yards of the family home and it allowed him only limited contact with the children.

The back of the restraining order included a notice for law enforcement personnel which tract the statute and which said "You shall use every reasonable means to enforce this restraining order.

You shall arrest or if an arrest would be impractical under the circumstances, seek a warrant for the arrest of the restrained person when you have information amounting to probably cause that the restrained person has violated any provision of this order."

Early one evening in 1999, the respondent's husband took their children without making the advance arrangements that the order required.

Respondent first called the police at about 7:30 that evening.

When officers came to her house, she showed them the restraining order and asked them to enforce it and return her children.

They told her to call back if the children did not return by 10:00 p.m.

She called again at 8:30 p.m. telling them that she had spoken to her husband who had the children at an amusement park in Denver.

Again, they told her to call if the children were not returned by 10:00 p.m.

Shortly after 10:00, she called back, but was now told to wait until midnight.

She called again at midnight and again at 12:10 a.m. and then went to the police station to file an incident report at 12:50 a.m.

Finally, at 3:20 a.m., her husband showed up at the police station shooting a semi automatic handgun.

The police shot him dead and discovered in his pickup truck the bodies of all three children whom he had already murdered.

Respondent's lawsuit alleged that she had a property interest protected by the Due Process Clause in the enforcement of the restraining order.

The District Court concluded otherwise and dismissed the suit.

On appeal however, a six to five majority of the en banc Tenth Circuit found that she did have a protected property interest in enforcement of the terms of the restraining order and that by failing to give serious attention to her request to enforce the order, the police had violated her due process rights.

We granted certiorari and in an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we reverse the Tenth Circuit.

The Due Process Clause says that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.

Property for this purpose does not include everything that might be described as a governmental benefit.

Our previous cases have explained that an individual must have a "legitimate claim of entitlement" to the benefit and that such entitlements are created by some independent source such as state law.

Respondent asked us to defer to the Tenth Circuit's conclusion that Colorado law created such an entitlement here.

We think that such deference is inappropriate in this case because the Tenth Circuit decision did not draw upon any deep well of state specific expertise and because if we were simply to accept its conclusion we would necessarily have to decide conclusively a federal constitutional question.

We conclude that Colorado law did not give respondent an entitlement to enforcement of the restraining order.