Supreme Court Update: Gonzales v. Trevino

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Supreme Court Update:  Gonzales v. Trevino


This case could make it much easier for private citizens to file frivolous retaliatory arrest claims against county law enforcement, which would mean an increase in costly litigation for cities and counties and could create a chilling effect on public safety enforcement by county agencies.


To limit frivolous retaliatory arrest claims, the Supreme Court set a rule in Nieves: if the government can demonstrate that the law enforcement officer had probable cause to make the arrest, the claim is dismissed. They carved out one exception: if the plaintiff can prove that police officers typically choose not to arrest for this offense. In this case, Ms. Gonzales’ claim that she was arrested in retaliation for protected speech failed in the 5th circuit because there was indisputably probable cause in her arrest, which involved the illegal possession of government documents, and she could not provide examples to meet the Nieves exception. She asks the Supreme Court to reverse the 5th Circuit’s ruling and decide whether the probable-cause exception in Nieves should be broadened and whether or not Nieves should be limited to individual claims against arresting officers.

Expanding the test under Nieves for which arrests can be deemed retaliatory even when probable cause exists could lead to increased liability and litigation costs for counties. It could also have a chilling effect on arresting officers because of an increase in retaliatory arrest claims.


Argument scheduled for March 20, 2024.


View the Local Government Legal Center Amicus Brief in support of the respondent.