U.S. Supreme Court ruling may increase counties' exposure to retaliatory arrest claims

Image of police.jpg

Key Takeaways

On June 20, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a per curiam (unauthored) ruling in Gonzalez v. Trevino, a case with implications for retaliatory arrest claims against local law enforcement. In the case, Ms. Gonzalez asked the Court to reconsider the standard of evidence needed to meet an exception to the rule established in Nieves v. Bartlett that arrests with probable cause do not qualify for retaliatory arrest litigation. She also asked the court to limit the application of Nieves to "split-second" arrests. 

  • County nexus: The probable-cause rule established by Nieves, provides county governments with important protection against frivolous retaliatory arrest claims, which can lead to costly litigation and have a chilling effect on local law enforcement. 
  • NACo advocacy: Through the Local Government Legal Center, NACo filed an amicus brief in support of the respondent arguing arguing for a narrow and objective exception under Nieves. The LGLC also advanced the view that Nieves does not apply solely to split-second arrests. Learn more here.
  • The Court's ruling: The Court ruled for Ms. Gonzalez in the first question, suggesting that the Fifth Circuit's ruling went too far in demanding virtually identical and identifiable comparators to meet the threshold for the Nieves exception and instead affirming that any form of objective evidence is sufficient. While this decision means that more plaintiffs may be able to bring a retaliatory arrest claim under the Nieves exception by utilizing any form of objective evidence, the Court was careful to emphasize that the Nieves exception is narrow. Additionally, because the Court did not take up the second question, local governments may see future arguments by plaintiffs by plaintiffs that the requirement to plead and prove an absence of probable cause does not apply in non-split-second arrests. 

County governments should continue to defend retaliatory arrest claims on the grounds that the exception to Nieves is narrow and requires objective evidence, but law enforcement agencies should carefully review policies and procedures in light of the ruling to guard against increased litigation in these matters.

Related News


FEMA seeks feedback on updated Public Assistance Program and Policy Guide

FEMA is inviting county leaders to provide feedback on the newly updated Public Assistance Program and Policy Guide (PAPPG) Version 5. This public comment period opened on June 18, 2024, and closes on August 19, 2024.

THE_County Countdown_working_image-4.png

County Countdown – July 1, 2024

Every other week, NACo’s County Countdown reviews top federal policy advocacy items with an eye towards counties and the intergovernmental partnership.

Image of LACounty-Homelessness_vidthumb.jpg

U.S. Supreme Court protects key flexibility for county governments responding to homelessness

On June 28, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 6-3 ruling in Grants Pass v. Johnson, a case of major significance for counties working to develop comprehensive responses to the homelessness crisis.