Another setback has been delivered to the parents of Kate Steinle as they continue to seek justice over the murder of their child. For some time now, the Steinle family has been pursuing a wrongful death suit against the city of San Francisco and its former sheriff for failing to inform immigration officials when the killer was released from prison. A district court rejected the claim in 2017 and the plaintiffs appealed. Yesterday, the Ninth Circuit upheld the dismissal. (Washington Examiner)
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court’s dismissal of the family’s suit on Monday, according to CNN.
“As the main opinion properly acknowledges, the events underlying this case are tragic,” the court filing said. “And some of Plaintiffs’ claims remain to be litigated in the district court. We hold only that, under California law, the state officials are immune from suit.”
President Trump has mentioned Steinle’s death in arguing for stronger immigration laws and enforcement.
To call this disappointing is an understatement, but then, this is the Ninth Circuit we’re talking about. I suppose expecting any other outcome was unrealistic.
The question here involves the premise under which the suit is being dismissed. The courts are agreeing that the death of Kate Steinle was “tragic” and, at least to a point, that this wouldn’t have happened had Jose Ines Garcia Zarate still been in jail or in ICE detention as he belonged. Their argument is that the city of San Francisco (and also the Sheriff) are “immune from suit.”
How nice for them, eh? If you read the summary of the brief, you’ll find that the courts are invoking California Government Code section 820.2 as the reason for immunity. Just to save you the time it would take to Google it, here’s what that code says:
Except as otherwise provided by statute, a public employee is not liable for an injury resulting from his act or omission where the act or omission was the result of the exercise of the discretion vested in him, whether or not such discretion be abused.
In other words, California has given all of their officials blanket immunity from repercussions resulting from their actions as long as the action in question was part of their official duties. And they put a cherry on top by specifically stipulating that the immunity still applies even if they were abusing their discretion. Man… good work if you can get it, eh?
The plaintiffs argued that this bizarre immunity doesn’t apply because the situation relating to Garcia Zarate’s release falls under 8 US Code 1373 and 1644. The applicable portion of 1373 says a state “may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.” 1644 says basically the same thing.
So both the district court and the Ninth Circuit are basing this decision on the premise that even if San Francisco’s sanctuary city laws are in direct violation of federal law and the Sheriff was “abusing his discretion” in violating those laws, none of it matters because the state says they can’t be held liable. I’d love to see the Supreme Court take a whack at this one. But in the meantime, justice remains out of reach for the Steinle family.