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Appeals Court Finds U.S. Marshals Immune in Raid on Antiabortion-Rights Activist's House

Appeals Court Finds U.S. Marshals Immune in Raid on Antiabortion-Rights Activist's House

March 25, 2014 — A federal appeals court on Friday dismissed a lawsuit against members of the U.S. Marshals Service over their raid on the home of an antiabortion-rights activist, but the court sharply rebuked the marshals' tactics, Reuters reports (Stempel, Reuters, 3/21).

The case involved abortion-rights opponent Michael Bray, who previously was arrested and jailed for four years in connection with attacks against abortion clinics in Washington, D.C. Bray also is the author of a book that defends the use of violence to stop abortion.

Case Background

Planned Parenthood several years ago won an $850,000 judgment against Bray as part of a larger lawsuit in which the organization sued several abortion-rights activists for threatening to use force against abortion providers (Sewell, AP/Columbus Dispatch, 3/22). Planned Parenthood later obtained a court order authorizing a raid on Bray's home in order to seize assets pursuant to his debt.

According to court papers, two members of the U.S. Marshals Service -- Joel Kimmet and Chris Riley -- in 2007 raided Bray's home and searched the property for four hours while detaining Bray and his family without access to a phone to call their attorney (Reuters, 3/21). The papers stated that the federal marshals seized computers, cameras, books and papers, while lawyers for Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette in Oregon and other individuals moved around the house, filming the raid (AP/Columbus Dispatch, 3/22).

Bray later filed suit, eventually settling with all of the defendants except the marshals. In November 2012, a federal judge dismissed the claims against the marshals.

Latest Ruling

On Friday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court's ruling, finding that the deputy marshals had "qualified immunity" because they reasonably believed that they were conducting the raid legally at the time it happened.

Bray had argued in his lawsuit that the four-hour detention was unjustified and that the marshals' seizure of "expressive materials of negligible market value" made it seem as if the raid were orchestrated for the purposes of intimidating his family and confiscating "disfavored" books and papers (Reuters, 3/21). He claimed his and his family's constitutional rights were violated (AP/Columbus Dispatch, 3/22).

The judges in their ruling acknowledged that the raid, as it is described in Bray’s complaint, violated his rights, despite the marshals' immunity. They wrote, "It is true that the debtor's ideas -- that it is moral to take violent, illegal action to stop abortions -- are repugnant," but "it is contrary to our fundamental norms to permit government-sanctioned attacks on the purveyance of ideas, even when those ideas are repugnant."

Reaction

The Department of Justice, which represented the U.S. Marshals, did not immediately comment.

Meanwhile, Thomas Condit, an attorney who represented Bray, said that the ruling was "disappointing," and added that he will consider appealing to the Supreme Court. "The essence is that my clients' rights were violated, but they have no legal remedy," he said (Reuters, 3/21).