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CHP's Liability for Excessive Force May Depend on Plaintiff's Immigration Status

Pretrial motions in a California U.S. District Court were determined in 2006 concerning Jose Angel Martinez Romero's immigration status as it pertained to his § 1983 excessive force action against the California Highway Patrol (CHP). The CHP's motion to compel his status was denied, and a protective order precluding such disclosure was granted pending review of Romero’s entitlement to employment-related damages.

CHP patrolman Dan Frederick had stopped Romero. After searching his vehicle, Frederick told Romero to leave and that he was confiscating the vehicle. When Romero asked if he could retrieve his carpentry tools, Frederick said no and then allegedly tackled him to the ground face-first, dislocating Romero's leg from his hip socket. Romero's action claimed lost employment due to his injuries. He subsequently refused to answer the CHP's deposition questions related to his immigration status, exercising his constitutional right against self-incrimination.

The CHP moved to compel Romero to answer immigration status questions, claiming relevancy to CHP’s liability for his employment damages claim. Romero argued that any benefits gained by obtaining his status were outweighed by guarantees against the chilling effect of forced disclosures under the U.S. Constitution.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California held that the likely "probative utility" of Romero’s immigration status, "given the competing interest ... that would be imperiled by such an order," did not provide a sufficient justification to grant the CHP's motion. Romero's protective order was granted but deferred as to its specificity pending judicial determination of the "underlying legal issue" of his entitlement to employment-related damages. See: Romero v. Frederick, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Cal.), Case No. 3:05-cv-03014-MJJ (May 11, 2006). This ruling is in PLN's Brief Bank

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Related legal case

Romero v. Frederick