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Reichle v Howards

Reichle v. Howards and Armour v. Indianapolis  

Supreme Court Decides Favorably a Qualified Immunity Case and an Equal Protection Tax Case in which the State and Local Legal Center Filed an Amicus Brief


Reichle v. Howards-

NCSL signed onto an amicus curiae brief filed by State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) in the Supreme Court which argued that two Secret Service agents should be immune from a First Amendment retaliatory arrest lawsuit. In a unanimous decision in Reichle v. Howards, the Supreme Court granted qualified immunity to the Secret Service agents, who allegedly arrested a suspect for his political speech, but had probable cause to arrest the suspect for committing a federal crime. 

Steven Howards told Vice President Dick Cheney that his “policies in Iraq are disgusting” and then touched him. When questioned by Secret Service agents Howards denied assaulting or touching the Vice President and was arrested.   Making a materially false statement to a federal official violates a federal statute.

In this case, the Supreme Court was asked to decide whether it is possible for an arrestee to bring a First Amendment retaliatory arrest claim where probable cause supports the arrest and whether the agents in this case were entitled to qualified immunity. The Court only answered the qualified immunity question; it granted qualified immunity to the agents. Government official are immune from lawsuits claiming they have violated someone’s constitutional or statutory rights if the law violated wasn’t “clearly established.” According to the Court it was not “clearly established” at the time of the arrest that an arrest supported by probable cause could violate the First Amendment. Justice Thomas, writing for the Court, noted that the Supreme Court has never held that a person has a First Amendment right to be free from a retaliatory arrest supported by probable cause. Also the Court noted that it held in 2006 in Hartman v. Moore that probable cause bars retaliatory prosecutions cases.   A reasonable government official could have interpreted Hartman’s rationale to apply to retaliatory arrest claims.    

The SLLC’s brief also was signed onto by the International City/County Management Association, the International Municipal Lawyers Association, the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities, and the United States Conference of Mayors.


Armour v. Indianapolis

NCSL signed onto an amicus curiae brief filed by State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) in the Supreme Court which argued that the City of Indianapolis didn’t violate the Equal Protection Clause when it forgave the assessments of homeowners who paid for sewer improvements in multi-year installments but issued no refunds to homeowners who paid for the same improvements in a lump sum. The Supreme Court held 6-3 that the City did not violate equal protection because it had a rational basis—administrative considerations—for distinguishing between lot owners who already paid for their share of the sewer improvements and those who had not.

When the City moved from one method of financing sewer improvements to another method it forgave the debt of homeowners who paid for their sewer improvements in installments but gave no refund to lump sum payers. Lump sum payers sued arguing the City violated the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.   Distinctions in tax classifications comply with the Equal Protection Clause if they have a rational basis. 

Justice Breyer, writing for the majority, concluded that administrative considerations—in maintaining an administrative system that would collect debt for up to 30 years, for 20-plus construction projects, with monthly payments as low as $25 per month—provided a rational basis for distinguishing between those that had paid their assessments in full and those that had not. Citing the SLLC’s brief, the Court pointed out if the City failed to forgive installment payers’ debt it would have to “keep files on old, small, installment-plan debts, and (a City official says) possibly spend hundreds of thousands of dollars keeping computerized debut-tracking systems current.” 

Jon Laramore and Scott Chinn of Faegre Baker Daniels in Indianapolis, Indiana, wrote the SLLC’s brief. The SLLC’s brief was also signed onto by the International City/County Management Association, the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities, and the United States Conference of Mayors.

Visit the SLLC’s website at http://www.statelocallc.org/ to download a copy of these briefs and to read the Court’s opinion

Any questions? Please contact NCSL staff Susan Parnas Frederick (202)624-5400 or susan.frederick@ncsl.org.

 

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