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Flores v. Lynch

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

July 6, 2016

Jenny Lisette Flores, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Loretta E. Lynch, Attorney General, Attorney General of the United States; Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security; U.S. Department Of Homeland Security, and its subordinate entities; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Defendants-Appellants.

          Argued and Submitted June 7, 2016 Pasadena, California

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California Dolly M. Gee, District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. 2:85-cv-04544-DMG-AGR

          Leon Fresco (argued), Deputy Assistant Attorney General; Sarah B. Fabian, Senior Litigation Counsel; William C. Peachey, Director, District Court Section; Benjamin C. Mizer, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Civil Division; United States Department of Justice, Office of Immigration Litigation, Washington, D.C.; for Defendants-Appellants.

          Peter Anthony Schey (argued) and Carlos R. Holguin, Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, Los Angeles, California; T. Wayne Harman and Elena Garcia, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, Los Angeles, California; for Plaintiff-Appellee.

          Before: Ronald M. Gould, Michael J. Melloy, [*] and Andrew D. Hurwitz, Circuit Judges.

         SUMMARY[**]

         Immigration

         The panel affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's order granting the motion of a plaintiff class to enforce a 1997 Settlement with the government which set a nationwide policy for the detention, release, and treatment of minors detained in Immigration and Naturalization Service custody, and remanded for further proceedings.

         The panel held that the Settlement unambiguously applies both to minors who are accompanied and unaccompanied by their parents. The panel held, however, that the district court erred in interpreting the Settlement to provide release rights to accompanying adults. The panel also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the government's motion to amend the Settlement.

          OPINION

          HURWITZ, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         In 1997, the plaintiff class ("Flores") and the government entered into a settlement agreement (the "Settlement") which "sets out nationwide policy for the detention, release, and treatment of minors in the custody of the INS." Settlement ¶ 9. The Settlement creates a presumption in favor of releasing minors and requires placement of those not released in licensed, non-secure facilities that meet certain standards.

         In 2014, in response to a surge of Central Americans attempting to enter the United States without documentation, the government opened family detention centers in Texas and New Mexico. The detention and release policies at these centers do not comply with the Settlement. The government, however, claims that the Settlement only applies to unaccompanied minors and is not violated when minors accompanied by parents or other adult family members are placed in these centers.

         In 2015, Flores moved to enforce the Settlement, arguing that it applied to all minors in the custody of immigration authorities. The district court agreed, granted the motion to enforce, and rejected the government's alternative motion to modify the Settlement. The court ordered the government to: (1) make "prompt and continuous efforts toward family reunification, " (2) release class members without unnecessary delay, (3) detain class members in appropriate facilities, (4) release an accompanying parent when releasing a child unless the parent is subject to mandatory detention or poses a safety risk or a significant flight risk, (5) monitor compliance with detention conditions, and (6) provide class counsel with monthly statistical information. The government appealed, challenging the district court's holding that the Settlement applied to all minors in immigration custody, its order to release parents, and its denial of the motion to modify.

         Although the issues underlying this appeal touch on matters of national importance, our task is straightforward- we must interpret the Settlement. Applying familiar principles of contract interpretation, we conclude that the Settlement unambiguously applies both to accompanied and unaccompanied minors, but does not create affirmative release rights for parents. We therefore affirm the district court in part, reverse in part, and remand.

         BACKGROUND

         I. History of the Litigation

         In 1984, the Western Region of the Immigration and Naturalization Service ("INS") adopted a policy prohibiting the release of detained minors to anyone other than "a parent or lawful guardian, except in unusual and extraordinary cases." Reno v. Flores, 507 U.S. 292, 296 (1993) (quotation marks omitted). The next year, Flores filed this action in the Central District of California, challenging that policy and the conditions under which juveniles were detained pursuant to the policy. Id.

         In 1986, the district court certified two classes:

1. All persons under the age of eighteen (18) years who have been, are, or will be arrested and detained pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1252 by the Immigration and Naturalization Service ("INS") within the INS' Western Region and who have been, are, or will be denied release from INS custody because a parent or legal guardian fails to personally appear to take custody of them.
2. All persons under the age of eighteen (18) years who have been, are, or will be arrested and detained pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1252 by the Immigration and Naturalization Service ("INS") within the INS' Western Region and who have been, are, or will be subjected to any of the following conditions:
a. inadequate opportunities for exercise or recreation; b. inadequate educational instruction;
c. inadequate reading materials;
d. inadequate opportunities for visitation with counsel, family, and friends;
e. regular contact as a result of confinement with adult detainees unrelated to such minors either by blood, marriage, or otherwise;
f. strip or body cavity search after meeting with counsel or at any other time or occasion absent ...

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