“Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears” is a blog series documenting the harmful impact of President Trump’s judges on Americans’ rights and liberties. Cases in the series can be found by issue and by judge at this link.
In his dissent, Trump Sixth Circuit judge Eric Murphy argued for the dismissal of a case a man filed against Ohio police officers for seizing and removing his lawfully parked car, thereby violating his Fourth Amendment rights. The unpublished April 2020 order was in Leonard v. City of Nelsonville, 2020 U.S. App. Lexis 11321 (6th Cir. April 9, 2020).
Ronald Leonard filed a federal complaint on his own against the City of Nelsonville, Ohio, and several of its police officers, contending that the officers had violated his Fourth Amendment rights by improperly seizing and having towed away his vehicle, which he had legally parked alongside a highway. The district court dismissed the complaint without even requiring a response, and Leonard appealed.
In an order joined by George W. Bush nominee Helene White, the Sixth Circuit reversed. The majority explained that the complaint should be allowed to go forward as long as it contained sufficient factual allegations to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Leonard’s complaint, the majority went on, contained “enough facts” to document that the police made an “unreasonable decision” to seize and tow the vehicle and violated his Fourth Amendment rights. At the very least, the majority concluded, the police should be required to respond to the complaint so that it can proceed.
Trump judge Murphy dissented. He argued that past precedent made clear that police have the authority to seize and remove vehicles from the streets, and that therefore the court should have upheld the dismissal of the complaint. As the majority pointed out, however, the cases Murphy relied on concerned police impoundment of vehicles after they had arrested their occupants or were parked illegally or “posed a danger to public safety or convenience,” none of which applied at this stage of the case.
Fortunately, the constitutional violation Leonard raised did not create the kind of devastating injury that Trump judges like Murphy have tried to excuse in previous cases. This case is nevertheless another example of Trump judges’ willingness to not even give ordinary people the opportunity to present a case that police officers have violated their rights.