Fed immunity won for CC Attorney and former Sheriff; State case continues

Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter

On Oct. 20, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that Carbon County Attorney Alex Nixon and former Sheriff Thomas Rieger were immune from federal civil rights actions against them in the William Burgan lawsuit about ditch easement rights.
Burgan had an easement to access the headgate to a ditch located on the private property of James Brien. When he attempted to do so and broke a gate lock, he was issued a citation for trespass from then Sheriff Rieger who acted upon the legal advice of Nixon.
The Court said, “Mr. Nixon and Mr. Rieger are entitled to qualified immunity on the Burgans’ Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment claims. The Burgans have identified no law clearly establishing that the issuance of a trespass citation constitutes a property deprivation in violation of the Fourth, Fifth or Fourteenth Amendments.” The Court explains that “the doctrine of qualified immunity shields officials from civil liability so long as their conduct ‘does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.’”
The main question said the Court was “whether the violative nature of particular conduct is clearly established.” It ruled that it was not.
Ray Kuntz, attorney for Nixon said, “The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has held that Nixon and Rieger acted reasonably to keep the peace when they charged Mr. Burgan with trespass. It reversed the district court and held that Nixon and Rieger are immune from suit.”  The court noted that both parties had sought the assistance of the County in the dispute.
Matthew Monforton, attorney for the Burgans said, “For the record, "The Burgans are disappointed that the Ninth Circuit granted individual immunity to Nixon and Rieger on their federal civil rights violations. But the Burgans are pleased that the court is permitting them to proceed against Nixon and Rieger for state civil rights violations and against Carbon County for federal civil rights violations."
Monforton is not giving up on the immunity issue: “"We're going to ask the 9th Circuit for a rehearing. The court grants less than 5 percent of these requests.  If it doesn't grant ours, we'll go forward against the County on federal civil rights claims and against Nixon and Rieger on state civil rights claims."
Nixon and Rieger are still open to the state civil suit for alleged state civil rights violations and the case against the County will still go forward on federal civil rights issues in Federal District Court where the case has been remanded.


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