Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales

Gonzales v. Town of Castle Rock
Argued March 21, 2005
Decided June 27, 2005
Full case nameTown of Castle Rock, Colorado, Petitioner v. Jessica Gonzales, individually and as next of kin of her deceased minor children, Rebecca Gonzales, Katheryn Gonzales, and Leslie Gonzales
Docket no.04-278
Citations545 U.S. 748 (more)
125 S. Ct. 2796; 162 L. Ed. 2d 658; 18 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 511
ArgumentOral argument
Case history
PriorGonzales v. City of Castle Rock, 307 F.3d 1258 (10th Cir. 2002), on rehearing en banc, 366 F.3d 1093 (10th Cir. 2004); cert. granted, 543 U.S. 955 (2004).
SubsequentOn remand at Gonzales v. City of Castle Rock, 144 F. App'x 746 (10th Cir. 2005)
The town of Castle Rock, Colorado and its police department could not be sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for failure to enforce a restraining order against respondent's husband, as enforcement of the restraining order does not constitute a property right for 14th Amendment purposes.
Court membership
Chief Justice
William Rehnquist
Associate Justices
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Antonin Scalia · Anthony Kennedy
David Souter · Clarence Thomas
Ruth Bader Ginsburg · Stephen Breyer
Case opinions
MajorityScalia, joined by Rehnquist, O'Connor, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, Breyer
ConcurrenceSouter, joined by Breyer
DissentStevens, joined by Ginsburg
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. XIV, Due Process Clause

Castle Rock v. Gonzales, 545 U.S. 748 (2005), is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court ruled, 7–2, that a town and its police department could not be sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for failing to enforce a restraining order, which had led to the murders of a woman's three children by her estranged husband.[1] The decision has since become infamous and condemned by several human rights groups.[2][3][4]

Background synopsis[edit]

During divorce proceedings, Jessica Lenahan-Gonzales, a resident of Castle Rock, Colorado, obtained a permanent restraining order against her husband Simon, who had been stalking her, on June 4, 1999, requiring him to remain at least 100 yards (91 m) from her and her four children (son Jesse, who is not Simon's biological child, and daughters Rebecca, Katheryn, and Leslie) except during specified visitation time. On June 22, at approximately 5:15 pm, Simon took possession of the three girls in violation of the order. Jessica called the police at approximately 7:30 pm, 8:30 pm, and 10:10 pm on June 22, and 12:15 am on June 23, and visited the police station in person at 12:40 am on June 23. Prior to the second call, Simon had called Jessica and stated that he had the daughters with him at an amusement park in Denver, Colorado. However, since Jessica had allowed Simon, from time to time, to take the children at various hours, the police took no action. At approximately 3:20 am on June 23, Simon appeared at the Castle Rock police station and was killed in a shoot-out with the officers. A search of his vehicle revealed the dead bodies of the three daughters, who were determined to have been shot and killed some time prior to arrival at the police station.

United States District Court for the District of Colorado[edit]

Gonzales filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado against Castle Rock, Colorado, its police department, and the three individual police officers with whom she had spoken under 42 U.S.C. § 1983,[5] claiming a federally protected property interest in enforcement of the restraining order and alleging "an official policy or custom of failing to respond properly to complaints of restraining order violations." A motion to dismiss the case was granted, and Gonzales appealed to the Denver, Colorado Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. A panel of that court rejected Gonzales's substantive due process claim but found a procedural due process claim; an en banc rehearing reached the same conclusion.[6] The court also affirmed the finding that the three individual officers had qualified immunity and as such could not be sued.

Opinion of the Court[edit]

The Supreme Court reversed the Tenth Circuit's decision, reinstating the District Court's order of dismissal. The Court's majority opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia held that enforcement of the restraining order was not mandatory under Colorado law; were a mandate for enforcement to exist, it would not create an individual right to enforcement that could be considered a protected entitlement under the precedent of Board of Regents of State Colleges v. Roth; and even if there were a protected individual entitlement to enforcement of a restraining order, such entitlement would have no monetary value and hence would not count as property for the Due Process Clause.

Justice David Souter wrote a concurring opinion, using the reasoning that enforcement of a restraining order is a process, not the interest protected by the process, and that there is not due process protection for processes.

Stevens's dissent[edit]

Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a dissenting opinion, in which he wrote that with respect to whether or not an arrest was mandatory under Colorado law, the court should either have deferred to the 10th Circuit court's finding that it was or else certified the question to the Colorado Supreme Court rather than decide the issue itself. He went on to write that the law created a statutory guarantee of enforcement, which is an individual benefit and constitutes a protected property interest under Roth, rejecting the court's use of O'Bannon v. Town Court Nursing Center to require a monetary value and the concurrence's distinction between enforcement of the restraining order (the violator's arrest) and the benefit of enforcement (safety from the violator).

Subsequent developments[edit]

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights[edit]

In 2011, the case came before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a commission composed of representatives from the members of Organization of American States (the United States is a full member by its ratification of the charter document, which is a treaty itself) which found that "the state failed to act with due diligence to protect Jessica Lenahan and (her daughters) Leslie, Katheryn and Rebecca Gonzales from domestic violence, which violated the state’s obligation not to discriminate and to provide for equal protection before the law." The Commission also said that "the failure of the United States to adequately organize its state structure to protect [the Gonzales girls] from domestic violence was discriminatory and constituted a violation of their right to life."[2][3]


The National Organization for Women has argued the Supreme Court's decision reduced the utility of restraining orders and "effectively gives law enforcement a green light to ignore restraining orders."[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales, 545 U.S. 748 (2005).
  2. ^ a b Malone, Patrick (August 16, 2011). "Human rights group questions court ruling". The Pueblo Chieftain.
  3. ^ a b IACHR report No. 80/11 case 12.626 merits Jessica Lenahan (Gonzales) et al. United States
  4. ^ a b Gonzales Ruling Endangers Women and Children Archived 2006-07-18 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
  6. ^ Gonzales v. City of Castle Rock, 366 F.3d 1093 (10th Cir. 2004).

External links[edit]