''Castle Rock v. Gonzales'', 545 U.S. 748 (2005), is a
United States Supreme Court The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is the highest court in the federal judiciary of the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all U.S. federal court cases, and over state court cases that involve a point o ...
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 A restraining order or protective order, is an order used by a court to protect a person in a situation involving alleged domestic violence, child abuse, assault, harassment, stalking, or sexual assault. Restraining and personal protection or ...
, which had led to the murders of a woman's three children by her estranged husband. The decision has since become infamous and condemned by several human rights groups.

Background synopsis

Restraining order and police inaction

During divorce proceedings, Jessica Lenahan-Gonzales, a resident of
Castle Rock, Colorado Castle Rock is a home rule town that is the county seat and the most populous municipality of Douglas County, Colorado, United States. The town population was 73,158 at the 2020 United States Census, a 51.68% increase since the 2010 United St ...
, obtained a permanent restraining order against her husband Simon, who had been stalking her, on June 4, 1999, requiring him to remain at least 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 Denver () is a consolidated city and county, the capital, and most populous city of the U.S. state of Colorado. Its population was 715,522 at the 2020 census, a 19.22% increase since 2010. It is the 19th-most populous city in the United ...
. 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 killed prior to arrival at the police station. There was no cause of death found, nor was there a time or place of death.

United States District Court for the District of Colorado

Gonzales filed suit in the
United States District Court for the District of Colorado The United States District Court for the District of Colorado (in case citations, D. Colo. or D. Col.) is a federal court in the Tenth Circuit (except for patent claims and claims against the U.S. government under the Tucker Act, which are ...
against Castle Rock, Colorado, its police department, and the three individual police officers with whom she had spoken under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 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 In law, an en banc session (; French for "in bench"; also known as ''in banc'', ''in banco'' or ''in bank'') is a session in which a case is heard before all the judges of a court (before the entire bench) rather than by one judge or a smaller ...
rehearing reached the same conclusion. 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

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 Antonin Gregory Scalia (; March 11, 1936 – February 13, 2016) was an American jurist who served as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1986 until his death in 2016. He was described as the intellectua ...
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 In United States constitutional law, a Due Process Clause is found in both the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, which prohibits arbitrary deprivation of "life, liberty, or property" by the government except as ...
. Justice
David Souter David Hackett Souter ( ; born September 17, 1939) is an American lawyer and jurist who served as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1990 until his retirement in 2009. Appointed by President George H. W. Bush to fill the seat ...
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' dissent

John Paul Stevens John Paul Stevens (April 20, 1920 – July 16, 2019) was an American lawyer and jurist who served as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1975 to 2010. At the time of his retirement, he was the second-oldes ...
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 The Colorado Supreme Court is the highest court in the U.S. state of Colorado. Located in Denver, the Court consists of a Chief Justice and six Associate Justices. Powers and duties Appellate jurisdiction Discretionary appeals The 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

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

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 he Gonzales girlsfrom domestic violence was discriminatory and constituted a violation of their right to life."IACHR report No. 80/11 case 12.626 merits Jessica Lenahan (Gonzales) et al. United States


National Organization for Women The National Organization for Women (NOW) is an American feminist organization. Founded in 1966, it is legally a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization. The organization consists of 550 chapters in all 50 U.S. states and in Washington, D.C. It i ...
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."Gonzales Ruling Endangers Women and Children

See also

* '' DeShaney v. Winnebago County'' * '' Warren v. District of Columbia'' *
Domestic violence Domestic violence (also known as domestic abuse or family violence) is violence or other abuse that occurs in a domestic setting, such as in a marriage or cohabitation. ''Domestic violence'' is often used as a synonym for ''intimate partner ...
* Protective order *
Restraining order A restraining order or protective order, is an order used by a court to protect a person in a situation involving alleged domestic violence, child abuse, assault, harassment, stalking, or sexual assault. Restraining and personal protection or ...
* Refusing to assist a police officer


External links

Jessica Lenahan (Gonzales) v. United States
a case brought by the petitioner before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights

PBS Documentary on case October 2018
{{DEFAULTSORT:Castle Rock V. Gonzales United States civil due process case law United States administrative case law United States Supreme Court cases United States Supreme Court cases of the Rehnquist Court 2005 in United States case law American Civil Liberties Union litigation Castle Rock, Colorado Law enforcement in Colorado Domestic violence in the United States