INS SETTLES CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT CHALLENGING
VEHICLE SEIZURE PRACTICES
INS has agreed to settle a class action lawsuit challenging its vehicle seizure practices. The case, Gete v. INS, No. C98-881Z, was filed in Seattle in 1994. It covers over 100,000 vehicles seized by INS in the Western Region (California, Arizona, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada, and northern Idaho) between June 10, 1989 and September 17, 1999. A court hearing on the settlement is scheduled for Seattle on November 20th.
The vehicles were seized by INS based on allegations that the drivers were helping undocumented aliens enter the United States. Some of the cars were forfeited, while others were released on payment of a fine. The ten plaintiffs who brought the suit alleged that INS had seized the vehicles without probable cause, failed to inform them about the facts that justified the seizure, and imposed penalties arbitrarily and excessively. Many of the plaintiffs said that they had no idea that the passengers in their cars were ineligible to come to the United States.
Plaintiffs won an important victory from the Ninth Circuit on August 4, 1997, (No. 95-35408), when the court found that INS had violated the due process rights of the plaintiffs by failing to adequately explain the reason for the seizures and by failing to provide an adequate chance to respond to the charges. After the case was sent back to the lower court to resolve several remaining matters, the INS reached a settlement with the plaintiffs.
Under the terms of the settlement, INS has agreed to revise the notices given to vehicle owners; adopt guidelines to insure uniform non-excessive fines; train officers on standards for probable cause; provide copies of adverse evidence to vehicle owners; render decisions in writing; and provide for reconsideration of fines.
Persons whose cars were seized by INS in the Western Region during the ten year period can file a request for reconsideration of any fine or forfeiture that was imposed, after having an opportunity to review all the adverse evidence. The date for filing a request for reconsideration will be established by the court, but is expected to be within approximately three to four months of November 20, 2000. If INS determines that the fine was excessive, the difference will be refunded.
Class members should review the settlement prior to the November 20th hearing. Objections must be submitted to the court and to the attorneys for INS and the plaintiffs not later than November 15.
The Notice on the Proposed Settlement, and the Settlement Agreement, are available at http://www.ghp-law.net. For further information: Robert H. Gibbs or Robert Pauw, 206-682-1080.