Munger, Tolles & Olson litigator E. Martin Estrada, working with two Loyola Law School students, successfully represented before the Ninth Circuit a plaintiff who alleged her Fourth Amendment rights were violated when an IRS agent forced her to disrobe and then watched her use the restroom during a search of her home
On Sept. 10, 2018, a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a lower court’s decision that the plaintiff’s right to bodily privacy had been violated, finding that a jury could determine the agent’s actions were unreasonable and illegal.
Mr. Estrada supervised the appeal handled by Loyola Law School students Ariel Beverly and Norvik Azarian.
“It was a real privilege to supervise and work with the Loyola Law School students,” Mr. Estrada said. “We received amazing support from Paula Mitchell at Loyola Law School’s Alarcón Advocacy Center.”
The Alarcón Advocacy Center provides opportunities for students to work in several post-conviction clinics. Those include the Project for the Innocent, which pursues claims of innocence on behalf of those wrongfully convicted.
The incident occurred in 2006, when the plaintiff’s spouse was under investigation by the IRS for tax fraud and conspiracy and a search was conducted at their home. The plaintiff was not the subject of the search and was not detained during officers’ execution of the search. When the plaintiff excused herself to use the restroom, she was followed by an IRS agent who insisted on forcing the plaintiff to disrobe in front of her and then “made [the plaintiff] hold up her dress while she relieved herself, using one hand to hold up her dress and the other to pull her underwear down.”
The agent, the Ninth Circuit stated, “intruded on [the plaintiff’s] most basic subject of privacy, her naked body.” In sum, a reasonable officer in [the agent’s] position would have known that such a significant intrusion into bodily privacy,” Ninth Circuit Judge Mary H. Murguia wrote, “in the absence of legitimate government justification, is unlawful.”