Platt v. Moore, No. 19-15610 (9th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that the seizure of their car and the deprivation of its use for five months violated their rights to due process under the federal and state constitutions. In this case, the police stopped plaintiffs' son while he was driving their car, found marijuana in the car, and arrested the son. The car was then seized pursuant to Arizona state law and eventually returned five months later. The district court dismissed all claims.
The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's determination that plaintiffs' claims were barred because they did not file a notice of claim under A.R.S. 12-821.01, concluding that this statute does not apply to claims for declaratory judgment or for injunctive relief. The panel confidently predicted that the Arizona Supreme Court would hold that where only nominal damages are sought, no claim must be filed under section 12-821.01 before filing suit. In regard to the district court's alternative basis for dismissal, the panel reversed the dismissal of plaintiffs' biased adjudicator claims. The panel explained that the saving construction adopted by the district court cannot be reconciled with the statutory language, and that on the facts as recited in the complaint, Deputy Navajo County Attorney Moore's undisclosed, unreviewable determination that plaintiffs' petition was untimely denied them a meaningful opportunity to be heard by an unbiased adjudicator.
In regard to the biased enforcer claims, the panel agreed with the district court that the Navajo County Drug Task Force was not amenable to suit under Arizona law, and thus dismissal was proper. However, both the biased adjudicator and biased enforcer nominal damages claims against Moore and Moore's supervisor for violations of Arizona due process could proceed. Finally, the panel rejected Arizona's invitation on cross-appeal to issue an advisory ruling that its civil forfeiture scheme is facially constitutional. Accordingly, the panel reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded for further proceedings.