PHOENIX – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit today lifted a preliminary injunction that effectively blocked the prosecution of individuals accused of using another’s identity in order to gain employment, leaving hundreds of identity theft victims unprotected. The ruling reverses a lower court finding that Arizona’s employment-related identity theft laws are pre-empted by federal immigration law and sends the case that challenged the law, Puente Arizona v. Arpaio, back to the district court for review on the merits.
“Today’s ruling should make clear that categorical attacks on Arizona laws that have a tangential relationship at best to an individual’s immigration status will not find welcome even at the Ninth Circuit,” said Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. “We believe our identity theft laws are fairly applied, protect Arizona victims of identity theft, and do not intrude on the federal immigration system and we look forward to the opportunity to now make that case at trial.”
Plaintiffs in the case filed their initial claim in federal district court on June 18, 2014, alleging that Arizona’s identity theft laws are unconstitutional on their face as well as in their application and are preempted by federal immigration laws. They also alleged the laws violated the Equal Protection Clause. The court ruled in the Plaintiffs’ favor on their facial preemption claim, only, on January 5, 2015 and granted a motion for a preliminary injunction enjoining all enforcement of ID theft laws for purposes of employment. As a result, more than 200 cases had to be dismissed, leaving identity theft victims without an avenue for justice.
Defendants Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, the State of Arizona and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio appealed the injunction ruling to the U.S. Ninth Circuit. The Plaintiffs subsequently dismissed their Equal Protection claim against the County and dropped their effort to seek class action status for their remaining claims. Oral argument before the Appeals Court was held on February 12, 2015.
Today’s ruling leaves the Equal Protection claim standing against the State and allows the Plaintiffs to argue the merits of their preemption claim against the County on the identity theft statutes “as applied.” The district court has set a deadline of July 1, 2016 for the parties to file motions for summary judgment.