2nd Circ. Revives Honduran Woman's Rape Case Against ICE

By Carolina Bolado | August 1, 2023, 9:09 PM EDT ·

The Second Circuit said Tuesday that a lower court should not have rejected the claims of a Honduran immigrant as time-barred and revived her suit alleging a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer regularly raped her and threatened her with deportation for seven years.

In a published opinion, the appeals court panel said the Jane Doe plaintiff had provided sufficient evidence to show that there were "extraordinary reasons" why her claims were not brought within the statute of limitations and should therefore be tolled.

Courts in the Second Circuit have found that prisoners can show extraordinary circumstances justifying equitable tolling of claims if they allege facts showing a reasonable fear of retaliation by their jailers, according to the opinion. That is comparable to the fear an undocumented immigrant like Doe might have of a government official capable of deporting her and her family members, according to the opinion.

"Sexual abuse perpetrated by an ICE agent against an undocumented immigrant may give the assailant's threats a similarly immobilizing effect as those of a prison official against someone in their custody," the panel said. "With these dynamics in mind, the district court could reasonably find on this record that years of violent sexual abuse and threats to Doe's life gave Doe a 'specific and credible basis to fear retaliation' from [Wilfredo] Rodriguez and thereby constituted an extraordinary circumstance."

The panel also pointed out that several courts have recognized that the psychological impact of long-term sexual abuse can be an extraordinary circumstance to justify tolling claims.

The Second Circuit found that Doe's fears were not unfounded even after the agent, Wilfredo Rodriguez, left ICE in 2014, because she claims that shortly before he allegedly raped her for the last time, he told her he would kill her if she said anything.

Doe, who sued in 2018, says she first came into contact with Rodriguez in 2006 when she requested to speak with her brother after he was arrested on suspicion of entering the U.S. illegally. When Rodriguez located an outstanding order of deportation bearing her name, she urged him not to arrest her, and he began using the deportation order to blackmail her into cooperating as an ICE informant, according to the suit.

Beginning in 2007, Rodriguez also coerced her into a sexual relationship, raping her multiple times a week for seven years, sometimes at gunpoint, according to Doe. She testified that at one point when she tried to break off contact with him, he heated a thin piece of metal and burned her on the abdomen, leaving permanent scars.

The repeated assaults led to three aborted pregnancies and left Doe "so desperate and scared" that she attempted suicide three times, according to Doe. She said that the assaults ended in 2014 after Rodriguez informed her he was leaving ICE, and told her, "If you go and ruin my life, I'll kill you," and implied he had gang connections.

When an ICE agent called her in spring 2018 to ask about her father's application for asylum, she told the agent about Rodriguez's assaults, according to Doe. She testified that she felt "desperate" to save her father from deportation, and thought that revealing the nature of her relationship with Rodriguez would explain why her father had valid concerns about retaliation in Honduras because of the help she gave ICE in deporting other Hondurans.

In July 2018, Doe submitted an administrative claim to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, but it was denied. She then filed the lawsuit against Rodriguez, DHS, ICE and two federal officials.

In March 2022, U.S. District Judge Sarah A.L. Merriam granted summary judgment to all the defendants on Doe's tort, negligence, and Fourth and Fifth Amendment claims after finding that the statute of limitations had run out and she had failed to justify why the claims should be tolled.

But the Second Circuit said that was in error.

"Despite not purporting to act in a fact-finding capacity, the district court implicitly rejected the inference of ongoing fear because Doe was ultimately able to talk about her experience once her father was facing deportation," the panel said. "But rejecting this inference would have required the district court to make an express factual determination."

George Kramer, who represents Doe, said he and his client "are very happy with the ruling because we believed that the record in the case met the extraordinary standard required under Connecticut law to extend the statute of limitations."

An attorney for Rodriguez and a representative for ICE did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

U.S. Circuit Judges Guido Calabresi, Eunice C. Lee and Alison J. Nathan sat on the panel for the Second Circuit.

Doe is represented by George W. Kramer of the Law Office of George W. Kramer.

The government is represented by Brian M. Boynton and Vanessa Avery of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Connecticut, and Mark Stern and Lowell V. Sturgill Jr. of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Rodriguez is represented by Trent A. LaLima and Virginia M. Gillette of Santos & LaLima PC.

The case is Doe v. U.S. et al., case number 22-843, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

--Additional reporting by Grace Dixon. Editing by Scott Russell.

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