Criminal Justice & the Rule of Law

Federal Judge Dismisses Most Claims in Lafayette Square Case

Ajay Sarma
Thursday, June 24, 2021, 11:53 AM

Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With

On June 21, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed several claims in the overlapping suits filed by Black Lives Matter, the American Civil Liberties Union and others against former President Donald Trump, former Attorney General William Barr and a number of federal and local officers and agencies for the forcible clearing of protestors in Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020.

The plaintiffs had sought monetary damages under Bivens stemming from actions of federal officers that, they argued, violated their constitutional rights, but Friedrich dismissed the claim. Friedrich also dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1985(3) and 1986 , writing that the plaintiffs had not “plausibly alleged” a conspiracy to deprive them of their rights.

Other claims were made against federal officials under the Posse Comitatus Act, which the court dismissed. The court also dismissed a claim for injunctive relief against the use of force by federal officials against protestors, though it did find the plaintiffs had standing to seek an injunction against ongoing restrictions on access to Lafayette Square.

While Friedrich dismissed most claims against federal officials, certain claims against local law enforcement survived. The court found plaintiffs had standing to pursue action against individual Washington, D.C. and Arlington, Virginia police officers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as the plaintiffs alleged that law enforcement actions had “prohibited all expressive activities in Lafayette Square without any basis at all,” a plausible violation of the First Amendment and hook for a § 1983 lawsuit. However, the court did dismiss claims that local authorities violated the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. The judge also dismissed the conspiracy claims against individual D.C. and Arlington defendants because of the plaintiffs’ failure to adequately allege a conspiracy. And she tossed out municipal liability claims against the city of D.C. and Arlington County because, the judge wrote, the plaintiffs could not indicate a particular policy or custom that led to a constitutional violation.

Judge Friedrich emphasized that she was not making a determination on what led to the park being cleared that day, writing, “the Court’s rulings are based solely on the allegations in the complaints. Before either party has had an opportunity for discovery, it would be premature for the Court to draw any conclusions about why Lafayette Square was cleared on June 1 or whether the law enforcement officers’ actions were justified.”

You can read the opinion here or below.

Ajay Sarma is a junior at Harvard College studying Social Studies. He is an intern at Lawfare.

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