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Case Name Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Lunn IM-MA-0010
Docket / Court docket unknown ( State Court )
State/Territory Massachusetts
Case Type(s) Immigration and/or the Border
Attorney Organization ACLU Chapters (any)
ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project
ACLU National (all projects)
Case Summary
On Feb. 8, 2017, petitioner filed this case in the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Represented by counsel at the National Immigrant Justice Center and the Committee for Public Counsel Services, petitioner sued the respondent Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

In his Mar. 2, 2017 ... read more >
On Feb. 8, 2017, petitioner filed this case in the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Represented by counsel at the National Immigrant Justice Center and the Committee for Public Counsel Services, petitioner sued the respondent Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

In his Mar. 2, 2017 brief, petitioner alleged he is a noncitizen arraigned by local law enforcement in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, on a criminal charge. While he was in custody, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a detainer on him, though he had no access to that document. The trial court dismissed his criminal case due to want of prosecution. Nevertheless, the trial court declined to release him from state criminal custody, and had court officers continue to hold him pursuant to the ICE detainer. Petitioner filed an emergency petition for release. Several hours past the time he normally would have been released, ICE agents arrived and took him into ICE custody. Although the trial court (the Suffolk County Superior Court) then found petitioner's emergency petition moot, one judge on the trial court reported the matter to the state's Supreme Judicial Court. This judge suggested that the Supreme Judicial Court consider the legality of a court's mandating that law enforcement hold an individual in custody, after they would otherwise be released, solely on the basis of an ICE detainer. Particularly, the judge noted that this was was a frequently recurring and important problem that might otherwise evade judicial review, given the 48-hour time limit on ICE detainers.

Petitioner likewise asked the Supreme Judicial Court to consider this issue on the merits. Petitioner alleged that by honoring ICE detainers to hold individuals past their normal release time, courts mandate state and local law enforcement to carry out a new, unlawful, and unconstitutional arrest for federal civil immigration purposes, in violation of the Tenth Amendment, the Immigration and Nationality Act, and state law. Furthermore, because ICE detainers require no judicial oversight, no showing of probable cause before seizure, and no fair notice, petitioner alleged that detainers violate the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments as well as analogous sections of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.

On Feb. 17, 2017, the Suffolk County Sheriff moved to intervene on behalf of respondent. The Sheriff was concerned that if a court ordered the Sheriff to hold an individual pursuant to an ICE detainer, the Sheriff would need to violate the Tenth and Fourteenth Amendments and sections of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.

On Mar. 10, 2017, counsel from the Department of Justice informed the court that DOJ was considering whether to file an amicus brief by Mar. 27.

On Mar. 20, 2017, counsel from the ACLU of Massachusetts, the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, the Federal Immigration Appeals Project, criminal defense organizations, immigration law scholars, legal clinics at Harvard and Boston University, and private counsel, filed amicus briefs on behalf of plaintiff.

Also on Mar. 20, 2017, respondent Commonwealth and intervenor-respondent Suffolk County Sheriff filed a brief. Respondents argued that ICE detainers are voluntary and not mandatory, and thus not in conflict with the Tenth Amendment. Furthermore, while respondents saw ICE detainers as raising serious constitutional concerns under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, they also argued that Massachusetts state law does not authorize detention solely on the basis of an ICE detainer (if unsupported by a warrant or probable cause of civil removability). Respondents stated, therefore, that the court need not reach the constitutional questions.

DOJ on Mar. 27-29, 2017 requested permission to file an amicus brief (in support of neither party) and to participate in oral argument. The court on Mar. 31 granted these requests. DOJ's amicus brief argued that states may temporarily hold noncitizens subject to a final order of removal in response to an ICE detainer, and that such holds do not violate the Fourth Amendment.

Oral argument was held on Apr. 4, 2017. Afterward, on Apr. 13, DOJ submitted to the court a post-argument letter.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on July 24, 2017 issued a ruling, holding that "Massachusetts law provides no authority for Massachusetts court officers to arrest and hold an individual solely on the basis of a Federal civil immigration detainer, beyond the time that the individual would otherwise be entitled to be released from State custody." 477 Mass. 517.

In its reasoning, the Court clarified that an ICE detainer is civil and not criminal, because it relates only to the immigration removal process. Second, a detainer is voluntary and not federally mandated, per the INA and the Tenth Amendment. However, a requested detention as in this case constitutes an arrest under Massachusetts law, because the individual is held for 48 hours after being entitled to release from state custody. The court officers who arrested petitioner did so without a warrant or other situation permitting his arrest under state criminal or even civil law. Therefore, since they arrested him based solely on a federal civil immigration detainer, they had no authority to do so under Massachusetts common or statutory law.

Furthermore, the Court rejected several of DOJ's arguments. The Court disagreed with DOJ that Massachusetts officials have "inherent authority" to carry out detention requests made by federal detainers, and specified that Massachusetts officials' arrest powers are limited by state law. Also, the Court interpreted INA § 287(g) (U.S.C. § 1357(g)) as allowing but not mandating state cooperation with federal immigration enforcement in making arrests.

The Court then remanded the case to the county court to dismiss petitioner's case as moot and to enter a judgment consistent with the ruling.

In news reports on the ruling, the Massachusetts AG commented that this appears to be the first such decision by a state high court, interpreting state law to limit state compliance with civil immigration detainers.

This case appears to be closed.

Ava Morgenstern - 07/25/2017

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Federalism (including 10th Amendment)
Unreasonable search and seizure
Over/Unlawful Detention
Constitutional rights
Criminal prosecution
Detention - criteria
Detention - procedures
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Special Case Type
Appellate Court is initial court
Type of Facility
Causes of Action Ex parte Young (federal or state officials)
Ex Parte Young (Federal) or Bivens
Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101 et seq.
State law
Defendant(s) Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Plaintiff Description Noncitizen held in Massachusetts state criminal custody after his criminal charges were dismissed, pursuant to an ICE detainer, and then taken into ICE custody.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU Chapters (any)
ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project
ACLU National (all projects)
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Declaratory Judgment
Source of Relief Litigation
Filed 02/08/2017
Case Ongoing Unknown
Additional Resources
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  Court Officers Can’t Hold People Solely Under ICE Detainers, Massachusetts Justices Rule
Date: Jul. 24, 2017
By: Jess Bidgood (New York Times)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  “Commonwealth v. Lunn” and “Lunn v. Smith”
Date: Jul. 24, 2017
By: American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

SJC-12276 (State Supreme Court)
IM-MA-0010-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/18/2017
Source: Bloomberg Law
General Documents
Suffolk County Sheriff's Motion to Intervene
IM-MA-0010-0010.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 02/17/2017
Source: Bloomberg Law
Brief and Record Appendix for Petitioner-Appellant Sreynuon Lunn
IM-MA-0010-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/01/2017
Source: Bloomberg Law
Letter Motion from the Department of Justice Re: Commonwealth v. Lunn, SJC-12276
IM-MA-0010-0007.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/09/2017
Source: Bloomberg Law
Brief of Amicus Curiae Boston University School of Law Criminal Clinic Defenders in Support of Petitioner
IM-MA-0010-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/20/2017
Source: Bloomberg Law
Brief for Amici Curiae Bristol County Bar Advocates, Inc., Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Pilgrim Advocates, Inc., and Suffolk Lawyers for Justice, Inc. in Support of Petitioner-Appellant
IM-MA-0010-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/20/2017
Source: Bloomberg Law
Brief for Amicus Curiae Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program in Support of Appellant
IM-MA-0010-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/20/2017
Source: Bloomberg Law
Brief for Immigration Legal Academics as Amici Curiae
IM-MA-0010-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/20/2017
Source: Bloomberg Law
Brief of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Suffolk County Sherif
IM-MA-0010-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/20/2017
Source: Bloomberg Law
Brief of the United States as Amicus Curiae in Support of Neither Party [ECF# 24]
IM-MA-0010-0008.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/27/2017
Source: Bloomberg Law
Opinion (477 Mass. 517)
IM-MA-0010-0009.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | External Link | Detail
Date: 07/24/2017
Source: Bloomberg Law
show all people docs
Judges Lenk, Barbara A. (State Supreme Court) show/hide docs
Plaintiff's Lawyers Barnett, Jessica V. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
IM-MA-0010-0006 | IM-MA-0010-9000 | IM-MA-0010-9000
Colb, Sara A. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
Forbes, Allen H. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
IM-MA-0010-0006 | IM-MA-0010-0010 | IM-MA-0010-9000
Zanini, John P. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
Defendant's Lawyers Hackett, Alyssa (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
IM-MA-0010-0001 | IM-MA-0010-9000
Winger, Emma C. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
IM-MA-0010-0001 | IM-MA-0010-9000
Other Lawyers Amdur, Spencer (New York) show/hide docs
Ameri, Laila (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
IM-MA-0010-0004 | IM-MA-0010-9000
Ardalan, Sabrineh (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
Darrow, Joseph A. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Fleming, Mark C. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
IM-MA-0010-0001 | IM-MA-0010-0004 | IM-MA-0010-9000 | IM-MA-0010-9000
Jadwat, Omar C. (New York) show/hide docs
Lasch, Christopher Nelson (Connecticut) show/hide docs
Loor, Karen Pita (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
Mayer, Kristen Valerie (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
IM-MA-0010-0003 | IM-MA-0010-9000
Murray-Tjan, Laura (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
IM-MA-0010-0003 | IM-MA-0010-9000
Nemirow, Kim (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
IM-MA-0010-0003 | IM-MA-0010-9000
Peachey, William Charles (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Press, Joshua S. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Readler, Chad Andrew (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Reuveni, Erez (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-MA-0010-0007 | IM-MA-0010-0008
Rossman, Jessie J. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
IM-MA-0010-0003 | IM-MA-0010-9000
Rotolo, Laura (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
Segal, Matthew (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
IM-MA-0010-0003 | IM-MA-0010-9000
Torrey, Philip L. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
IM-MA-0010-0004 | IM-MA-0010-9000
Williams, Carlton (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
IM-MA-0010-0003 | IM-MA-0010-9000
Wofsy, Cody H. (California) show/hide docs

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