Judge approves $200K settlement in immigration detention lawsuit

A judge has approved a settlement in an immigration detention lawsuit against Nobles County.

Blue Earth County Chief Judge Gregory Anderson signed off on a settlement that permanently enjoins Nobles County and the Nobles County Sheriff’s Office from detaining people for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and authorizes a $200,000 settlement for the four plaintiffs.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota (ACLU-MN) and lawyers from Anthony Ostlund Louwagie Dressen & Boylan filed the case back in 2018 after the four plaintiffs were unlawfully detained in Nobles County.

RELATED: Nobles County detention policy shifted after lawsuit filed for unlawfully detaining immigrants

Judge Anderson issued a temporary restraining order and injunction against the sheriff’s office back in the fall of 2018 and then permanently barred the department from unlawfully detaining immigrants on behalf of federal authorities without proper authorization in 2020. That 2020 ruling also allowed the plaintiffs to seek financial damages.

RELATED: Nobles County loses immigration detention lawsuit

“I am so grateful to the ACLU attorneys because they are a light that comes in and tells you that you do have rights, and they defend you when no one else will,” Maria de Jesus de Pineda, one of the plaintiffs who was detained, said in a statement. “I have been depressed and scared and now I am better and happier because you have taken my case, and because of that, they have stopped hurting other immigrants and violating their rights.”

“We brought this lawsuit because of the egregious and unlawful conduct of the Nobles County Sheriff that impacted the lives of countless immigrants,” Norm Pentelovitch of Anthony Ostlund said. “This outcome, coupled with the court’s permanent injunction barring local law enforcement from imprisoning immigrants without any legal basis, reaffirms the constitutional right of all Minnesotans — including undocumented immigrants — to be free from unlawful imprisonment.”

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reached out to the Nobles County Sheriff’s Office for a statement, and received this response:

“Nobles County and Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust reached a settlement with Plaintiffs Rodrigo Esparza, Maria de Jesus de Pineda, Oscar Basavez Conseco, and Timoteo Martin-Morales for $200,000 for full and final settlement of their claims. There was no admission of liability. The district court’s recent evidentiary and trial rulings positioned the case for a reasonable settlement. The fact ACLU is claiming a tremendous victory after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of attorney’s fees and costing Nobles County to incur substantial defense costs is simply ludicrous for a case that could have easily resolved in a realistic manner four years ago. This settlement takes into consideration the costs of proceeding to a bifurcated trial and appeals, the opportunity to bring finality to a four-year old case on previously undetermined or clearly established issues involving local government cooperation with immigration officials, and was in the best interests of all parties involved.”

Stephanie Angolkar, representing Nobles County and former Nobles County Sheriff Wilkening