BLAINE, Wash. — The US Supreme Court issued their decision today, Wednesday, June 8th, against the owner of the Smuggler’s Inn in Blaine regarding his lack of being able to take legal action against a US Border Patrol agent for misconduct.
Robert Boule, age 73, owns the Smuggler’s Inn, where the rear of the property abuts the US-Canadian border at “0 Avenue,” a Canadian street.
According to a syllabus of the case published by Justia, Boule was known to help federal agents identify and apprehend persons engaged in unlawful cross-border activity on or near his property. But he also would provide transportation and lodging to illegal border crossers. In some cases, Boule would agree to help illegal border crossers enter or exit the US, only to later call federal agents to report the unlawful activity.
In 2014, Boule informed US Border Patrol Agent Erik Egbert that a Turkish national, arriving in Seattle by way of New York, had scheduled transportation with Boule to Smuggler’s Inn. When Egbert observed one of Boule’s vehicles returning to the inn, he suspected that the Turkish national was a passenger and followed the vehicle to the inn.
According to Boule, he asked Egbert to leave. Instead, Egbert refused, became violent and threw Boule first against the vehicle and then to the ground. Egbert then checked the immigration paperwork for the guest and left after finding everything in order. The Turkish guest unlawfully entered Canada later that evening.
Boule filed a grievance with Egbert’s supervisors and an administrative claim with the Border Patrol. Egbert allegedly retaliated against Boule by reporting his personalized “SMUGLER” license plate to the Washington Department of Licensing for referencing illegal activity and also by contacting the Internal Revenue Service and prompting an audit of Boule’s tax returns.
Boule’s claim was ultimately denied, and Border Patrol took no action against Egbert for his use of force or alleged acts of retaliation.
Boule then sued Egbert in Federal District Court, alleging a fourth amendment violation for excessive use of force and a first amendment violation for unlawful retaliation. The District Court dismissed the charges, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision, ruling for Boule. Egbert then appealed to the US Supreme Court which agreed to rule on the case.
Today’s 6-3 decision by the US Supreme Court (PDF) reverses the Court of Appeals decision, effectively eliminating any further legal action by Boule against Egbert in these matters. In their decision, the justices said during the alleged assault, Egbert was carrying out the Border Patrol’s mandate to interdict persons attempting to illegally enter or exit the United States and was exempt from a legal claim by a civilian. They also said, referring to the alleged retaliation charge, “state of mind is easy to allege and hard to disprove” and referred to the established protections for federal officials in order to reduce “the risk that fear of personal monetary liability and harassing litigation will unduly inhibit officials in the discharge of their duties.”
Boule’s court arguments leveraged 3 precedent-setting cases where a federal employee was successfully sued for damages. The justices said Boule’s claims did not align with those prior decisions.
In 2019, Boule was arrested and charged in British Columbia Superior Court for aiding Afghan and Syrian nationals illegally crossing into the country. He pled guilty to a reduced charge and was sentenced in December 2021 to 30 days in jail with credit for time already served and 30 months of probation.