In February 2010, a 22-year-old college student majoring in Middle Eastern studies filed this lawsuit in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), FBI officials with the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), and the ...
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In February 2010, a 22-year-old college student majoring in Middle Eastern studies filed this lawsuit in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), FBI officials with the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), and the Philadelphia Police Department (PDP) based on civil rights intrusions at the Philadelphia International Airport. Upon discovering English-Arabic flashcards (including several listing words like "kidnap" and "bomb") and materials critical of U.S. foreign policy during routine airport security screening, TSA briefly detained and searched the plaintiff; he was then taken into custody by Philadelphia police officers and held for several hours. Eventually, two FBI agents came and interrogated him for a half hour; he was then released without charges.
Represented by private attorneys, the national American Civil Liberties Union, and the Pennsylvania ACLU chapter, the plaintiff alleged violations of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments under Bivens, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. §§ 2671-2680. The federal government defendants moved to dismiss the complaint because of their qualified immunity from suit. The district court denied the motion and proceeded to discovery.
The federal defendants appealed the denial of their 12(b)(6) motion to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [11-04292]. On December 24, 2013, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded back to the District Court with instructions to grant the defendants' motion to dismiss as to the Fourth and First Amendment claims. In an opinion by Judge McKee [738 F.3d 562], TSA personnel's brief detention of the plaintiff was held lawful. The FBI's brief interrogation was likewise not unconstitutional. The local police's actions taking the plaintiff into custody and holding him for several hours may have been unlawful, but was not before the court; the court rejected the plaintiff's argument that the local law enforcement had served as mere agents for federal agencies.
On May 8, 2014 the District Court ordered a settlement conference before Magistrate Judge Caracappa. A pre-trial hearing was then conducted on October 30, 2014. Finally, on January 22, 2015 the court approved a settlement agreement and dismissed the case. The plaintiff received $25,000 in compensatory damages and attorney's fees up to $6,250. The defendants also agreed to, on a quarterly basis, instruct all police officers assigned to the airport that "investigative detentions may be made only on reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct and any arrest must be based on probable cause" and that a referral from a TSA agent does not, in itself, constitute probable cause. The court retained jurisdiction to supervise the injunction for eighteen months.Elizabeth Homan - 11/03/2013
Dan Hofman - 04/06/2016