ORDER GRANTING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS PLAINTIFFS' FISA CLAIM
CORMAC J. CARNEY, District Judge.
I. INTRODUCTION & BACKGROUND
On February 22, 2011, Plaintiffs, three Muslim residents in Southern California, filed a putative class action suit against the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI"), the United States of America, and seven FBI officers and agents (collectively, "Defendants") for claims arising from a group of counterterrorism investigations, known as "Operation Flex," conducted in Plaintiffs' community with the help of a civilian informant, Craig Monteilh, from 2006 to 2007.
The FBI denies any wrongdoing, asserting that it did not engage in unconstitutional and unlawful practices. Instead, the FBI asserts that it undertook reasonably-measured investigatory actions in response to credible evidence of potential terrorist activity. Defendants now move to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims. This Order addresses Defendants' motions as to Plaintiffs' FISA claim only.
Plaintiffs bring their FISA claim pursuant to Section 1810 of Title 50 of the United States Code. Section 1810 provides:
50 U.S.C. § 1810. An aggrieved person means "a person who is the target of an electronic surveillance or any other person whose communications or activities were subject to electronic surveillance." Id. § 1801(k). A person is defined as "any individual, including any officer or employee of the Federal Government, or any
Id. § 1801(f). Section 1809 criminalizes two types of conduct:
A person is guilty of an offense if he intentionally —
Id. § 1809(a). A person may assert, as a defense to prosecution under this section, that he "was a law enforcement or investigative officer engaged in the course of his official duties and the electronic surveillance was authorized by and conducted pursuant to a search warrant or court order of a court of competent jurisdiction." Id. § 1809(b).
B. Sovereign Immunity
The Government moves to dismiss Plaintiffs' FISA claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 12(b)(1) on the ground that the claim is barred by sovereign immunity. "The United States, including its agencies and employees, can be sued only to the extent that it has expressly waived its sovereign immunity." Kaiser v. Blue Cross of Cal., 347 F.3d 1107, 1117 (9th Cir.2003) (citing United States v. Testan, 424 U.S. 392, 399, 96 S.Ct. 948, 47 L.Ed.2d 114 (1976)). "[A]ny lawsuit against an agency of the United States or against an officer of the United States in his or her official capacity is considered an action against the United
On August 7, 2012, the Ninth Circuit held that Congress "deliberately did not waive [sovereign] immunity with respect to § 1810" and thus a plaintiff may not bring a suit for damages against the government under that provision. Al-Haramain Islamic Found., Inc. v. Obama, 690 F.3d 1089, 1099-1100 (9th Cir.2012). The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's decision that Congress implicitly waived sovereign immunity for Section 1810. Id. at 1093-1100. The Ninth Circuit held that the district court's finding was erroneous for three reasons.
First, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the district court erred in finding an implicit waiver because the Supreme Court has held that sovereign immunity cannot be waived by implication. Id. at 1093-94 (quoting United States v. Mitchell, 445 U.S. 535, 538, 100 S.Ct. 1349, 63 L.Ed.2d 607 (1980)). The waiver must be "`unequivocally expressed.'" Id. (quoting Mitchell, 445 U.S. at 538, 100 S.Ct. 1349).
Second, the Ninth Circuit found that a conclusion that Congress intended to implicitly waive sovereign immunity was unwarranted given that Congress had expressly waived sovereign immunity, and permitted civil actions for damages against the United States, for other sections of FISA. Id. at 1094-98 (citing 18 U.S.C. § 2712). Section 2712 of Title 18 of the United States Code, enacted as part of the Patriot Act, permits actions against the United States to recover money damages for violations of Sections 1806(a), 1825(a), and 1845(a) of FISA. A person may, therefore, bring a suit against the government if the government (1) uses or discloses information obtained from electronic surveillance conducted pursuant to the FISA subchapter on electronic surveillance without consent and without following FISA's minimization procedures or without a lawful purpose, 50 U.S.C. § 1806(a); (2) uses or discloses information from a physical search conducted pursuant to the FISA subchapter on physical searches without consent and without following the minimization procedures or without a lawful purpose, id. § 1825(a); or (3) uses or discloses information obtained from a pen register or trap and trace device installed pursuant to the FISA subchapter on such devices without following the requirements of Section 1845, id. § 1845(a). Congress clearly knew how to waive sovereign immunity for certain violations of FISA. It decided, in its wisdom, not to do so for violations of Section 1810.
Third, the Ninth Circuit explained that "the relationship between [Section] 1809 and [Section] 1810" further demonstrates that Congress did not intend to permit an action against the government for violations of Section 1810. Specifically, the Ninth Circuit explained that because of this relationship, to impose official capacity liability under Section 1810, it "must also suppose that a criminal prosecution may
The Ninth Circuit's decision in Al-Haramain is dispositive here. Sovereign immunity is not waived for violations of Section 1810. Consequently, Plaintiffs' Section 1810 claim against the Government is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
C. Qualified Immunity
The Agent Defendants move under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for dismissal of Plaintiffs' FISA claim arguing that they are entitled to qualified immunity. A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the claims asserted in the complaint. The issue on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is not whether the claimant will ultimately prevail, but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims asserted. Gilligan v. Jamco Dev. Corp., 108 F.3d 246, 249 (9th Cir.1997). When evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the district court must accept all material allegations in the complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Moyo v. Gomez, 32 F.3d 1382, 1384 (9th Cir.1994). Rule 12(b)(6) is read in conjunction with Rule 8(a), which requires only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim is not proper where a plaintiff has alleged "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). In keeping with this liberal pleading standard, the district court should grant the plaintiff leave to amend if the complaint can possibly be cured by additional factual allegations. Doe v. United States, 58 F.3d 494, 497 (9th Cir.1995).
"Qualified immunity shields federal and state officials from money damages unless a plaintiff pleads facts showing (1) that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right, and (2) that the right was `clearly established' at the time of the challenged conduct." Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 2074, 2080, 179 L.Ed.2d 1149 (2011) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982)). The district court may address the two prongs in any order. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009).
The doctrine of qualified immunity was established to protect government officials "from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate any clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow, 457 U.S. at 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727. A right is clearly established if "it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted." Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 202, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001), overruled on other grounds by Pearson, 555 U.S. at 236-37, 129 S.Ct. 808. Law may be clearly established "notwithstanding the absence of direct precedent.... Otherwise, officers would escape responsibility for the most egregious forms of conduct simply because there was no case on all fours prohibiting that particular manifestation of unconstitutional [or unlawful] conduct." Deorle v. Rutherford, 272 F.3d 1272, 1285-86 (9th Cir.2001). "Rather, what is required is
The Agent Defendants are not entitled to dismissal of Plaintiffs' FISA claim based on qualified immunity. Plaintiffs have pleaded sufficient facts to demonstrate that, taken in the light most favorable to them, they are "aggrieved persons" and that the Agent Defendants violated a clearly established statutory right created by FISA. FISA constitutes clearly established law governing electronic surveillance, including that of the kind engaged in by the Agent Defendants. Sections 1809 and 1810 clearly prohibit "the installation or use of an electronic, mechanical, or other surveillance device in the United States for monitoring to acquire information, other than from a wire or radio communication, under circumstances in which a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy and a warrant would be required for law enforcement purposes," 50 U.S.C. § 1801(f), "under color of law except as authorized by [FISA], chapter 119, 121, or 206 of Title 18 or any express statutory authorization that is an additional exclusive means for conducting electronic surveillance under section 1812 [of FISA]." 50 U.S.C. § 1809(a)(1).
The Agent Defendants argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity because it was not clearly established that Plaintiffs were "aggrieved persons." Specifically, the Agent Defendants argue that Plaintiffs did not have a clearly established reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to the situations in which they were electronically surveilled. The Court disagrees. FISA's "aggrieved person" status is coextensive with standing under the Fourth Amendment for claims involving electronic surveillance. See ACLU v. Nat'l Sec. Agency, 493 F.3d 644, 658 n. 16 (6th Cir.2007) (citing H.R.Rep. No. 95-1283, at 66 (1978)). Thus, the law regarding the reasonable expectation of privacy in the Fourth Amendment context governs here and is clearly established. A person has a reasonable expectation of privacy where he "has shown that `he seeks to preserve [something] as private'" and his "subjective expectation of privacy is `one that society is prepared to recognize as `reasonable.''" Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735, 740, 99 S.Ct. 2577, 61 L.Ed.2d 220 (1979) (citing Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 351, 361, 88 S.Ct. 507, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967)). Notably, "[p]rivacy does not require solitude," United States v. Taketa, 923 F.2d 665, 673 (9th Cir.1991), and even open areas may be private places so long as they are not "so open to [others] or the public that no expectation of privacy is reasonable," O'Connor v. Ortega, 480 U.S. 709, 718, 107 S.Ct. 1492, 94 L.Ed.2d 714 (1987).
As noted by Plaintiffs in their opposition:
(Pls. Combined Opp'n, at 64; see also FAC ¶¶ 95, 209, 127, 137, 192, 193, 202, 211.) The FAC alleges that this surveillance often took place outside the presence of the informant and was all conducted without a warrant. (FAC ¶¶ 86-137.) A reasonable officer knows that there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in one's home, office, and in certain discrete areas of a mosque as described in the FAC, (id.).
Agent Rose argues that she is entitled to qualified immunity because Plaintiffs have failed to plausibly allege that she violated FISA based on Ashcroft v. Iqbal. Again, the Court disagrees. In Iqbal, the Supreme Court held that a supervisor may not be held liable for a constitutional violation on the basis of respondeat superior or vicarious liability, but instead, a plaintiff must allege sufficient facts to plausibly allege liability based upon the supervisor's individual conduct. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 675-76, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). Contrary to Agent Rose's assertion, Plaintiffs do allege intentional and wrongful conduct on her part. The FAC alleges:
(FAC ¶ 22.) The FAC further alleges that all of the Agent Defendants, including Agent Rose, "maintained extremely close oversight and supervision of Monteilh" and "because they made extensive use of the results of his surveillance, they knew in great detail the nature and scope of the operation, including the methods of surveillance Monteilh used and the criteria used to decide his targets, and continually authorized their ongoing use." (Id. ¶ 138.) These allegations amount to intentional, individual conduct on the part of Agent Rose that, taken in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, demonstrates a violation of Section 1810 that satisfies the pleading requirements of Iqbal.
Finally, Agents Tidwell and Walls assert that Plaintiffs' FISA claim should be dismissed
For the foregoing reasons, with respect to Plaintiffs' FISA Section 1810 claim, the Government's motion to dismiss is GRANTED and the Agent Defendants' motions to dismiss are DENIED.