Haase v. Webster – Government Misconduct – CCR Docket 1987-1988

Returning from  Nicaragua  in January 1985, Edward Haase, a Kansas City-based journalist, was stopped by United States Customs and FBI officials. He was detained for five hours as agents seized, read, and photocopied his address book, notes, diary, and other personal papers. These actions were taken under the pur­ported authority of 19 U.S.C.§1305, a stat­ute which permits Customs to seize materi­als that are “likely and intended to produce imminent lawless action.”

The court granted Haase’s request for a temporary restraining order, and ordered the papers returned. It refused, however, to allow Haase to challenge the incident as a policy, or to seek any information about FBI dissemination of the seized documents in discovery. The court concluded the inci­dent was isolated and unlikely to recur.

The court of appeals reversed the district court’s dismissal of Haase’s claim for equi­table relief challenging FBI and Customs policy. The case is on remand to the district court, where plaintiff plans to introduce evidence of the wide extent of the problem.

David Cole, Michael Ratner, Margaret Ratner, with CCR cooperating attorneys John J. Privitera and Michael Maggio