Haase v. Webster – Government Misconduct – CCR Docket 1989-1990

Returning from Nicaragua in January 1985, Edward Haase, a Kansas City-based journal­ist, was stopped by U.S. 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.”

CCR attorneys filed a lawsuit challenging the seizure and demanding that the FBI return the photocopied materials, charging that the seizure violated the free speech and association provisions of the First Amendment, as well as the search and seizure safeguards of the Fourth Amendment. It also charged that Customs and the FBI followed a policy of abusing the former’s limited authority in order to harass and/or gather intelligence from U.S. citizens returning from Nicaragua.

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 discover information about FBI dissemination of the seized documents. The court concluded that the incident was an isolated one and un likely to recur.

The court of appeals reversed the district court’s dismissal of Haase’s claim for equi­table relief and remanded the matter to the district court. The CCR sought a rehearing concerning the terms of the remand, which limited, in the interest of “national security,” plaintiff’s right to present his case. The appellate court granted  plaintiff’s request and amended its earlier decision. By the time the case was remanded to the district court, the CCR had obtained the injunctive relief concerning Customs policy in the Heidy case, so plaintiff volun­tarily dismissed Haase. Plaintiffs are now seeking attorney’s fees.

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