May 14, 2021

With IJ’s help, Rebecca Brown, Terry Rolin, and Stacy Jones got back the money that was unconstitutionally seized from them at airports. But they, like IJ, want to stop the same thing from happening to anyone else. In March, we achieved a significant victory in pursuit of that goal when a federal court rejected the government’s attempt to dismiss our class action lawsuit. 

In 2020, IJ filed an ambitious nationwide class action against the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). DEA regularly detains air travelers and takes their money through civil forfeiture without convicting or even charging them with a crime. TSA facilitates those abuses. Its agents unlawfully detain people during security screenings just for traveling with “large” amounts of cash and then turn them over to law enforcement. 

That’s exactly what the two agencies did to our clients. On a tip from TSA, a DEA officer took over $82,000 from Rebecca. It was her father Terry’s life savings, which Rebecca was taking home to deposit in the bank. Similarly, the agencies detained Stacy and took the cash she was traveling with after selling a car to a friend. 

Those agency practices violate the Fourth Amendment because simply traveling with cash does not provide the reasonable suspicion or probable cause the government needs to detain a person or take their property. TSA’s conduct also exceeds its statutory authority and distracts from the agency’s sole purpose: ensuring transportation security.

To learn more about Homeland Security and cash seizures at airports read the research report Jetway Robbery?

The agencies’ response? Asking the federal court to toss out all our claims. They argued that our clients could not challenge these practices, that TSA is broadly immune from lawsuits challenging its unconstitutional conduct, and that the identical experiences of so many people at the hands of DEA and TSA personnel could not be attributed to the agencies. 

These are arguments that government agencies regularly deploy against IJ’s efforts to stop unconstitutional conduct. This time, the judge correctly rejected them all. The case now proceeds to discovery, allowing IJ to uncover agency documents and depose the decision makers who oversee these predatory practices. We won’t rest until courts put a stop to these abuses.

Dan Alban is an IJ senior attorney and Jaba Tsitsuashvili is an IJ attorney.

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