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Major Class Action Lawsuit Against TSA and DEA Over Airport Seizures Achieves First Round Victory

Lawsuit filed by innocent flyers who each had tens of thousands of dollars taken from them will move forward

PITTSBURGH—When travelers go online to find out whether it is legal to fly with cash, the government tells them that there are no restrictions on traveling with any amount of money on domestic flights. What it does not tell flyers is that, upon seeing cash, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners will detain them and turn them over to law enforcement, who will take their money without any cause for suspicion and without filing any criminal charges. Now, a Fourth Amendment, class action lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice (IJ) to end these unconstitutional practices by the TSA and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will move forward in federal court after a judge rejected the government’s motion to dismiss.

“TSA and DEA routinely violate Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights at airports across the country by detaining them for doing something completely legal: flying with cash,” said IJ Senior Attorney Dan Alban. “Seizing and forfeiting someone’s savings should not be done lightly, yet we’ve documented how easy it is for law enforcement to take money at airports without any evidence of a crime. Now, thanks to our class action lawsuit, we are going to uncover the truth behind how and why the government is targeting innocent flyers, and ultimately put an end to this predatory practice.”

The class action lawsuit was filed in January 2020 on behalf of Terry Rolin and his daughter Rebecca Brown. TSA and DEA officials seized Terry’s life savings of over $82,000 from Rebecca as she was flying from Pittsburgh to her home outside Boston, where she intended to open a joint bank account to help care for her father. After IJ filed the lawsuit, DEA returned Terry and Rebecca’s money, but only after holding it for over six months without any accusations of criminality, let alone criminal charges.

Additional named plaintiffs joined the suit in July 2020. DEA seized $43,000 from Stacy Jones at the Wilmington, North Carolina, airport in May 2020 as she was flying home to Tampa. The agency returned her money after she joined the lawsuit and nine months after it was seized. Once again, criminal charges were never filed.

“TSA’s and DEA’s unconstitutional conduct across the country suggests that the agencies are more interested in seizing cash than securing safety,” said IJ Attorney Jaba Tsitsuashvili. “And these seizures subject people to a confusing bureaucratic process, without an attorney provided, where a single misstep could mean losing their life savings forever. Even those who succeed in getting their money returned are deprived of it for months or years, often upending their lives. No one should lose their money without a criminal conviction.”

U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Horan yesterday rejected the government’s motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ three class action claims. Those claims are 1) that the TSA exceeds its statutory authority by detaining travelers and their cash after the security screening has ended; 2) that the TSA violates the Fourth Amendment by detaining travelers and their cash without reasonable suspicion of criminality; and 3) that the DEA violates the Fourth Amendment by detaining travelers without reasonable suspicion and seizing their cash without probable cause.

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