John Doe protection

Trial sought as ‘Flying Imams’ sue police, airport, US Airways, employees

Audrey Hudson at the Washington Times reports that US Airways, airport seek trial in imams’ suit:

US Airways and Minneapolis airport officials are demanding a jury trial in a civil rights lawsuit filed by a group of Muslim imams who were removed from a flight for suspicious behavior.

The airline and Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), which oversees Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, are also claiming immunity for their employees named in the suit, citing a “John Doe” law passed by Congress last year that, among other things, protects people acting in an official capacity to prevent terrorist attacks.

“We believe the police officers acted appropriately and that it is important that airports across the nation be able to take action when there is a reasonable belief that travelers could be threatened,” said Patrick Hogan, MAC spokesman.

“In this case, there were travelers and flight crew members who raised concerns, and we worked with federal authorities who interviewed the imams,” Mr. Hogan said. “We believe the process worked as it should to protect the traveling public.”

Frederick Goetz, the imams’ lawyer, declined to comment on the lawsuit, which was amended Dec. 14 and now names six airport police officers as defendants. The suit says the officials engaged in “intentional discrimination” when they removed the imams from the Minneapolis-to-Phoenix flight in November 2006.

In its Dec. 20 response, the commission said: “MAC police officers took reasonable action in good faith upon reports of suspicious behavior.”

US Airways filed its response Dec. 26 in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota and denied more than 200 complaints levied by the imams. US Airways “denies that it engaged in any unlawful discrimination or violated any federal or state law,” the airline stated.

Last year, H.R. 1 (“Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007”) was signed into law. In part, Title XII, paragraph 1206 of the bill reads:


— (1) IN GENERAL.—Any person who, in good faith and based on objectively reasonable suspicion, makes, or causes to be made, a voluntary report of covered activity to an authorized official shall be immune from civil liability under Federal, State, and local law for such report.

— (2) FALSE REPORTS.—Paragraph (1) shall not apply to any report that the person knew to be false or was made with reckless disregard for the truth at the time that person made that report.


— (1) IN GENERAL.—Any authorized official who observes, or receives a report of, covered activity and takes reasonable action in good faith to respond to such activity shall have qualified immunity from civil liability for such action, consistent with applicable law in the relevant jurisdiction. An authorized official as defined by subsection (d)(1)(A) not entitled to assert the defense of qualified immunity shall nevertheless be immune from civil liability under Federal, State, and local law if such authorized official takes reasonable action, in good faith, to respond to the reported activity.

— (2) SAVINGS CLAUSE.—Nothing in this subsection shall affect the ability of any authorized official to assert any defense, privilege, or immunity that would otherwise be available, and this subsection shall not be construed as affecting any such defense, privilege, or immunity.

(c) ATTORNEY FEES AND COSTS.—Any person or authorized official found to be immune from civil liability under this section shall be entitled to recover from the plaintiff all reasonable costs and attorney fees.

If this lawsuit goes to trial, it appears the imams will have to convince a jury that the police, airport officials, employees, and the airlines were not acting in good faith based upon the information they received and personally observed. That seems like a pretty steep hill for them to climb. A jury trial also ups the financial risk the imams and their sponsors take in pursuing the matter.

Also see this page for background.

CAIR and ‘Flying Imams’ drop lawsuit against ‘John Doe’

Audrey Hudson, of the Washington Times, reports this morning:

A federal court yesterday accepted a request by a group of Muslim imams to drop all claims in a federal lawsuit against unspecified “John Doe” passengers for reporting the men’s suspicious behavior, which led to their removal from a US Airways flight last year. The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota was amended to “hereby dismiss possible defendants ‘John Does’ as set forth in … the first amended complaint as parties from this action,” said the notice of dismissal. The lawsuit still targets US Airways and Minneapolis airport workers.

Gerry Nolting, a lawyer who represents one of the unnamed “John Doe” passengers, said the dismissal demonstrates the imams’ case did not hold water and that the passengers “were doing nothing but their important duty as airline travelers to report suspicious behavior to the appropriate authorities.” “Hopefully, this will encourage all airline travelers to continue to be the eyes and ears of the FAA and report suspicious behavior,” Mr. Nolting said.

The lawsuit had said that “plaintiffs are unaware of the true names and capacities of defendants sued herein as John Does and therefore sue said defendants by such fictitious names. Plaintiffs will … amend this complaint to allege true names, capacities, and circumstances supporting the liability of said defendants” after finding out that information. Passengers and the flight crew said the men were disruptive and did not take their assigned seats and formed a pattern similar to the September 11 hijackers. Some of the men asked for seat-belt extensions they did not need, criticized the war in Iraq and President Bush and talked about al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.

The Becket Fund, a legal advocacy group that pursues religious freedom cases, demanded that the passengers be dropped from the suit and announced it would represent for free any passengers who were identified and formally named.

“Better late than never,” said Kevin J. Hasson, the group’s president. “They should never have sued the John Does in the first place, and they should have dismissed them long before now, but at last they have finally done the right thing.