Granny Can Sue U.S. for Calling Her a Terrorist
HOUSTON (CN) - A Texas grandmother can push ahead with her emotional-distress complaint alleging that a Navy recruiter added her name to Homeland Security's terrorist watch list, a federal judge ruled.
In a pro se federal lawsuit filed in October 2010, Vivian Chisholm asked the Southern District of Texas to declare "that she is not a terrorist" and remove her name from Homeland Security's terrorist watch list.
The complaint primarily attributes Chisholm's distress to the actions of Humble, Texas-based recruiter Petty Officer Lancelot Coley, but Coley is not named as a defendant.
She claimed her granddaughter, Maigan Brewer, joined the Navy's Delayed Entry Program in high school but requested an entry-level separation from the program five months later, as was her right to do.
In response to the student's request for the separation, Petty Officer Coley yelled "vulgar remarks" at Brewer, according to the complaint. He allegedly threatened to alter Brewer's Social Security card to limit where she could work, arrest her for breach of government contract and report her as AWOL.
Brewer became frightened and asked her cancer-stricken mother to intercede, but Coley simply responded with more "verbal threats, yelling and hostile screaming," according to the complaint. Chisholm said that is when she stepped in.
After confirming her granddaughter's right to a separation with the office of state Sen. Glenn Hager, Chisholm said she called the petty officer. Coley "became very irate," called Chisholm a liar, and began "yelling verbal threats that he was going to file dishonorable discharge, charges of failure to fulfill a governmental contract, and would disable plaintiff's granddaughter from working in any field and blemish her record for life," according to the complaint.
Chisholm said she tried to speak to Coley's supervisor when the petty officer called her daughter on her cellphone during cancer treatments and yelled some more.
"Plaintiff got down on her knees and fervently begged Petty Officer Lancelot C. Coley for his supervisor's name and phone number for several minutes," the complaint says, noting that Coley "provided plaintiff with the requested information only after his ego was satisfied."
But the supervisor, Chief Petty Officer Steve Crawford, was also "vulgar, rude, and disrespectful," according to the complaint.
After Chisholm tried to reach Crawford's supervisor, Coley allegedly threatened to involve the Humble Police Department and the Montgomery Sheriff's Department, and to have Homeland Security arrest the grandmother as a terrorist.
Chisholm said she made calls to the Navy's offices in Austin and San Antonio, while Coley repeatedly insisted that her name was on the terrorist watch list.
The Naval Inspector General eventually sent Chisholm a letter confirming that it verified her claims and had taken corrective actions, according to the complaint.
Chisholm said she has "nightmares of being arrested by Homeland Security and placed in a cell with actual terrorists." She lists this among numerous other symptoms that plague her in a 12-page complaint.
The United States moved for summary judgment, but U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon refused on Aug. 12.
Tasked with the burden of demonstrating that Chisholm's complaint lacked a genuine issue of material fact, the United States came up short, according to the eight-page ruling.
"Chisholm alleges Officer Coley threatened to ruin Maigan's career," Harmon wrote. "He threatened to have Chisholm arrested by the Humble Police Department, threatened to have the Montgomery Sheriff's Department issue a warrant for her arrest, and claimed to have placed her on Homeland Security's terrorist watchlist."
"The United States does not deny these allegations," she added.
"The court finds that, in a post-September 11th world, a naval officer's unreasonable threat to place a private person on Homeland Security's terrorist watchlist may be considered extreme and outrageous, exceeding 'all possible bounds of decency,'" Harmon wrote.
"Chisholm maintains she suffers depression, anxiety, fear of going to airports, and short term memory loss," Harmon wrote. "Chisholm's fear is directly connected to Officer Coley's threat to place her on the terrorist watchlist."
"Drawing all reasonable inferences in Chisholm's favor, the court finds the United States has failed to meet its burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact for trial," Harmon concluded.
Chisholm is now represented by Stephen Schechter of Boerne, Texas.