(CN) – Two professional gamblers based in Las Vegas can sue the federal agent who seized $97,000 from them at an Atlanta airport and allegedly faked probable cause to avoid returning the cash for nearly a year, the 9th Circuit ruled, finding that Nevada is a proper venue for the Fourth Amendment action.
Drug Enforcement Administration Agent Anthony Walden confiscated the winnings and gambling seed money of professional gamblers Gina Fiore and Keith Gipson in 2006 as the two were making their way from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to their homes in Las Vegas, according to the complaint.
They say suspicious DEA agents in San Juan had alerted Walden to the cash, even though agriculture scanners and other security measures had revealed nothing untoward. But Walden nonetheless met the gamblers at the gate during their layover in Atlanta, and, after a drug-sniffing dog pawed one of the bags once, he confiscated all the money on the pair and sent them on their way to Vegas without so much as cab fare.
Fiore and Gipson say they sent Walden receipts, tax documents and other proof that the money was legitimate, but Walden still falsified a probable cause affidavit and refused to return the money. The case eventually landed on the desk of Assistant U.S. Attorney Dahil Goss, who determined that Walden’s affidavit had been “misleading” because it had omitted exculpatory evidence. Goss returned the money to Fiore and Gipson some seven months after Walden had seized it. Fiore and Gipson then sued Walden and other unknown DEA agents in Nevada, claiming that they had violated their Fourth Amendment rights.
Arguing that he had no connection whatsoever to Las Vegas, Walden moved to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue. Senior U.S. District Court Judge Edward Reed agreed, but a divided panel of the 9th Circuit reversed. The two-judge majority found that Walden’s actions, particularly his alleged creation of probable cause, had been “aimed at Nevada.”
“Although Fiore and Gipson sent Walden, from Nevada, documentation establishing the legitimate sources of their funds, he persisted in seeking forfeiture of their money,” Judge Marsha Berzon wrote for the court. “Walden’s intentional acts with regard to the false probable cause affidavit and the consequent delay in returning their money were expressly aimed at Nevada and so satisfy the requirements for personal jurisdiction.”
The majority remanded the gamblers’ search-and-seizure claim back to the District Court “for the exercise of discretion with regard to pendent personal jurisdiction.”
Writing in dissent, Judge Sandra Ikuta argued that the gamblers had gotten “something from nothing,” in contrast to the old adage that their trade is a “sure way of getting nothing from something.”
“Although their complaint contains nothing that would provide a basis for asserting personal jurisdiction over the federal agent who allegedly violated their Fourth Amendment rights, the majority finds ‘something’ in the complaint: specifically, the ‘false affidavit/forfeiture proceeding aspect’ of their case,’ she wrote. (Emphasis in original.) “In fact, the District Court correctly determined that the complaint did not make a prima facie showing that the federal agent purposefully directed his actions to the forum state.”