(CN) - An anti-war group can advance claims that two civilian U.S. Army employees spied on its members and secretly disrupted protests, the 9th Circuit ruled.
Five years ago, Port Militarization Resistance began protesting the use of sea ports in western Washington state for shipments of military supplies to Iraq and Afghanistan.
The group says that their peaceful protests faced opposition from John Towery and Thomas Rudd, civilian employees of the Force Protection Division of the U.S. Army I Corps in Ft. Lewis.
Towery, under Rudd's supervision, allegedly befriended members of the group, and "influenced and directed the tactics that were employed by the Tacoma Police Department and other agencies to disrupt protests without cause or justification," according to a third amended complaint filed in the Western District of Washington.
Towery "engag[ed] in lengthy discussions with activists, persuading activists to attend events and engage in tactics that they had not previously intended, and in conjunction with other agencies and individuals targeting activists for harassment and arrest in Olympia, Aberdeen and in between the two places," the group claims.
"This included covertly breaking the security of and joining a confidential privileged attorney-client listserve for the defense team of a related criminal cases date from June 2006," the complaint states.
U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton dismissed nearly all of the group's claims, but allowed First and Fourth Amendment allegations against Towery and Rudd to go ahead, despite their motion for qualified immunity.
Towery and Rudd appealed this issue, but a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit sided with the activists Monday.
"It is clearly established that intentionally enabling arrests without probable cause in order to suppress speech violates the First Amendment," the unsigned and unpublished opinion from Seattle states.
Port Militarization Resistance's complaint "gives examples of specific times and places that Towery spied on plaintiffs' meetings," the panel added.
The complaint also "alleges that defendants met with specifically identified law-enforcement officers and agencies, and identifies specific time frames when these meetings occurred."
"These factual allegations are sufficient to 'give fair notice and to enable the opposing party to defend itself effectively,'" the judges wrote.
"Plaintiffs have pled a plausible violation of their clearly established First Amendment rights," the ruling states. "Plaintiffs have alleged that defendants 'deterred or chilled the plaintiff's political speech' and that such deterrence motivated defendants' conduct."
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