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Monday, July 15, 2024 | Back issues
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Seized Gambling Money Spat Kicked Out of Vegas

(CN) - Las Vegas is the wrong venue for professional gamblers to sue the Georgia police officer who seized their money, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

Gina Fiore and Keith Gipson had been traveling from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to their base in Las Vegas, Nev., with a layover in Atlanta, Ga., on Aug. 8, 2006.

In San Juan, Fiore and Gipson explained to suspicious agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration that the $97,000 in their carry-on luggage consisted of seed money and gambling winnings from the El San Juan casino.

After Fiore and Gipson were cleared for departure, a law-enforcement official in San Juan sent word of the cash on to a DEA task force at the Atlanta airport.

They said agriculture scanners and other security measures allegedly revealed nothing untoward, but that Anthony Walden, a police officer in Covington, Ga., who was working as a deputized DEA agent, met them at the gate in Atlanta.

A drug-sniffing dog then allegedly pawed one of the bags once, and Walden confiscated all their money, sending Fiore and Gipson on their way to Vegas without so much as cab fare.

Fiore and Gipson said they provided Walden with 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 allegedly determined that Walden's affidavit had been "misleading" because it had omitted exculpatory evidence. Fiore and Gipson said Goss returned the money to them some seven months after Walden had seized it.

They 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 federal complaint 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 in September 2011.

The Supreme Court took up the issue last year and unanimously reversed Tuesday.

Writing for the court, Justice Clarence Thomas said that "the plaintiff cannot be the only link between the defendant and the forum."

"Rather, it is the defendant's conduct that must form the necessary connection with the forum state that is the basis for its jurisdiction over him," the 16-page opinion continues.

Here, no part of Walden's alleged actions occurred in Nevada, the court found.

"Applying the foregoing principles, we conclude that petitioner [Walden] lacks the 'minimal contacts' with Nevada that are a prerequisite to the exercise of jurisdiction over him," Thomas wrote.

"Petitioner never traveled to, conducted activities within, contacted anyone in, or sent anything or anyone to Nevada," he added. "In short, when viewed through the proper lens - whether the defendant's actions connect him to the forum - petitioner formed no jurisdictionally rele­vant contacts with Nevada."

Though Fiore and Gipson allegedly lacked access to their funds in Nevada, Thomas said this is only "because Ne­vada is where respondents chose to be at a time when they desired to use the funds seized by petitioner."

"Respondents would have experienced this same lack of access in Cali­fornia, Mississippi, or wherever else they might have traveled and found themselves wanting more money than they had," he added.

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