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Union Organizer Wants to ID Snoops

HOUSTON (CN) - A union organizer alarmed by the GPS tracker he found on his truck asked a Texas judge for permission to depose the store owner who sold the device.

Ronnie Hill and the Pipeliners Local Union 798 filed a petition for presuit discovery Tuesday in Harris County Court.

Such petitions are common in Texas because parties can use them to investigate potential causes of action and not just to identify possible defendants.

Hill works as an organizer for Pipeliners Union 798 in Texas. "His duties involve persuading employees of non-union contractors to the join the union and to recruit non-union contractors to the National Pipeline Agreement," the petition states.

Hill says that due to the nature of his work he is not welcome by "non-union pipeline companies," and he has been threatened more than once.

"Hill's work often requires him to often travel to remote and isolated locations where anyone wishing to cause him harm would be able to do so without a fear of witnesses," the petition states.

"On or about July 8, 2013, Hill found a tracking device or GPS attached by magnets to the frame of his truck between the spare tire carrier and the rear bumper."

Hill's truck was supplied by the union. After finding the tracker, Hill says, he reported it to his union manager and to the Limestone County Sheriff's Department, whose investigator found out it was purchased at the Spy Emporium, a shop on Westheimer Road in Houston.

Store owner Sidney Mayungbe would not divulge who bought the device to the sheriff's deputy or to a private investigator the union hired, hence the petition.

Hill and the union want to depose Mayungbe to find out who bought the device, the purchaser's employer, and why they put the tracker on Hill's truck.

They also want some hard evidence, including the buyer's mailing address, phone number and email address, any credit card or cash receipts from the purchase and "any and all photographs of the purchaser taken by surveillance cameras or other means."

Hill and the union say they might file criminal charges and seek a restraining order against whoever did it.

They are represented by Michael Shelton of Houston.

Without question it's illegal to put a tracker on someone's vehicle, University of Houston law professor Peter Linzer said.

"The United States Supreme Court in a case called United States v. Jones unanimously held that it violated the Fourth Amendment for the DEA or the FBI to do that without a valid warrant," Linzer said.

Linzer's colleague, Professor David Crump, said Mayungbe will not be able to cite the buyer's privacy rights as grounds to fight the deposition.

"The discovery in a civil case goes way far into privacy, further than most people would think. Discovery in Texas and in every other state actually is extremely broad," Crump said.

"Now, the judge has authority to limit it and can do so for a wide variety of reasons, but if it's relevant I doubt the judge would do that."

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