Case: Twitter v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security

3:17-cv-01916 | U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California

Filed Date: March 14, 2017

Closed Date: 2017

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

On March 14, 2017, Twitter received an administrative summons from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), to provide records involving the specific identities of those operating under the @ALT_USCIS user account. In response, Twitter filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on April 6, 2017, stating that the summons both exceeded CBP authority under 19 U.S.C. § 1509 and violated the First Amendment. Spe…

On March 14, 2017, Twitter received an administrative summons from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), to provide records involving the specific identities of those operating under the @ALT_USCIS user account. In response, Twitter filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on April 6, 2017, stating that the summons both exceeded CBP authority under 19 U.S.C. § 1509 and violated the First Amendment. Specifically, Twitter claimed that disclosing the requested information to CBP would likely unmask the person or persons using the @ALT_USCIS account, thereby violating the constitutional protections for anonymous and pseudonymous political speech. Twitter sought both injunctive relief and damages.

In the wake of the inauguration, several “alternative” rogue government agency accounts were created on Twitter. Spurred on by the unauthorized Badlands National Park tweets and social media limitations set by the Trump administration, some of this wave of new users identified themselves as current and past employees of the agencies they exemplified, and others as fans or supporters. The @ALT_USCIS account was created in late January 2017 and portrays the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a unit within the Defendant DHS. @ALT_USCIS has tens of thousands of followers and frequently tweets critically against the Administration’s immigration policies and enforcement actions.

On April 7, 2017, CBP withdrew its summons. Twitter responded by voluntarily dismissing all claims against the Defendants.

Shortly thereafter, the DHS Office of Inspector General opened an investigation into: (1) whether the @ALT_USCIS investigation by the CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility was in any way improper, (2) whether CBP abused its authority in issuing the March 14, 2017 summons to Twitter, and (3) if there is broader misuse of summons authority at the DHS and/or its components.

DHS’s Office of Inspector General released the report on November 16, 2017. According to the report, "lack of clear guidance on the proper use of Section 1509 Summons has resulted in inconsistent—and in some cases, improper—use of such summonses." The report provided recommendations to ensure that CBP personnel are trained on the appropriate exercise of CBP’s examination and summons authority.

This case is now closed, though Twitter since filed a related challenge pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), seeking "records concerning demands from CBP and/or DHS that Twitter, Inc. (“Twitter”) provide them with information to identify the one or more persons using the Twitter account @ALT_uscis, an anonymous account critical of CBP." That case is currently pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 18-cv-00155.

Summary Authors

Amanda Grill (5/25/2017)

Virginia Weeks (2/26/2018)

People

For PACER's information on parties and their attrorneys, see: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/4670071/parties/twitter-inc-v-us-department-of-homeland-security/


Judge(s)

Spero, Joseph C. (California)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Carome, Patrick J. (District of Columbia)

Flanagan, Mark D (California)

Holtzblatt, Ari (District of Columbia)

Waxman, Seth (District of Columbia)

Judge(s)

Spero, Joseph C. (California)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Carome, Patrick J. (District of Columbia)

Flanagan, Mark D (California)

Holtzblatt, Ari (District of Columbia)

Waxman, Seth (District of Columbia)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

3:17-cv-01916

Docket [PACER]

Twitter, Inc. v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security

April 7, 2017

April 7, 2017

Docket
1

3:17-cv-01916

Complaint

Twitter Inc. v U.S. Department of Homeland Security

April 6, 2017

April 6, 2017

Complaint
8

3:17-cv-01916

Plaintiff Twitter's Notice of Voluntary Dismissal Pursuant to Rule 41(a)(1)

Twitter Inc. v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security

April 7, 2017

April 7, 2017

Pleading / Motion / Brief
1-2

1:18-cv-00155

Management Alert - CBP's Use of Examination and Summons Authority Under 19 U.S.C. § 1509

Jan. 24, 2018

Jan. 24, 2018

Legislative Report

Docket

See docket on RECAP: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/4670071/twitter-inc-v-us-department-of-homeland-security/

Last updated Sept. 5, 2022, 3:10 a.m.

ECF Number Description Date Link Date / Link
1

COMPLAINT against All Defendants ( Filing fee $ 400, receipt number 0971-11294340.). Filed byTwitter, Inc.. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit A, # 2 Civil Cover Sheet)(Flanagan, Mark) (Filed on 4/6/2017) (Entered: 04/06/2017)

1 Exhibit A

View on RECAP

2 Civil Cover Sheet

View on PACER

April 6, 2017

April 6, 2017

RECAP
2

Proposed Summons. (Flanagan, Mark) (Filed on 4/6/2017) (Entered: 04/06/2017)

April 6, 2017

April 6, 2017

RECAP
3

Certificate of Interested Entities by Twitter, Inc., and Twitter, Inc.'s Corporate Disclosure Statement (Flanagan, Mark) (Filed on 4/6/2017) (Entered: 04/06/2017)

April 6, 2017

April 6, 2017

PACER
4

MOTION for leave to appear in Pro Hac Vice by Seth P. Waxman ( Filing fee $ 310, receipt number 0971-11294558.) filed by Twitter, Inc.. (Flanagan, Mark) (Filed on 4/6/2017) (Entered: 04/06/2017)

April 6, 2017

April 6, 2017

PACER
5

MOTION for leave to appear in Pro Hac Vice by Patrick J. Carome ( Filing fee $ 310, receipt number 0971-11294578.) filed by Twitter, Inc.. (Flanagan, Mark) (Filed on 4/6/2017) (Entered: 04/06/2017)

April 6, 2017

April 6, 2017

PACER
6

MOTION for leave to appear in Pro Hac Vice by Ari Holtzblatt ( Filing fee $ 310, receipt number 0971-11294623.) filed by Twitter, Inc.. (Flanagan, Mark) (Filed on 4/6/2017) (Entered: 04/06/2017)

April 6, 2017

April 6, 2017

PACER
7

Case assigned to Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero. Counsel for plaintiff or the removing party is responsible for serving the Complaint or Notice of Removal, Summons and the assigned judge's standing orders and all other new case documents upon the opposing parties. For information, visit E-Filing A New Civil Case at http://cand.uscourts.gov/ecf/caseopening.Standing orders can be downloaded from the court's web page at www.cand.uscourts.gov/judges. Upon receipt, the summons will be issued and returned electronically. Counsel is required to send chambers a copy of the initiating documents pursuant to L.R. 5-1(e)(7). A scheduling order will be sent by Notice of Electronic Filing (NEF) within two business days. (srnS, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 4/6/2017) (Entered: 04/06/2017)

April 6, 2017

April 6, 2017

PACER
8

NOTICE of Voluntary Dismissal by Twitter, Inc. (Flanagan, Mark) (Filed on 4/7/2017) (Entered: 04/07/2017)

April 7, 2017

April 7, 2017

PACER
9

Order, signed 4/7/17, by Chief Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero granting 4 Motion for Pro Hac Vice for Seth Waxman.(klhS, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 4/7/2017) (Entered: 04/07/2017)

April 7, 2017

April 7, 2017

PACER
10

Order, signed 4/7/17, by Chief Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero granting 5 Motion for Pro Hac Vice for Patrick J. Carome.(klhS, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 4/7/2017) (Entered: 04/07/2017)

April 7, 2017

April 7, 2017

PACER
11

Order, signed 4/7/17, by Chief Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero granting 6 Motion for Pro Hac Vice for Ari Holtzblatt.(klhS, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 4/7/2017) (Entered: 04/07/2017)

April 7, 2017

April 7, 2017

PACER

Case Details

State / Territory: California

Case Type(s):

Speech and Religious Freedom

Special Collection(s):

Multi-LexSum (in sample)

Key Dates

Filing Date: March 14, 2017

Closing Date: 2017

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Twitter, social media corporation

Plaintiff Type(s):

Public (for-profit) corporation

Public Interest Lawyer: No

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal

Defendant Type(s):

Law-enforcement

Case Details

Causes of Action:

Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 551 et seq.

Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201

Constitutional Clause(s):

Freedom of speech/association

Availably Documents:

Trial Court Docket

Complaint (any)

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

None

Source of Relief:

None

Form of Settlement:

Voluntary Dismissal

Issues

General:

Records Disclosure

Type of Facility:

Government-run