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Case Name Abdi v. Wray NS-UT-0002
Docket / Court 2:17-cv-00622 ( D. Utah )
State/Territory Utah
Case Type(s) National Security
Attorney Organization Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
Case Summary
This 2017 lawsuit challenged the FBI’s placement of a U.S. citizen on a terrorist watchlist; it was dismissed in 2019.

The Terrorism Screening DataBase, also known as the “terrorist watchlist,” is maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC), a division of the National ... read more >
This 2017 lawsuit challenged the FBI’s placement of a U.S. citizen on a terrorist watchlist; it was dismissed in 2019.

The Terrorism Screening DataBase, also known as the “terrorist watchlist,” is maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC), a division of the National Security Branch of the FBI. The watchlist includes sub-lists--a No Fly List and a Selectee List. People on the No Fly List are not allowed to fly on American airplanes or flights into the US. People included on the Selectee List are subject to additional screening by federal government officials at airports and land border crossings into the US. At airports, individuals on the Selectee List often have their boarding passes stamped with “SSSS” by airline agents.

In this case, the plaintiff claimed that he was subjected to extra security procedures at airports as early as 2014, perhaps because he was a cleric at his mosque (in Salt Lake City). The events more directly leading up to this litigation commenced in June 2017 when the plaintiff was denied boarding to a commercial flight bound for the U.S. by airport officials in Nairobi, Kenya. Though he was eventually allowed to board a flight the following day, he missed his connecting flight in Los Angeles because of a long screening process. The plaintiff flew domestically on three other instances in 2017 and each time the ticketing agent called the TSC and marked his boarding pass with the “SSSS” stamp. He filed this lawsuit on June 17, 2017, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, alleging constitutional violations.

In a final amended complaint filed November 2017, the plaintiff sued the Directors of the FBI and TSC, the Administrator of the TSA, and the Commissioner of the National Counterterrorism Center, all in their official capacities.

Represented by attorneys from the Council on American Islamic Relations and private counsel, the lawsuit sought injunctive and declaratory relief based on four main claims. First, the plaintiff argued that his placement on the Selectee List violated his Fifth Amendment rights to procedural and substantive due process. Second, he asserted that his inclusion on the selectee list was an unlawful agency action in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. §§702, 706). Third, he argued that his inclusion on the watchlist violated his Fifth Amendment Right to equal protection. Fourth, he urged that the Executive branch’s implementation of the terrorist watchlist amounted to a violation of the Constitution’s non-delegation doctrine.

The Defendants filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim and for lack of jurisdiction. In an order dated April 20, 2018, District Judge Dee Benson rejected the government’s jurisdictional arguments but granted its motion for failure to state a claim. For the procedural due process claim, Judge Benson found that the right to travel in a convenient or unimpeded fashion has not been recognized by the Supreme Court as a liberty interest protected by the Fifth Amendment and that the plaintiff failed to adequately allege reputational damage that satisfies a “stigma plus” standard. Judge Benson found the substantive due process claim unconvincing for similar reasons, writing that the plaintiff failed to provide case law supporting his contention that “freedom of movement” is protected by the Fifth Amendment. Likewise, because a constitutionally protected interest had not been identified by the plaintiff, the District Judge held that the APA claim similarly failed. For the equal protection claim, Judge Benson found that the plaintiff did not produce evidence of intentional discrimination against Muslims and refused to allow the claim to proceed on a disparate impact theory alone. Lastly, the non-delegation claim was dismissed because the Judge found that Congress charged the TSA with “overall responsibility for airline security” and that this is general policy establishes an “intelligible principle” that does not violate the doctrine of non-delegation. 2018 WL 1940411.

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of all claims in an opinion by Circuit Judge David Ebel. 942 F. 3d 1019 (Nov. 12, 2019).

Esteban Woo Kee - 06/17/2021


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Due Process: Procedural Due Process
Due Process: Substantive Due Process
Equal Protection
Right to travel
Defendant-type
Law-enforcement
Discrimination-basis
Race discrimination
Religion discrimination
General
Racial profiling
Terrorism/Post 9-11 issues
Watchlist
Immigration/Border
Constitutional rights
National Origin/Ethnicity
Arab/Afgani/Middle Eastern
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 551 et seq.
Ex parte Young (federal or state officials)
Defendant(s) Customs and Border Protection
Federal Bureau of Investigation
National Counterterrorism Center
Terrorism Screening Center
Transportation Security Administration
Plaintiff Description Plaintiff is a US citizen who was placed on the FBI's Terrorism Screening Database.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Defendant
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief None
Filed 06/17/2017
Case Closing Year 2020
Case Ongoing No
Case Listing NS-VA-0004 : Mohamed v. Holder (E.D. Va.)
NS-VA-0008 : Elhady v. Piehota (E.D. Va.)
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
Court Docket(s)
D. Utah
01/06/2020
2:17-cv-00622-DB
NS-UT-0002-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
D. Utah
06/16/2017
Complaint for Injunctive and Declaratory Relief [ECF# 2]
NS-UT-0002-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D. Utah
11/10/2017
Second Amended Complaint for Injunctive and Declaratory Relief [ECF# 16]
NS-UT-0002-0003.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D. Utah
04/20/2018
Memorandum Decision and Order [ECF# 35] (2018 WL 1940411)
NS-UT-0002-0002.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
U.S. Court of Appeals
11/12/2019
Opinion (942 F.3d 1019)
NS-UT-0002-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: U.S. Court of Appeals website
show all people docs
Judges Benson, Dee Vance (FISC, D. Utah) show/hide docs
NS-UT-0002-0002
Ebel, David M. (Tenth Circuit) show/hide docs
NS-UT-0002-0004
Plaintiff's Lawyers Abbas, Gadeir Ibrahim (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-UT-0002-0001 | NS-UT-0002-0003 | NS-UT-0002-9000
Homer, Carolyn M. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-UT-0002-9000
Masri, Lena Fatina (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-UT-0002-0001 | NS-UT-0002-0003 | NS-UT-0002-9000
McConkie, James W. II (Utah) show/hide docs
NS-UT-0002-0001 | NS-UT-0002-0003 | NS-UT-0002-9000
Parker, Bradley H. (Utah) show/hide docs
NS-UT-0002-0001 | NS-UT-0002-0003 | NS-UT-0002-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Bowen, Brigham J. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-UT-0002-9000
Nelson, Jeffrey E. (Utah) show/hide docs
NS-UT-0002-9000

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