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BLACK v. UNITED STATES

January 10, 1975

FRED B. BLACK, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHEY

This matter is before the Court for decision on the issue of damages after trial of the facts concerning damages. This Court previously found the United States liable in tort to the Plaintiff Black by granting partial summary judgment for Plaintiff on theories of trespass, invasion of privacy by intrusion, invasion of privacy by publication, and violation of Constitutional rights. These intentional torts arose out of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's admittedly illegal electronic surveillance of Plaintiff's suite in the Sheraton Carlton Hotel in Washington, D.C., between February 7 and April 25, 1963.

 The following constitute the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law.

 The Court concludes that this action is principally an action to recover for Plaintiffs losses caused by the intentional and admittedly illegal intrusion upon the Plaintiff's privacy and the publication of information derived from that illegal intrusion. As such this action is not barred by sovereign immunity since the United States has consented to suit through the Federal Torts Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. 2671 , et seq. The intentional torts complained of herein are not among the exceptions in 28 U.S.C. ยง 2680(h). Thus, 28 U.S.C. 1346(b) confers jurisdiction on this Court to hear this complaint.

 The FBI's Electronic Eavesdropping and Dissemination of Information Constitute a Tortious Intrusion and Publication Which Violated Plaintiff's Right to Privacy

 In two memoranda submitted to the United States Supreme Court in May and July 1966, in Black's tax case, the Solicitor General of the United States revealed that the FBI had illegally eavesdropped upon Black. It was there revealed that on the afternoon of February 7, 1963, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation installed a tubular microphone through the common wall of a room adjoining the suite occupied by Black at the Sheraton Carlton Hotel in Washington, D.C. The microphone extended through the six inch common wall and one-fourth of an inch into the one-half inch molding of Black's suite. FBI agents began to eavesdrop on conversations in Black's suite on the afternoon of the following day and continued the eavesdropping until April 25, 1963.

 No recording of any portion of the monitored conversations exists. The assignment of the monitoring agents was to keep a contemporaneous log in which were summarized the conversations in petitioner's suite. A tape recorder was available and was used to record particular conversations whenever a monitoring agent felt that such a recording would be helpful in preparing his summaries. After the summaries were prepared, the tapes were erased. While none of the recordings are, consequently, available today, the handwritten notes of the monitoring agents do exist. These notes summarize the conversations and, in some instances, contain excerpts from conversations.

 The information concerning petitioner obtained by the monitoring agents was submitted to their superiors in the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the form of the handwritten notes or logs. The eavesdrop information was then included in airtels, internal FBI documents disseminated by the Washington Field Office to FBI headquarters and to various other field offices.

 At the time one of the functions of the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section of the Department of Justice was to analyze, correlate, index and file information contained in the various intelligence reports submitted to it, and to disseminate the information which it had received and broken down to the 26 federal agencies involved in the Government's drive against organized crime. This procedure was followed with respect to the FBI reports concerning Mr. Black.

 In his memorandum to the Supreme Court the Solicitor General stated that the FBI reports of April 17, 1963, and July 12, 1963, were "captioned anti-racketeering since these dealt with [Black's] possible affiliation with organized crime activity in the United States." (Emphasis added.) However, in a footnote to this statement the Solicitor General stated that, "Recital of these facts is not intended to suggest that any wrongdoing on the part of [Black] was uncovered by the monitoring."

 The Government's Refusal to Comply with Discovery Orders Resulted in This Court's Imposition of Sanctions Under Rule 37(b) (2) (A)

 The procedural steps leading to this Court's imposition of Rule 37 sanctions were as follows:

 
"On July 10, 1973, this Court ordered the United States to allow the Plaintiff to inspect and copy: (1) all documents containing leads obtained from the eavesdropping, including the FBI reports of April 17, 1963 and July 12, 1963; (2) all communications in response to the eavesdropping material, including any airtels the Washington, D.C. office of the FBI received in response to the airtels it sent out requesting information concerning the Plaintiff; and (3) all documents relating to the leaving in place of the microphone after April 25, 1963 and any subsequent activation of the microphone. As of this date the United States has refused to comply with this order. It has refused to do so based on its claim of executive privilege which was made in an affidavit by the then Attorney General Elliot Richardson and filed October 19, 1973. The affidavit claims executive privilege as to the remainder of the file -- that which had not previously been disclosed.
 
"The Court has granted the Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on the issue of liability, since the United States has admitted that it conducted the surveillance and disseminated the information obtained as a result of the surveillance. The sole issue remaining is the question of damages. The Plaintiff maintains that the documents he seeks are necessary to substantiate his claim for damages caused by the dissemination of the surveillance information and its fruits. Earlier, the Court felt the information the Plaintiff needed could be obtained without disclosure of the documents. The Court, therefore, found that the Plaintiff's need did not outweigh possible public interest in maintaining the confidentiality of the files. However, the suggested ...

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