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Murphy v. United States

September 27, 2001


The opinion of the court was delivered by: James Robertson, United States District Judge.


In this Privacy Act suit, a veteran Secret Service agent seeks damages for alleged Privacy Act violations that had their origins in an assault upon him by his supervisor. The government's motion for summary judgment will be granted, for the reasons set forth below. *fn1


Plaintiff Daniel P. Murphy has been a Special Agent (SA) of the United States Secret Service since 1984. At all times relevant to this lawsuit, he was one of three SAs assigned to the Secret Service's Portland, Maine, Residence Agency (PRA). The other Portland SAs were Kevin T. Flynn and Resident Agent Supervisor (RAS) Michael D. Magalski. This entire lawsuit stems from a work-related dispute between RAS Magalski and SA Murphy.

A. Dispute and Investigation

On February 26, 1998, RAS Magalski walked into SA Murphy's office to give him an assignment. Am. Compl. ¶ 6. SA Murphy refused the assignment, stating that he was working on another task and that, in any event, the assignment "presented little involvement in the PRA district." Id. Upon hearing SA Murphy's refusal, RAS Magalski "exploded in anger and delivered a tirade of profanity directed at Plaintiff, punctuated by instances of finger jabbing . . . toward Plaintiff." Id. The episode culminated in "RAS Magalski advancing towards Plaintiff and physically challenging him with the statement, 'What the fuck are you going to do about it?' " Id.

The next day, SA Murphy sent an e-mail to RAS Magalski complaining about this incident and about several other incidents of abusive behavior by RAS Magalski towards himself and Mr. Flynn. Id. ¶ 7. RAS Magalski forwarded the e-mail, with a notation denying wrongdoing, to his superior, Special Agent-in-Charge (SAIC) Michael Johnston, located at the Secret Service's Boston Field Office (BFO). Id. ¶ 10. By this time, SA Murphy had retained counsel. Counsel sent a letter to SAIC Johnston describing RAS Magalski's misconduct and demanding immediate action. Id. ¶¶ 11-12. SAIC Johnston conducted an investigation into the matter, ultimately determining that SA Murphy's allegations had no basis, and he recommended that SA Murphy be transferred to a different field office to avoid future problems. Id. ¶¶ 13-14.

There followed an extended correspondence between SA Murphy's counsel and various higher-ups in the Secret Service. At the behest of SA Murphy's counsel, the Secret Service conducted additional investigations to determine whether SA Murphy's allegations had any basis in fact, each time determining that they did not. Id. ¶¶ 15, 16-17, 22.

B. Secret Service Assignments

The Secret Service requires its special agents to accept multiple geographic assignments during the course of their careers and advises applicants of this requirement during the application process. Def.'s Mem. at 3. SA trainees sign an acknowledgment that states: "If selected, I accept as a condition of employment that I may be geographically reassigned at the discretion of the Secret Service." Def.'s Ex. 13.

Plaintiff began his Secret Service career in September 1984 at the Washington, D.C. Field Office. Aff. of Special Agent in Charge (SAIC) Charles Wolford, Def.'s Ex. 6. In April 1989, the Service transferred him to the Presidential Protective Division in Washington, D.C. Id. In 1993, the Service transferred him to the Bush Protective Division in Portland, Maine, and then to the Resident Agency in Portland (Portland RA). Id.

At all times relevant to this lawsuit, SAIC Charles Wolford had direct responsibility for the staffing of Secret Service offices and the transfer of special agents. Id. In the fall of 1996, SAIC Wolford formed the intention to transfer plaintiff to a large field office based on his existing career track and made a corresponding notation in the Service's career tracking system. Id. He communicated this intention to SAIC James Sloan, who supervised the Portland RA from Boston. Id. SAIC Sloan asked SAIC Wolford to delay plaintiff's transfer, both because he wanted to increase the staffing of the Portland RA and because plaintiff had a personal need to remain in Portland. Aff. of SAIC Sloan, Def.'s Ex. 16.

SAIC Sloan's discussions with plaintiff "included advising him based on the information [he] had from SAIC Wolford, [that] he was currently slated for transfer to the New York Field Office." Id. In May 1997, plaintiff "bid" out of the Portland RA by requesting transfers to positions located in Washington, D.C. Def.'s Mem. at 6.

In 1998, SAIC Wolford again began considering transferring plaintiff, "among many other special agents." Wolford Aff. In May of that year, Deputy Assistant Director James Washington, who had ordered the fact-finding investigation into the Magalski/Murphy incident, asked SAIC Wolford whether plaintiff was slated for transfer. Id. SAIC Wolford responded that he intended to transfer plaintiff to the New York Field Office. Id. DAD Washington asked SAIC Wolford if he "could hold off on any transfer of SA Murphy because there was some sort of fact finding going on which was connected to SA Murphy." Id. In summer 1998, DAD Washington advised SAIC Wolford that the matter concerning plaintiff had concluded. Id. DAD Washington told SAIC Wolford: "I am not telling you to do or not do anything; I am ...

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