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Hassan v. City of New York

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 20, 2014

SYED FARHAJ HASSAN; THE COUNCIL OF IMAMS IN NEW JERSEY; MUSLIM STUDENTS ASSOCIATION OF THE U.S. AND CANADA, INC.; ALL BODY SHOP INSIDE & OUTSIDE; UNITY BEEF SAUSAGE COMPANY; MUSLIM FOUNDATION, INC.; MOIZ MOHAMMED; JANE DOE; SOOFIA TAHIR; ZAIMAH ABDUR-RAHIM; and ABDUL-HAKIM ABDULLAH, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, Defendant.

OPINION

WILLIAM J. MARTINI, District Judge.

This case involves the New York City Police Department's surveillance of the Muslim community in New Jersey following the attacks of September 11, 2001. Plaintiffs are six Muslim individuals, two organizations that operate mosques, two Muslim-owned businesses, and the Muslim Students Association at Rutgers University. Plaintiffs allege that the New York City Police Department's surveillance program targeted Muslims solely on the basis of religion, thereby violating their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Defendant City of New York ("the City") filed a motion to dismiss for lack of standing under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Plaintiffs opposed. There was no oral argument. L.Civ.R. 78(b). For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion to dismiss is GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

In early 2002, the New York City Police Department ("NYPD" or "the Department") began a secret spying program ("the Program") to infiltrate and monitor Muslim life in and around New York City. (Amended Complaint (hereinafter "Complaint") at ¶ 2) According to Plaintiffs, the Program involved the "painstaking" documentation of the details of Muslim life in New Jersey. (Complaint at ¶ 47d)

The Complaint alleges that the NYPD used a variety of surveillance techniques to infiltrate Muslim businesses and organizations. For example, Plaintiffs allege the NYPD conducted continuous video surveillance of mosques via cameras posted on light polls. (Complaint at ¶ 46) The NYPD photographed and videotaped mosque congregants and collected their license plate numbers. (Complaint at ¶ 4)

Undercover officers infiltrated Muslim organizations and monitored sermons, meetings, conversations, and religious practices. (Complaint at ¶ 46-47, 50-51) The undercover officers created many reports on their observations. These reports named specific individuals without any evidence of wrongdoing. (Complaint at ¶ 51)

In their reports, the NYPD allegedly labeled many organizations as "Locations of Concern." (Complaint at ¶ 58) The Complaint alleges that this label designated the subject organizations as demonstrating "a significant pattern of illegal activity." ( Id. ) The Complaint alleges that this label was false and stigmatizing because the reports contain no evidence of illegal activity. ( see id. )

The NYPD did not publicize the existence of the Program. The Program became public knowledge in August 2011 when the Associated Press broke a story about it. ( See Complaint at ¶ 61; Declaration of Peter G. Farrell ("Farrell Decl.") at ¶ 3) The Associated Press covertly obtained confidential NYPD documents and published unredacted versions of these documents, as well as articles interpreting the documents. (Farrell Decl. at ¶ 3; Moving Brief at 2-3, 4, 17-18) Upon the Associated Press's publication of the documents, City officials publicly commented that the surveillance Program was focused on "threats" and documenting the "likely whereabouts of terrorists."[1] (Complaint at ¶ 61)

Collectively, Plaintiffs allege that the surveillance Program caused a series of spiritual, stigmatic, and pecuniary losses. Plaintiffs report diminished religious expression, employment prospects, property values, and revenue following the Associated Press's publication of its story about the Program.

The organizational Plaintiffs allege that the Program impaired them from engaging members in open political and religious discussion and from fulfilling the spiritual needs of their members. ( See Complaint at ¶ 15, 17, 23) The Plaintiffs that operate mosques report a drop in attendance. (Complaint at ¶ 14) They also report altering religious services and events to avoid being perceived as controversial. (Complaint at ¶ 23) Four of the individually-named Plaintiffs complain that they have avoided discussing religious and political topics, praying in public, or attending mosque service in order to avoid law enforcement scrutiny. (Complaint at ¶ 13, 26-30)

Plaintiffs Syed Hassan, Soofia Tahir, and Zaimah Abdur-Rahim fear that being the subjects of surveillance will interfere with their careers. Hassan is a U.S. Soldier and Tahir is expecting to begin a career in international social work. Both plaintiffs allege that career advancement will require background checks and security clearances. Both allege that their affiliations with organizations falsely labeled as "threats" will hinder their career advancement. (Complaint at ¶ 13, 29) Hassan also alleges that his career prospects will be harmed because his fellow soldiers and superiors will have diminished trust in him and treat him differently upon learning he was a regular congregant at a mosque that was the subject of surveillance. (Complaint at ¶ 13)

Abdur-Rahim is a teacher who has worked at two different Muslim girls' schools in Newark, one of which was run out of her own residence. (Complaint at ¶ 31-32) The NYPD conducted surveillance on both these schools. Abdur-Rahim alleges that as a result of working at two monitored schools, her future career prospects will be diminished. (Complaint at ¶ 32)

Abdur-Rahim and her husband, Plaintiff Abdul-Hakim Abdullah, are coowners of the home in which one of the monitored schools was located. (Complaint at ¶ 32, 34) A police surveillance photograph of this school appears on the internet in connection with the NYPD's surveillance Program. (Complaint at ¶ 32) Abdur-Rahim and Abdullah both allege that the value of their home has been diminished because of its connection to the Program. (Complaint at ¶ 32, 34)

Plaintiffs All Body Shop Inside & Outside and Unity Beef Sausage Company are Muslim-owned businesses in Newark that were both subjects of the surveillance Program. (Complaint at ¶ 18-21) Both these Plaintiffs allege that business declined when it became publically known that the NYPD was monitoring them. (Complaint at ¶ 18, 20) Customers told the owner of Unity Beef Sausage Company that they felt uncomfortable going to the store knowing that the NYPD was monitoring them. (Complaint at ¶ 21) The ...


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