NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 16, 2007

Six imams who are suing an airline and an airport for removing them from a flight also have aimed the lawsuit at passengers who the imams believe reported some of their activities.   

The suit filed this week in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis names as defendants "John Does" who "contacted US Airways to report the alleged suspicious behavior" of the imams before the Nov. 20 flight -- an inclusion some lawyers, who are not connected to the litigation, say will have a "chilling effect" on airline security.   

According to Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of several books on litigation in the United States:

  • The lawsuit primarily targets US Airways and the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Airports Commission, but suing passengers who report suspicious behavior "sends a terrible message if we are at all concerned about the threat of terrorism."
  • The implications are that if you appear to just buzz about what you perceive to be a security threat then you are a legal wrongdoer and responsible for damages, even if all you did was notify the authorities; that would have a tremendous chilling effect, win or lose.

Unless this is thrown out of court early, the lesson learned will be that next time someone sees something, it may be safer to stay quiet and hope someone else reports it.  Even if the charges get thrown out or dropped, this is an announcement that you could be caught up in litigation for years and spending your savings on lawyers, says Olson.   

Source: Audrey Hudson, "Imams' suit risks 'chill' on security," Washington Times, March 16, 2007.


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