Tanvir v. Lynch (formerly Tanvir v. Holder)

At a Glance

Current Status 

The case is currently in the federal district court for the Southern District of New York, with motions to dismiss briefed, argued and pending decision before the district court regarding subject matter jurisdiction and Bivens and RFRA claims. Oral argument was on June 12, 2015.

 

Date Filed: 

October 1, 2013

Co-Counsel 

Professors Ramzi Kassem and Diala Shamas of the City University of New York School of Law’s CLEAR project, and the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP.

Client 

Muhammad Tanvir, Jameel Algibhah, Naveed Shinwari, and Awais Sajjad.

Case Description 

Tanvir v. Lynch (formerly Tanvir v. Holder) is a federal lawsuit filed against the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security that challenges the FBI’s abuse of the No-Fly List to coerce law-abiding American Muslims into spying on their religious communities. The government operates the No Fly List under near-total secrecy and never tells people on the List why they are listed or gives them a meaningful chance to dispute their placement. Plaintiffs in the case are four American Muslim men with no criminal records who were approached by the FBI in an effort to recruit them as informants. As a result of their placement on the No-Fly List and the FBI’s unwarranted scrutiny, some of the plaintiffs have not been able to see family members overseas for years. One has not been able to visit his gravely ill 93-year-old grandmother; another has been separated from his wife and three young daughters for roughly five years; a third has been unable to see his wife for nearly two years. The case is part of CCR’s broader effort to end warrantless government surveillance of civilians, particularly those who are being targeted on the basis of their Muslim identity or activism.

The original complaint, on behalf of plaintiff Muhammad Tanvir, was filed by the CLEAR project of CUNY School of Law and later joined by CCR. The lawsuit seeks to remove our clients from the No-Fly List and establish a new legal mechanism to challenge placement on it. At the moment, the only process available for relief is the TRIP program, whereby travelers who encounter problems may file an inquiry with the Department of Homeland Security, but never receive any confirmation or denial that they were on the List or that any change in status has taken place in response. Even after filing a TRIP complaint, generally the only way to tell whether one is still on the List is to buy a plane ticket and attempt to fly.

“I do not want to become an informant, but the government says I must in order to be taken off the No Fly List. How can the government tell me that the only way I can see my family again is if I turn my back on my community?”
Awais Sajjad, a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also seeks declaratory and injunctive relief stating that our clients were kept on the List without cause and in retaliation for their assertion of constitutional rights in refusing to serve as informants. Plaintiffs have lost jobs, been stigmatized within their communities, and suffered severe financial and emotional distress as a result of their placement on the List. The lawsuit asks for monetary relief for damages they suffered.

The complete lack of transparency and accountability with which the government operates the No-Fly List makes it ripe for abuse by FBI field agents who, in the post-9/11 environment, often face pressure from their superiors to recruit human sources and have a great deal of individual discretion to nominate individuals to the List with only the most minimal oversight from superiors. As of 2012, the No-Fly List contained over 21,000 names. A 2007 audit found that more than half of the 71,000 names then on the List were wrongly included. It is an open question how many people today are on the list, like our clients, because they refuse to spy on their communities. The fact that our clients were told they could fly again if they agreed to work as informants for the FBI begs the question of how, if they were truly so dangerous to begin with, the FBI could risk enlisting them as informants and allowing them to fly.

“I have no words. This is very big news for me,” said Awais Sajjad, one of the plaintiffs. “I hope next month I will travel to visit my grandmother in Pakistan. I miss my grandmother who is very sick and over 90 years old now. She raised me after my mother’s death.”

 

“They have done a lot of damage to me and to my life. They messed up my life,” said Jameel Algibhah, another plaintiff. “I haven’t seen my family in a long time. My youngest daughter doesn’t even know me. I want to continue this lawsuit.”

Case Timeline

June 12, 2015

Oral argument takes place on the government's motion to dismiss the individual capacity claims

June 12, 2015

Oral argument takes place on the government's motion to dismiss the individual capacity claims

June 9, 2015

Government informs all four plaintiffs they are not currently on no-fly list

June 9, 2015

Government informs all four plaintiffs they are not currently on no-fly list

Four days before a court hearing on whether the case should be allowed to proceed, the government notifies all four men that they are no longer on the no-fly list. The letters are a de facto acknowledgment that the men never posed a security threat of any kind and that the FBI only listed them to coerce them into spying on their faith community.

June 1, 2015

Government moves for limited stay of proceedings regarding official capacity claims

June 1, 2015

Government moves for limited stay of proceedings regarding official capacity claims

January 22, 2015

Government files reply briefs in support of motions to dismiss

November 13, 2014

CLEAR and CCR file opposition to government's motions to dismiss

November 13, 2014

CLEAR and CCR file opposition to government's motions to dismiss

Jul. 28, 2014

Government moves to dismiss all claims against high-level agency defendants and Bivens and RFRA claims against individual FBI officers

Jul. 28, 2014

Government moves to dismiss all claims against high-level agency defendants and Bivens and RFRA claims against individual FBI officers

The government moves to dismiss the claims against high-level agency defendants for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

July 23, 2014

Copy of National Counterterrorism Center’s Watchlisting Guidance leaked by The Intercept

July 23, 2014

Copy of National Counterterrorism Center’s Watchlisting Guidance leaked by The Intercept

 The guidance sets forth, among other things, inclusion criteria, evidentiary standards, and procedures for placing individuals on the No-Fly List.

Apr. 22, 2014

CCR joins case, CLEAR and CCR file amended complaint adding plaintiffs Algibhah, Shinwari, and Sajjad and their associated defendants

Apr. 22, 2014

CCR joins case, CLEAR and CCR file amended complaint adding plaintiffs Algibhah, Shinwari, and Sajjad and their associated defendants

Plaintiffs all allege the government unlawfully placed them on the No Fly List in retaliation for their having exercised their First Amendment rights not to become informants. Plaintiffs also allege that the No Fly List violates the Due Process Clause of the Constitution because it fails to give plaintiffs any meaningful notice or opportunity to see or challenge the asserted reasons for their placement. Finally, they allege violations of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.

Oct. 1, 2013

CLEAR Project files original complaint, on behalf of plaintiff Muhammad Tanvir

Oct. 1, 2013

CLEAR Project files original complaint, on behalf of plaintiff Muhammad Tanvir

The case is filed in the federal district court for the Southern District of New York and assigned to Judge Abrams.