Haase v. Webster Historic Case

At a Glance

Date Filed: 


Case Description 

Haase v. Webster is a case which challenged the authority of U.S. Customs officials to seize and copy the written materials of travelers to Nicaragua.

Returning from Nicaragua in January 1985, Edward Haase, a Kansas City-based journalist, was detained for five hours by U.S. Customs and FBI officials while they seized, read, and photocopied his address book, notes, diary, and other personal papers. These actions were taken under the purported authority of 19 U.S.C. § 1305, a statute which permits Customs to seize “treasonous” materials, but which has been judicially limited to materials “likely and intended to produce imminent lawless action.” No written materials have ever been found to meet that standard.

CCR attorneys challenged the seizure, charging that it violated the free speech and association provisions of the First Amendment and the search and seizure safeguards of the Fourth Amendment. The lawsuit demanded that the FBI return the photocopied materials. Moreover, it charged Customs and the FBI with following a policy which abused Customs’ limited authority in order to harass and/or gather intelligence from U.S. citizens returning from Nicaragua.

The court granted Haase’s request for a temporary restraining order and ordered the papers returned. It refused, however, to allow Haase to challenge the incident as a policy, or to discover information about the FBI dissemination of the seized documents. The court concluded that the incident was an isolated one and unlikely to recur.

The court of appeals reversed the district court’s dismissal of Haase’s claim for equitable relief and remanded the matter to the district court. CCR sought a rehearing concerning the terms of the remand, which limited, in the interest of “national security,” plaintiff’s right to present his case. The appellate court granted plaintiff’s request and amended its earlier decision. By the time the case was remanded to the district court, CCR had obtained the injunctive relief concerning Customs policy in the Heidy case (Docket No. 67), so plaintiff voluntarily dismissed Haase. In August 1990, the government agreed to pay attorneys’ fees.