705 F.Supp. 1033 (D.N.J. 1989), Civ. A. 88-2319, Patterson v. F.B.I.

Docket Nº:Civ. A. 88-2319
Citation:705 F.Supp. 1033
Party Name:Patterson v. F.B.I.
Case Date:February 07, 1989
Court:United States District Courts, 3th Circuit, District of New Jersey

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705 F.Supp. 1033 (D.N.J. 1989)

Todd PATTERSON, etc., Plaintiff,



Civ. A. No. 88-2319.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey.

Feb. 7, 1989

As Amended March 10, 1989.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Frank Askin, Constitutional Litigation Clinic, Rutgers University School of Law, Newark, N.J., for plaintiff.

Samuel A. Alito, Jr., U.S. Atty. by Susan C. Cassell, Asst. U.S. Atty., Newark, N.J., for defendants.

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WOLIN, District Judge.

Currently before the Court is the motion of defendant Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") for summary judgment as to the first and second causes of action of plaintiff Todd Patterson's complaint and to dismiss the third cause of action. For the reasons set forth below, and after having reviewed in camera documents withheld by the FBI, the Court grants summary judgment in favor of the FBI dismissing the first, second and third causes of action of plaintiff's complaint. However, in consideration of the FBI's offer to expunge the name of plaintiff from any files it may possess, the Court encourages the FBI to abide by its offer and to expunge the plaintiff's name from all files, indexes or records maintained by the FBI that encompass the First Amendment activities of Todd Patterson.


The facts of this case vividly illustrate the parental concern and public consternation which can be produced when the apparently remote world of high-tech intelligence and counter-intelligence is applied to the everyday world of grade school and school projects in the name of national security.

In 1983, plaintiff Todd Patterson, then a sixth grade elementary school student, decided to write an encyclopedia of the world. Not being content with the local library's resources, Todd undertook to write to all the countries of the world, 169 in all, to obtain information. Significantly, plaintiff enclosed much of his correspondence in envelopes bearing the return address of Laboratory Disposable Products, a business Todd's parents operate from their home.

The flood of international correspondence which Todd's project engendered apparently caught the eye of the FBI, through means and methods which the FBI does not wish revealed on account of national security concerns. Todd and his parents contend that many pieces of mail from foreign countries were received in damaged condition, particularly mail from the Soviet Union. The FBI, through affidavits and other supporting papers, denies any responsibility for opening or damaging Todd's mail.

What is undisputed is that, besides mail, Todd's project also caused Todd to receive a visit from the FBI. In late 1983, Agent John E. Butenschoen, from the FBI's Parsippany, New Jersey branch, appeared unannounced at the plaintiff's home in North Haledon, New Jersey. Agent Butenschoen spoke to Todd's mother and father, the latter by telephone, concerning Todd's project. Agent Butenschoen was shown Todd's room, the correspondence received by plaintiff, and the purpose Todd was using the correspondence for.

Agent Butenschoen requested that plaintiff, who was at elementary school at the time of the visit, call the agent. Soon after the visit, Todd did call Agent Butenschoen and spoke with him regarding plaintiff's project and his information requests to other countries.

As a result of Todd's project and the visit by Agent Butenschoen, it is clear that the FBI came to maintain at least one file on the plaintiff. Lieberman Affidavit, p. 7. On or about July 13, 1983, an FBI airtel was written relating to Laboratory Disposable Products. The document requested that the Newark Division "conduct appropriate investigation regarding the captioned company in accordance with Attorney General Guidelines." Defendant's Notice of Motion for Summary Judgment, Exhibit B, Document No. 1.

After Agent Butenschoen's visit to Todd's home, and apparently as a result of his investigation of the matter, an FBI memorandum was written on or about February 23, 1984. Defendants' Notice of Motion for Summary Judgment, Exhibit B. Document No. 2. This document changed the subject heading from "Laboratory Disposable Products" to "Todd Patterson." The memorandum contains a description of Todd's project and further states "Newark indices as well as local criminal checks negative

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on subject" and "[i]n view of the above, Newark contemplates no further investigation in this matter." The memorandum demonstrates that once the FBI learned the source of the international correspondence was not an entity called "Laboratory Disposable Products" but was in reality a seventh grader involved in a school project, the FBI wisely concluded that no espionage was being committed.

While Agent Butenschoen's visit to the Pattersons and the February 23, 1984 memorandum should have been the end of the matter, the Patterson's involuntary foray, whether real or imagined, into the world of counter-intelligence and national security, was not yet complete. During the summer of 1984, Todd Patterson received an invitation for a visit from the Soviet Mission in New York City. Concerned that the FBI was somehow monitoring plaintiff's activities, plaintiff's father requested that Todd contact Agent Butenschoen. Todd did so and informed the agent of the invitation. The agent requested that Todd report back to him after the visit. Affidavit of Todd Patterson, p. 3. Todd's visit to the Soviet Mission and his subsequent "debriefing" apparently went off without incident.

The FBI continues to maintain that it conducted no further investigation of plaintiff after 1983. Defendant's Reply Memorandum, p. 3. However, an airtel dated December 5, 1985, released by the FBI, along with five attachments that were not released, demonstrates that as of that date some entity of the United States Government continued to conduct activities that involved the plaintiff. Defendant's Notice of Motion, Exhibit B, Document No. 5. The FBI responds, somewhat cryptically, that "[t]he specifics of how that 1985 airtel information came to the FBI is, of course, covered by the military and state secrets privilege, but it was not through any further investigation by the FBI." Defendant's Reply Memorandum, p. 3.

Finally, throughout the entire period of plaintiff's contact with the FBI and other unknown forces of counter-intelligence, up to the present, plaintiff maintains that at least 50 pieces of mail have been received in damaged condition, most of which originated in the Soviet Union. Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts, ¶ 9. Plaintiff and his parents also report of hearing strange background noises on their telephones since 1983. Indeed, a now deceased employee of the Pattersons is said to have heard a voice say "Operator, this is not the phone I want tapped." Id. at ¶ 16. 1 The FBI strenuously refutes the Patterson's allegations of mail tampering and wiretapping, and the FBI characterizes the employee's story as an attempt to feed "Mr. Patterson's paranoid fantasy of governmental wiretapping." Defendant's Reply Memorandum, p. 2.

In early 1987, plaintiff learned that he could request access to records the FBI might be maintaining on him through use of the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"). 2 Pursuant to FOIA, plaintiff made a request to the FBI in Washington, D.C. for "copies of my personal file in your records." Exhibit A-7 to defendant's notice of motion for summary judgment. By letter dated August 12, 1987, plaintiff was informed that "[t]he information pertaining to you in FBIHQ records is exempt from disclosure pursuant to Title 5, United States Code, Section 552(b)(1) and Title 5, United States Code, Section 552a(j)(2)."

Plaintiff appealed the denial of his FOIA request by letter from his father to the Department of Justice's Office of Information and Privacy. On October 20, 1987, Richard L. Huff, co-director of the Office of Information and Privacy, notified plaintiff that his FOIA appeal had been denied. Plaintiff was also notified of his right to seek judicial review of the agency's determination in the United States District Court. One month later, Huff wrote to

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inform the Pattersons that, after a further review of Todd's request, six pages of the plaintiff's file were being declassified. Exhibit A-11. In March, 1988, plaintiff initiated a second FOIA request, this time directed at the FBI's Newark Field Office. In May of 1988, Todd initiated a civil suit through his father, Edgar Patterson, against defendants FBI, John Doe, an unknown employee of the United States Government, and John Doe Agency, an unknown agency of the United States Government. 3 Plaintiff's suit seeks injunctive relief and/or damages under three distinct causes of action: failure to comply with FOIA; violations of the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a et seq., as a result of the FBI's maintenance of files describing plaintiff's exercise of rights guaranteed by the First Amendment; and violations of plaintiff's First and Fourth Amendment rights and of 18 U.S.C. § 1702 and 19 U.S.C. § 482, statutes relating to the U.S. mail.

On September 26, 1988, the FBI filed the summary judgment motion now before the Court. At the close of oral argument on defendant's motion, the Court reserved decision and ordered the defendant to submit an in camera affidavit establishing a rational link between specific law enforcement objectives and statutes and the files which the FBI maintained on the First Amendment activities of the plaintiff. Subsequent to oral argument, the Court further ordered that the FBI submit to the Court for in camera inspection certain specified documents which the FBI is seeking to withhold from the plaintiff. Letter...

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