Sami v. U.S.

Decision Date28 December 1979
Docket NumberNo. 78-1975,78-1975
Citation199 U.S.App.D.C. 173,617 F.2d 755
Parties, 199 U.S.App.D.C. 173 Mohammad SAMI, Appellant, v. UNITED STATES of America et al.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (D.C. Civil Action No. 76-0507).

William W. Becker, Washington, D. C., with whom Virginia A. McArthur, Washington, D. C., was on the brief, for appellant.

E. Anne McKinsey, Asst. U. S. Atty., Washington, D. C., with whom Earl J. Silbert, * U. S. Atty., John A. Terry and Michael W. Farrell, Asst. U. S. Attys., Washington, D. C., were on the brief, for appellees.

Before McGOWAN, LEVENTHAL ** and WALD, Circuit Judges.

Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge WALD.

WALD, Circuit Judge:

This case is a tragedy of errors. It represents an extension of and embroils the United States Government and its officials in what a Maryland appellate court has called "an almost incredible history of marital warfare, with skirmishes occurring up and down the eastern seaboard of this country, as well as abroad." Sami v. Sami, 29 Md.App. 161, 163-64, 347 A.2d 888, 890 (1975).


For more than a year preceding the events which gave rise to this suit, plaintiff, a citizen of Afghanistan and an economist stationed at the International Monetary Fund in Washington, had been engaged in a custody dispute with his American wife over their two children. Each had secured in different states, he in Maryland, she in Florida, a court order granting custody over the offspring. At the time of this latest chapter, the children were physically in Florida. Their father had consulted with Washington, D. C. counsel concerning his children's custody. He was advised to go to Florida and physically bring the children back to Maryland where he had legal custody. His District of Columbia counsel also told him to consult with Florida counsel about the legality of such action. Florida counsel warned him that he would technically be violating Florida law if he removed the children.

Plaintiff went to Florida, and together with a detective hired to assist him for this purpose, transported the children back to Maryland. Plaintiff and the children arrived in Maryland on May 10. Shortly after plaintiff's arrival there, upon information supplied by Mrs. Sami and presented to a state judge in Broward County, Florida, two warrants were issued for plaintiff's arrest for taking the children out of state in violation of a Florida court order. Upon the request of the Broward County Sheriff's Department, and on the basis of the Florida warrants, a Maryland court on May 11 issued a warrant for plaintiff's arrest. Plaintiff was arrested, appeared in court, and was released on posting a personal recognizance bond of $1000 pending a hearing set for June 19. A condition of the bond was that he not change "residence" in the meantime. The bond did not require that he or the children remain in Maryland, or in the country.

Suspecting plaintiff intended to leave the country with the children, Mrs. Sami, her father and her counsel sought intervention by the United States National Central Bureau (USNCB), of the Department of the Treasury, this country's liaison with the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), to stop him. The first contact with the USNCB was made on May 9. On May 12, when Mrs. Sami informed defendant Sims, chief of the USNCB, of plaintiff's and the children's imminent departure from the country, she was told to contact the FBI, Dulles Airport Police and the State Department. Although detained for a few minutes (without the intervention of USNCB), the plane was permitted to leave.

Mrs. Sami had informed the USNCB the day before of the outstanding Florida warrant for plaintiff's arrest. The warrant's existence was not confirmed, however, until Sims contacted the Florida sheriff's office after the plane's departure. Shortly after verifying the Florida warrants Sims was advised by Mrs. Sami's lawyer that a Maryland judge intended to issue a bench warrant for plaintiff's arrest the next morning. Sims confirmed that intent by placing a telephone call to the judge.

Mrs. Sami's father had earlier been counselled by defendant Holmes, Deputy Chief of the USNCB, that the USNCB could do nothing without a request from a law enforcement agency. In response to still another communication after the plane departed, Mrs. Sami's lawyers were told by Sims that foreign police departments would not be notified of the outstanding Florida warrants until the Broward County Florida State's Attorney replied to a USNCB inquiry regarding that Attorney's desire to have the plaintiff arrested and that Attorney's intention to seek extradition. Shortly after this conversation with Mrs. Sami's attorneys, Sims was advised by the Broward County Sheriff's office that the State's Attorney had authorized plaintiff's arrest and the initiation of extradition proceedings. Sims knew at the time that only the State Department and not a state or any of its officers or instrumentalities could request extradition from a foreign jurisdiction.

Beginning that evening and continuing throughout the next two days, Sims dispatched a flurry of messages to Interpol liaisons at several points on the plaintiff's expected route, including London, Rome and Wiesbaden. The first said that plaintiff was wanted on a Florida warrant, 1 requested his immediate arrest, and stated that "Florida will extradite." Among the reply communications received was one from Rome stating that Italian authorities could do nothing because the warrant was issued in a civil dispute which in their jurisprudence did not justify extradition. On May 13 Sims sent communiques to several Interpol liaisons, including Wiesbaden, which a) stated that the "United States (rather than Florida) will extradite," b) stated that the Maryland custody order was good only in Maryland and had been superseded by an arrest warrant for plaintiff issued by a Maryland court, and c) characterized the Maryland arrest warrant as a felony warrant. Sims later admitted on deposition that a) when he said the "United States will extradite" he meant Florida would ask the United States to extradite, b) that he just assumed from his conversation with the Maryland judge that a bench warrant on the bond "superseded" the Maryland order granting custody and c) that he had no basis for saying that the Maryland warrant was for a felony. He also admitted that at no time in the unfortunate incident did he contact anyone in the State or Justice Departments to clarify any of this and that he had not read the German-American extradition treaty until after the incident was over.

On May 14 the German authorities arrested plaintiff at Frankfurt, gave the children over to their mother who had been following the plane, and detained plaintiff. The following morning they notified Sims of their action and requested in two communications that the formal extradition request quickly be forwarded through diplomatic channels. On May 16 the State Department determined that no extraditable offense was involved. German officials were so informed both by Sims and through diplomatic channels and were requested to release plaintiff. Although this message appears to have been conveyed on May 16, plaintiff was not in fact released until May 18, four days after his original detention.

The incident provoked the sending of a note from the Afghanistan Embassy to the State Department, and a reply from the State Department, referring to plaintiff's detention as "improper." A meeting held June 3, 1975, between Departments of State and Justice and USNCB officials resulted in guidelines under which USNCB undertook to consult with the State Department before notifying other countries that a request for provisional arrest will be forwarded through diplomatic channels.

Plaintiff brought suit against Interpol, the United States Government and USNCB officials Sims and Holmes individually for false arrest and imprisonment, libel and slander, and deprivation of his fourth and fifth amendment constitutional rights. The case comes to us on appeal from dismissals of all claims. 2 Summary judgment in favor of defendants United States and Holmes was granted on October 19, 1977. The claims against defendant Interpol were dismissed the same day. Summary judgment in favor of defendant Sims was granted on July 22, 1978. We now consider the claims against each defendant separately.


Interpol is an organization whose aims, according to its constitution, are "(a) to ensure and promote the widest possible mutual assistance between all criminal police authorities within the limits of the law existing in the different countries and in the spirit of the 'Universal Declaration of Human Rights' "; and "(b) to establish and develop all institutions likely to contribute effectively to the prevention and suppression of ordinary law crimes." Interpol Const. art. 2 (1968), Joint Appendix (J.A.) 243.

Interpol has linked offices designated by its various members and its own Paris headquarters with a worldwide radio network. Congress has been informed that "INTERPOL's function is to provide the coordination and communications mechanism for law enforcement agencies (local, state or Federal) having a foreign investigative requirement and to transmit that requirement to other appropriate foreign law enforcement agencies." Treasury, Postal Service and General Government Appropriations for Fiscal Year 1977: Hearings on H.R. 14261 before the Subcomm. on Treasury, Postal Service and General Government of the Senate Comm. on Appropriations, 94th Cong., 2d Sess. 169 (February 24, 1976) (statement of David R. Macdonald, Assistant Secretary of Treasury (Enforcement, Operations and Tariff Affairs)) (hereinafter cited as 1976 Senate Appropriations Hearings...

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