Updated:
January 15, 2015

The Fourth Amendment prohibits the arrest of criminal suspects without probable cause to believe they have committed a crime. Yet after 9/11, former Attorney General John Ashcroft and the U.S. Department of Justice implemented a policy of misusing the federal “material witness” statute to detain Muslim men for investigative purposes without probable cause to believe that they’d committed any crime. Pursuant to this policy, our client, Abdullah al-Kidd, a Kansas-born U.S. citizen and former football player at the University of Idaho, was arrested on a material witness warrant in 2003 and imprisoned without charges for 16 days, ostensibly because the government wanted his testimony in someone else’s criminal case. He was never called to testify and never criminally charged.

In 2005, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the United States, former Attorney General John Ashcroft, the two FBI agents who procured Mr. al-Kidd’s arrest warrant, and the wardens of the correctional facilities where Mr. al-Kidd was imprisoned, seeking damages for his unconstitutional detention and the inhumane conditions in which he was held.

As to former Attorney General Ashcroft, both the district court and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that our claims could proceed, but in 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Ashcroft could not be held liable under the Fourth Amendment for the pretextual use of the material witness statute, even assuming that our allegations are true.  However, four out of the eight Justices considering the case (Justice Kagan was recused) agreed that there were serious questions about “whether the Government’s use of the Material Witness Statute in [Mr. al-Kidd’s] case was lawful.”

On remand, in 2012, the district court issued two landmark rulings on Mr. al-Kidd’s claims against the remaining defendants, the FBI agents and the United States.  The district court ruled that the FBI agent who sought Mr. al-Kidd’s arrest violated the Fourth Amendment by recklessly misleading the court.  The district court also ruled that the United States was liable for false imprisonment, and that Mr. al-Kidd’s “abuse of process” claim—his claim that the government had misused the material witness statute “for a purpose other than to secure testimony”—deserves a trial.

The FBI agent initially appealed the district court’s decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but after argument, in early 2015, we reached a settlement with the defendants and resolved all the remaining claims.

Case Timeline

March 15, 2005
The ACLU files suit against former Attorney General John Ashcroft, the United States, individual FBI agents, and the wardens of the correctional facilities in which Mr. al-Kidd was held, seeking damages for Mr. al-Kidd’s unconstitutional detention and the inhumane conditions in which he was held.

September 2006
The U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho denies in major part the individual defendants’ motions to dismiss, holding that all but one of Mr. al-Kidd’s claims, including his claims against Ashcroft, may go forward.

March 2008
The action against the warden of the federal Oklahoma facility is settled for monetary relief.

August 2008
The action against the Virginia warden is settled for monetary relief and institutional reforms by the Alexandria jail.

August 2009
The action against the Idaho warden is settled for monetary relief and institutional reforms by the Ada County Jail.

September 2009
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit rules that Mr. al-Kidd’s claim that Ashcroft bears responsibility for his wrongful detention may go forward.

October 2009
Ashcroft files a petition asking all of the judges on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear his appeal.

March 2010
9th Circuit denies Ashcroft’s request for full court review.

October 2010
Supreme Court agrees to hear Ashcroft’s appeal of the case.

March 2011
Supreme Court hears arguments in al-Kidd v. Ashcroft.

May 2011
Supreme Court reverses the 9th Circuit’s decision, holding that Ashcroft cannot be held liable under the Fourth Amendment for Mr. al-Kidd’s pretextual detention.  However, four out of the eight Justices considering the case (Justice Kagan was recused) agreed that there were serious questions about “whether the Government’s use of the Material Witness Statute in [Mr. al-Kidd’s] case was lawful.”  The case was remanded to the district court for further proceedings as to the remaining defendants.

September 2012
After discovery, all parties moved for summary judgment.  The U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho granted summary judgment to Mr. al-Kidd on most of his claims.  In particular, the district court ruled that the FBI agent who sought Mr. al-Kidd’s arrest violated the Fourth Amendment by recklessly misleading the court.  The district court also ruled that the United States was liable for false imprisonment, and that Mr. al-Kidd’s abuse of process claim deserves a trial.

November 2012
The FBI agent who sought Mr. al-Kidd’s arrest filed an interlocutory appeal with the Ninth Circuit.

May 2014
The Ninth Circuit hears arguments in al-Kidd v. United States et al.

January 2015
The parties reach a settlement, resolving all the pending claims.

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