ACLU Applauds Court For Allowing Case Challenging FBI’s Wrongful Prosecution of Chinese American Physics Professor To Move Forward

In Xi v. United States, the Third Circuit of Appeals ruled that the Xi family’s damages claims against the U.S. government could proceed

May 24, 2023 10:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

PHILADELPHIA —The American Civil Liberties Union applauded a decision by the Third Circuit United States Court of Appeals allowing Temple University Professor Xiaoxing Xi and his family to pursue their lawsuit against the U.S. government. Professor Xi’s lawsuit seeks accountability for the devastating harm the FBI and Justice Department caused by wrongly prosecuting him and falsely accusing him of spying for China.

The case will now return to the district court where the Xi family will ask the court to award damages against the U.S. government and to hold that the FBI violated the family’s constitutional rights against illegal searches and surveillance. As the complaint explains, the government used Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to spy on Professor Xi without a warrant — in direct violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.

“This is the first step in a long path to some semblance of justice for me, my family, and the broader community of Chinese scientists and scientists of Chinese descent who have been falsely accused of spying because of where we were born,” said Temple University professor Xiaoxing Xi.

In May 2015, armed FBI agents stormed into Professor Xi’s home outside Philadelphia and arrested him in front of his wife and daughters for supposedly sharing sensitive technology with scientists in China. The government cast Professor Xi, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen and a world-renowned expert on superconductor technologies, as a technological spy. It threatened him with 80 years in prison and $1 million in fines. But the government’s accusations were false and the charges against the professor were dropped four months later.

Although the charges were dropped, the costs to Professor Xi and his family were enormous. After the agents took Professor Xi into custody, he was subjected to DNA sampling, a mug shot, fingerprinting, interrogation, and a strip search. The family’s house and personal belongings were searched from top to bottom. Professor Xi was placed on administrative leave, suspended from his position as the interim chair of the Temple Physics Department, denied access to his lab, and had to pay substantial legal fees to defend himself.

“We are pleased that the Court has affirmed a basic principle of justice: that no government agent has the discretion to violate the Constitution. And we are heartened by the fact that Professor Xi can seek damages for the reckless misconduct that caused so much pain and suffering to him and his family,” said David Rudovsky, partner at Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin LLP.

After the Justice Department dismissed its baseless indictment, Professor Xi brought suit against the government in 2017, seeking accountability for the FBI’s wrongful arrest of him, its surveillance methods, and its discriminatory targeting of Chinese Americans. The district court dismissed nearly all of those claims, and Professor Xi appealed to the Third Circuit.

“Professor Xi and his family have been through hell these past eight years because of the FBI’s discriminatory profiling and unconstitutional surveillance,” said Patrick Toomey, deputy director of ACLU’s National Security Project. “We are thrilled that Professor Xi and his family will finally have their day in court.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, the civil rights law firm Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin LLP, and Jonathan Hafetz represent Professor Xi in this case.

Sign up to be the first to hear about how to take action.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release