Federal Court Dismisses Claims in Chinese American Professor’s Lawsuit Challenging FBI’s Baseless Arrest and Prosecution

April 2, 2021 9:00 am

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PHILADELPHIA — A federal court in Pennsylvania yesterday dismissed claims brought by Professor Xiaoxing Xi and his family against the U.S. government and the FBI agent involved in wrongly investigating and prosecuting him. The government had accused Professor Xi of sharing sensitive technology with scientists in China, but it ultimately dismissed the prosecution after its case fell apart. The American Civil Liberties Union and the civil rights law firm Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin LLP represent Professor Xi, a Chinese American professor at Temple University, in the case.

The court dismissed nine of the 10 claims Professor Xi made in the lawsuit, including claims that the FBI made knowingly or recklessly false statements in support of its investigation and prosecution of him. The court also dismissed Professor Xi’s claim that his arrest violated equal protection and that he was subject to the same bias and discrimination that has led the FBI and the Justice Department to wrongly pursue and prosecute several other innocent Americans of Chinese descent. The court has not yet ruled on the final claim in the case, which challenges the government’s surveillance of Professor Xi and his family and will be addressed in a separate decision.

The following are comments from:

Ashley Gorski, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project:

“Professor Xi’s case involved egregious and wrongful discrimination, culminating in a baseless prosecution. His case is not an isolated one, and is in fact emblematic of the FBI’s targeting of Chinese American scientists across many years. We’re disappointed with the court’s decision.”

David Rudovsky, partner of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin LLP:

“The district court was wrong in dismissing the suit, even before the parties could engage in discovery, and we will take an appeal to the Court of Appeals. Professor Xi and his family are entitled to judicial relief for the clear violations of their basic constitutional rights. We believe that the courts have a fundamental duty to provide remedies for false prosecutions of innocent persons.”

In May 2015, armed FBI agents stormed into Professor Xi’s home and arrested him in front of his wife and daughters. The government accused him of emailing his colleagues in China with information about a device known as a “pocket heater.” These emails, according to the government, violated an agreement Professor Xi had signed with the company that invented the pocket heater, in which he had agreed not to share the technology.

But the government’s accusations were false. Professor Xi’s emails weren’t about the pocket heater; they were about a different kind of heater, based on Professor Xi’s own research that has been public for years. In September 2015, prosecutors were forced to drop the charges. Even so, the costs to Professor Xi and his family were significant. As a result of the charges, 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 the graduate students working under his supervision, and had to pay substantial legal fees to defend himself.

In the course of its prosecution, the government also revealed that it had spied on Professor Xi using orders issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — a law that is intended for spying on foreign agents. In addition, the U.S. government has reportedly engaged in extensive warrantless surveillance of Chinese universities and scientific research centers. As the complaint alleges, Professor Xi was subject to this surveillance, which is conducted without a warrant under Section 702 of FISA and Executive Order 12333 and then is used to investigate Americans, in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

In May 2017, Professor Xi filed a lawsuit against the lead FBI agent in the case, Andrew Haugen, and other agents, alleging that they knowingly or recklessly made false statements in support of the investigation and prosecution. Xi’s wife and oldest daughter later joined the suit as co-plaintiffs, and the ACLU joined as co-counsel in October 2017. The lawsuit asks the court to award damages and to declare that the defendants violated the plaintiffs’ Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. It also asks the court to order the government to return or delete any communications of Professor Xi or his family that it obtained through its unlawful searches.

The ruling is here: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/xi-v-haugen-memorandum-re-court-granting-defendants-motion-dismiss

More details about the case and all case documents are here: https://www.aclu.org/cases/xi-v-haugen-challenge-warrantless-surveillance

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