Flying Imams -- US Airways Dismissed; Suit Continues Against Law Enforcement

The press has been remarkably silent these past three years on the subsequent events in the famous flying imams suit. You may remember that on November 20, 2006, six imams, fresh form a Muslim conference, were removed from a U.S. airways flight from Minneapolis to Phoenix after a passenger complained that the imams were acting suspiciously.

The imams were detained for six hours and flew home on another airline after U.S. Airways refused to carry them. There is a dispute about the activities deemed suspicious. The imams claims it was simply because they were praying. In fact, the activities included loud cursing about the United States' war against Saddam, requests for seat-belt extenders that appeared to a passenger to be unwarranted; seating that appeared to to the passenger to be strategic (i.e., which could facilitate a hijacking).

With help of CAIR (the unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation case), the imams sued the airline, the police, and the passengers. After an outraged Congress passed a bill granting passengers "qualified immunity," the imams dropped the passengers from the suit.

After three years, the various defendants filed motions for summary judgment to ask the court to dismiss the suit. On July 24, 2009, the United States District Judge issued her ruling ("Memorandum Opinion and Order") which is available here.

There are essentially two major rulings:

1. The court dismissed all claims against U.S. Airways.

2. The court refused to dismiss the claims for unlawful arrest under state and federal law against the various law enforcement officers (except state law claims against an FBI agent). The court said that the qualified immunity passed by Congress did not protect law enforcement officers.

Although the legal effect of the ruling is to send the case to trial against the law enforcement officers only, the judge in her analysis suggests that the facts as presented in the motions essentially mean the law enforcement officers will be liable for the unlawful arrest and detention of the imams.

Bottom line: No liability for removal from the aircraft; no liability for investigatory stop, but there is liability for arrest without probable cause and six hours detention. That is how I understand the decision.

This decision will put great pressure on the insurers of the law enforcement officers to settle the case if they can. What is six hours of detention and the embarrassment of being arrested worth? What is the added publicity worth to the imams? What would a Minneapolis jury be likely to award for six hours detention?

I suspect the imams will get more in settlement at this point than they would by going to trial. Look for a settlement, probably on confidential terms.


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