UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
JOHN DOE #6 et al., *
v. * Civil Action No. 00-2440 (EGS)
FEDERAL BUREAU OF *
INVESTIGATION et al., *
* * * * * * * * * * * *
PLAINTIFFS’ OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANTS’
MOTION TO DISMISS AND CROSS-MOTION FOR DISCOVERY
This lawsuit is brought on behalf of four unsuccessful applicants for federal law enforcement employment and strikes at the heart of the government’s pre-employment polygraph policies. The plaintiffs’ prospects for federal law enforcement careers have been irreparably harmed because of the defendants’ actions. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) and the United States Secret Service (“USSS”) utilize a so-called truth-testing device that infringes upon protected Constitutional, statutory and regulatory rights of innocent and honest applicants for federal employment. The policies underlying the federal governments’ pre-employment polygraph program, and the manner in which the defendants implement the tactics, are Orwellian in nature and impermissible.
For the purposes of this round of pleadings, the unreliability of the polygraph is not in dispute. The government itself concedes the machine is imperfect, and since the plaintiffs are responding to a Motion to Dismiss all allegations within their Complaint must be taken as true. At this early stage, the plaintiffs have more than sufficiently demonstrated that their claims under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 702 et seq. (“APA”), the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and their assertion of a constitutional right to privacy, all survive. Thus, this lawsuit must continue into the discovery phase.
It should be no surprise that the plaintiffs hold the opinions they do concerning the polygraph since they continue to suffer the negative effect of the government’s stigmatizing allegations against them. The controversy surrounding polygraph reliability is not a subject unknown to the courts of this land. From the Supreme Court’s decision upholding a blanket ban on the admissibility of polygraph evidence in military courts because “there is simply no consensus that polygraph evidence is reliable,” United States v. Scheffer, 523 U.S. 303, 309 (1998), to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decrying that the polygraph machine has developed the “misleading reputation as a ‘truth teller’,” United States v. Marshall, 526 F.2d 1349, 1360 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 426 U.S. 923 (1976), step by step courts have limited the use of this alleged scientific device.
This is a case about a specific group of victims of the polygraph who were and continue to be applicants for federal law enforcement employment. Surprisingly, in the wake of statutory prohibitions regarding the use of the polygraph as a screening device and continuing examples of its fallibility, federal agencies - such as the FBI and USSS - have increased their use of the device. The majority of applicants who are branded as liars by pre-employment polygraphs are invariably victimized by questions regarding drug usage. The events in question, i.e., incidents of marijuana being smoked, typically occurred years before the examination, often more than a decade earlier. Recalling the exact number of times is almost farcical, unless perhaps the applicant only used the substance once or twice on memorable occasions.
The fact that so many years have gone by significantly impacts upon the polygraph’s reliability. United States v. Demma, 523 F.2d 981, 987 (9th Cir. 1975)(en banc) (“probative value of the [polygraph] evidence diminished by the lapse of time between the occurrence of the events and the taking of the test”). Of course, there is little difficulty for an applicant to recall the fact that they never used illegal narcotics even once in their life; a confession many government polygraphers seem to have trouble accepting based on their own personal biases.
The governments’ polygraphers often have little sophisticated training and their professionalism ranges across the board. Some scream at applicants, pound their fists, ask inappropriate questions about sexual deviance, marital affairs and mental instability. Others may level accusations of lying, or even lie themselves in order to extract false confessions. Innocent victims of the polygraph are common, particularly because “[m]ultiple variables may influence the results of a polygraph test, including the motivation of the subject, his physical and mental condition, the competence, integrity, and attitude of the operator, the wording of the relevant questions, the appropriateness of the control questions, and the interpretation of the resulting graph.” United States v. Givens, 767 F.2d 574, 585 (9th Cir. 1985). The bottom line is that “the polygraph test in fact relies upon a highly subjective, inexact correlation of physiological factors having only a debatable relationship to dishonesty as such. The device detects lies at a rate only somewhat better than chance.” U.S. v. Piccinonna, 885 F.2d 1529, 1542 (11th Cir. 1989).
Thus, we are now at the next cross-roads of the battle against the polygraph.
“A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted is generally viewed with disfavor and rarely granted.” Doe v. United States Dept. of Justice, 753 F.2d 1092, 1102 (D.C.Cir. 1985), citing 2A Moore’s Federal Practice 12.08 (2d ed. 1948 & Supp. 1984). For the purposes of such a motion, the facts alleged in the complaint must be accepted as true, and all factual inferences, ambiguities or doubts concerning the sufficiency of a claim are to be drawn in the plaintiff's favor. See Scheuer v. Rhodes,
416 U.S. 232, 236 (1979)(emphasis added); Doe, 753 F.2d at 1102.
A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) should be granted only if it appears beyond doubt that "no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations." H.J., Inc. v. Northwestern Bell Tel. Co., 492 U.S. 229, 249-50 (1989). The issue on a motion to dismiss "is not whether . . . plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." Scheuer, 416 U.S. at 236.
As the plaintiffs’ Complaint provides sufficient information to entitle them to pursue their claims, the defendants’ Motion must be denied.
I. PLAINTIFFS’ ALLEGATIONS THAT THE DEFENDANTS’ PRE-EMPLOYMENT POLYGRAPH PROGRAM VIOLATES THEIR
FIFTH AMENDMENT CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS ARE SUFFICIENT
TO SURVIVE A MOTION TO DISMISS
The Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment forbids the federal government from depriving persons of “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” “`Liberty’ and ‘property’ are broad and majestic terms. They are among the ‘[g]reat [constitutional] concepts ... purposely left to gather meaning from experience....[T]hey relate to the whole domain of social and economic fact, and the statesmen who founded this Nation knew too well that only a stagnant society remains unchanged.” Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S.
564, 571 (1971). “The types of ‘liberty’ and ‘property’ protected by the Due Process Clause vary widely, and what may be required under that Clause in dealing with one set of interests which it protects may not be required in dealing with another set of interests.” Arnett et al. v. Kennedy et al., 416 U.S. 134, 155 (1974).
The Supreme Court has emphasized time and again that “[t]he touchstone of due process is protection of the individual against arbitrary action of government.” County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 118 S.Ct. 1708, 1716 (1998)(citation omitted). See also Collins v. Harker Heights, 503 U.S. 115, 126 (1992)(noting that the Due Process Clause was intended to prevent government officials “‘from abusing [their] power, or employing it as an instrument of oppression’”)(citation omitted). This is so “whether the fault lies in a denial of fundamental procedural fairness” or “in the exercise of power without any reasonable justification in the service of a legitimate governmental objective.” Lewis, 118 S.Ct. at 1716.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411 (1969) recognized that the public branding of an individual implicates either “liberty” or “property” interests, and that neither can be achieved by the government without following certain procedural safeguards to ensure the elimination of arbitrary or capricious actions. “Where a person’s good name, reputation, honor, or integrity is at stake because of what the government is doing to him, notice and an opportunity to be heard are essential.” Wisconsin v. Constantineau, 400 U.S. 433, 437 (1971).
A. Applicants For Federal Employment Possess Constitutional Protections
The language above stems from the evolution of two centuries of thinking by our nation’s highest court. Yet with this one case the defendants would have this Court rip the guts from the development of constitutional protections for individuals who have sought to do nothing more than devote their loyalties and service to the federal government. The defendants wish for this Court to isolate a category of individuals and rule that for some the constitution may as well not exist. Under the government’s theory, applicants are no more worthy of protection than, for example, slaves were prior to the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. They would have no Fifth Amendment protection from the government stripping their liberty interests by branding them drug users or liars. They would have no due process protection from the government disseminating these accusations to prospective employers, regardless of the accuracy or the consequences. They are, after all, merely applicants to which the government can and will do with as it sees fit. See Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss at 23-27 (filed January 26, 2001)(“Defs’ Memo.”). This is the position the government is espousing for the Court to adopt. Fortunately, the defendants’ thesis is fundamentally flawed as a matter of law and far afield from the public policies that now enrich this country.
The defendants wish to exclude applicants from constitutional protection on the basis that the various precedental decisions analyzing the existence of liberty interests do so primarily in the context of employment cases. See e.g., Roth, 408 U.S. 564; Codd v. Velger, 429 U.S.624 (1977); Doe, 753 F.2d 1092. It is true that the majority of liberty interest cases involve individuals already employed, but there is nothing within the Constitution or the case law that has arisen therefrom that creates the unnatural schism sought by the defendants. “In a Constitution for a free people, there can be no doubt that the meaning of ‘liberty’ must be broad indeed.” Bolling v. Sharpe, 347 U.S. 497, 499-500; Roth, 408 U.S. at 572.
The plaintiffs, even as applicants, are entitled to due process because they possess a similar liberty interest “in avoiding the damage to [their] reputation and business” from the rescinding of their conditional job offers in the wake of allegations that they lied. Reeve Aleutian Airways, Inc. v. United States et al., 982 F.2d 594, 598 (D.C.Cir. 1993). And while the defendants may be correct in stating that neither the Supreme Court or the D.C. Circuit has squarely addressed the “applicant versus employee” distinction, see Defs’ Memo at 23, it is completely disingenuous to argue that the “law is to the contrary” when the very question has been squarely addressed by several courts, including those cited by the defendants, and implicitly by courts in this Circuit. The law is clear that applicants possess the same liberty interests as employees.
It is well-settled that a liberty interest is involved when:
(1) the individual’s good name, reputation, honor or integrity are at stake by such charges as immorality, dishonesty, alcoholism, disloyalty, Communism or subversive acts or (2) the state imposes a stigma or other disability on the individual which forecloses other opportunities.
Perry v. FBI, 781 F.2d 1294, 1300 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 814 (1986). See Codd, 429 U.S.624; Bishop v. Wood, 426 U.S. 341 (1976); Roth, 408 U.S. at 573-74. The defendants have placed each of the plaintiffs’ good names, reputations, honors and integrity at stake when they accused them of lying about drug use, drug dealing, serious crimes, making false statements or other issues that arose during their application process. See e.g. Complaint at ¶¶74,76,82,83,91,92,94,103,105,115,116 (filed Oct. 11, 2000) (“Complaint”). The defendants have imposed a stigma upon each of the plaintiffs that will foreclose future employment opportunities by having placed derogatory information regarding the polygraph results in their personnel files. The defendants have made and will continue to make the results widely available to third parties, including prospective employers. Furthermore, the plaintiffs themselves are required to or will reveal the information as they proceed through the hiring process. See Declaration of John Doe#6 at ¶11 (dated February 23, 2001), attached as Exhibit “1” (“John Doe#6 Decl.”); Declaration of John Doe#7 at ¶8 (dated February 24, 2001), attached as Exhibit “2” (“John Doe#7 Decl.”); Declaration of Jane Doe#1 at ¶13 (dated February 26, 2001), attached as Exhibit “3” (“Jane Doe#1 Decl.”); Declaration of Jane Doe#2 at ¶5 (dated February 25, 2001), attached as Exhibit “4” (“Jane Doe#2 Decl.”).
“Such a deprivation of liberty has been recognized not only where the individual is employed by the state, but where he seeks employment with the state and is denied it.” Waltentas v. Lipper, 636 F.Supp. 331, 337 (S.D.N.Y. 1986), rev’d on other grounds,
862 F.2d 414, 421 (2d Cir. 1988). In so ruling, Waltentas relied upon Doe v. United States Civil Serv. Com’n, 483 F.Supp. 539 (S.D.N.Y. 1980), where the plaintiff had been denied a White House fellowship because the defendant had recorded and included false and derogatory statements about her in her file, thus making them a basis for the hiring decision, without affording her the opportunity to refute them. Id. at 566. The court found that “Doe’s claim is not beyond the ‘logical stopping place’ established by the Supreme Court decisions concerning the constitutional prohibition against government defamation.” Id. at 569. The defamation alleged by Doe “did not alter or extinguish a right or status previously recognized by state law,” id, citing Paul, 424 U.S. at 711, and the “government[’s] action has operated to bestow a badge of disloyalty or infamy, with an attendant foreclosure from other employment opportunity.” Cafeteria & Restaurant Workers v. McElroy, 367 U.S. 886, 898 (1961). See also Carmi v. Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District, 620 F.2d 672 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 892 (1980)(unsuccessful applicant for federal employment possesses liberty interest when government impairs applicant’s ability to get another job).
The factual distinction between an employee and an applicant is irrelevant for the purposes of determining a constitutional liberty interest based on the analysis of the Supreme Court’s guidance in Codd, Bishop and Roth. In each of these cases the plaintiffs did not have “legally cognizable property interest[s] in the government job at stake”, United States Civil Serv. Com’n, 483 F.Supp. at 569, but rather relied on the fact:
that the liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause prohibits the government from depriving an individual of government employment on the basis of false charges and then aggravating the injury, and further diminishing employment opportunities, by tarnishing the individual’s name and reputation.
Waltentas, 636 F.Supp. at 337, quoting United States Civil Serv. Com’n, 483 F.Supp. at 570. Of course, in order to prove impairment of a liberty interest by government defamation, plaintiffs must allege that the charges were false, see Codd, 429 U.S. at 627-28, and that they were made public by the offending governmental entity, thus harming the interest in “good name, reputation, honor, or integrity.” Bishop, 426 U.S. at 348 (citation omitted). Both requirements have been met by the plaintiffs, as detailed throughout their pleadings.
Moreover, this is not the first time an applicant has raised a Fifth Amendment liberty interest challenge before this Court or in this Circuit. In Gillett v. King, 931 F.Supp. 9 (D.D.C. 1996), the Honorable Stanley Harris implicitly, if not explicitly, recognized that an applicant for government employment possesses a constitutional liberty interest. There the plaintiff sought but was denied a specific position as a federal Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Id. at 12. In its ruling the Court relied on a substantially similar decision reached by the D.C. Circuit in White v. OPM, 787 F.2d 660 (D.C.Cir.), cert. denied,
479 U.S. 885 (1986), which held that the “government’s relationship with an applicant for a particular job does not implicate the due process clause’s protection of liberty interests.” 787 F.2d at 665 (emphasis added). “Because an ALJ position is simply one particular job and is not in itself a profession ... plaintiff cannot establish a liberty interest in becoming an ALJ.” Gillett, 931 F.Supp. at 13.
Thus, Judge Harris, based on the D.C. Circuit’s ruling in White, acknowledged that liberty interests do exist when a plaintiff has alleged the government has interfered with the ability to seek employment within a profession, which is exactly what the plaintiffs have alleged herein. See e.g., Complaint at ¶¶124,125, 132,133,139,145,152,162,177,190; John Doe#6 Decl. at ¶¶8-11; John Doe#7 Decl. at ¶8; Jane Doe#1 Decl. at ¶8-10,12-13; Jane Doe#2 Decl. at ¶5.
Applicants have also been found to possess constitutional protection to challenge mandatory drug tests, a concept similar to the notion of mandatory polygraph examinations. Sometimes successfully. Georgia Ass’n of Educators v. Harris,
749 F.Supp. 1110 (N.D.Ga. 1990). Sometimes not. Willner v. Thornburgh, 928 F.2d 1185 (D.C.Cir. 1991). Moreover, the D.C. Circuit has outright recognized the “right of a federal job applicant to seek injunctive relief from an agency’s violation of his constitutional rights in general.” Hubbard v. U.S. E.P.A. Admin., 809 F.2d 1, 11 (D.C.Cir. 1986)(citations omitted).
In fact, in the case most analogous to this one, where denied applicants to the Philadelphia Police Department challenged the use of polygraph testing, the district court found that their constitutional liberty interests had been violated. Anderson v City of Philadelphia, 668 F.Supp. 441, 443 (E.D.Pa. 1987). Although the Third Circuit reversed the decision, Anderson v. City of Philadelphia, 845 F.2d 1216 (3d Cir. 1988), it did so solely on the grounds that the plaintiffs failed - unlike the plaintiffs in this case - to allege that any of their polygraph test results were made public. Id. at 1222. Thus, they were simply unable to meet one of the necessary requirements to prove unconstitutional deprivation of a liberty interest. The Third Circuit, therefore, quite clearly recognized that applicants are entitled to and can pursue a liberty interest claim under the Fifth Amendment.
Finally, the defendants’ own authority contradicts their argument. See Dziewior v. City of Marengo, 715 F.Supp. 1416, 1423 (N.D.Ill 1989)(noting Seventh Circuit in Perry,
759 F.2d 1271, 1276-82 (7th Cir. 1985) recognized liberty interests have been extended to applicants for governmental employment). The remaining cases cited by the defendants set forth the standards for determining whether a liberty interest has been violated, not whether the right exists.
This Court should explicitly hold that applicants possess Fifth Amendment liberty interest protections.
B. The Plaintiffs’ Fifth Amendment Liberty Interests Were Violated By The Defendants’ Pre-Employment Polygraph Policies Based On The Defendants’ Defamation Of Their Character Coupled With The Withdrawal Of Their Employment Offers In A Manner That Continues To Stigmatize Them
In its most recent pronouncement, the D.C. Court of Appeals has held that deprivation of a protected liberty interest may be shown either through an adverse employment action in "conjunction" with official defamation ("defamation plus"), or through an adverse employment action in "combination" with an automatic or formal exclusion from some category of employment opportunities, or in combination with largely precluding one from pursuing a chosen career or profession ("stigma plus"). O'Donnell v. Barry, 148 F.3d 1126, 1143-44 (D.C.Cir. 1998), citing Kartseva v. Department of State, 37 F.3d 1524, 1527-29 (D.C.Cir.1994). Mere defamation alone will not implicate a liberty interest. Davis, 424 U.S. at 710. But “liberty interests arise if employees are terminated in a manner that ‘stigmatizes’ them by impugning their reputations or foreclosing their future employment opportunities,” Orange v. District of Columbia, 59 F.3d 1267, 1274 (D.C.Cir. 1995), citing Roth, 408 U.S. at 572-73, or, as explained above, when an applicant is denied employment. See e.g., Larry v. Lawler, 605 F.2d 954, 956 (7th Cir. 1978); Velger v. Cawley, 525 F.2d 334, 336 (2d Cir. 1975), rev’d on other grounds sub nom, Codd v. Velger, 429 U.S. 624 (1977); United States Civil Serv. Com’n, 483 F.Supp. at 570-71.
1. The Plaintiffs Suffered Loss Of Government Employment Due To The Defendants’ Defamatory Allegations That They Lied On Their Applications And/Or Failed Polygraph Examinations
The D.C. Circuit has “consistently interpreted Paul’s ‘stigma plus’ test to require two forms of government action before a plaintiff can ‘transform a [common law] defamation into a [constitutional] deprivation of liberty.’” Doe, 753 F.2d at 1108, quoting Mosrie v. Barry, 718 F.2d 1151, 1161-62 (D.C.Cir. 1983). First, the government must be the source of the defamation. Id. at 1161. In the plaintiffs’ cases, this is met as it is indisputable the defamation originated from each of the defendants. Second, there must be a tangible change of status vis-a-vis the government as a result of the stigma. Since the plaintiffs had their employment offers rescinded amid allegations of illegal conduct (i.e., drug use, drug dealing, lying), they are not only precluded from employment within the particular agency they applied to, but they have been foreclosed from all future employment within their intended profession of federal law enforcement (especially those which maintain polygraph requirements). See e.g., Complaint at ¶¶124,125,132, 133,139,145,152, 162,177,190; John Doe#6 Decl. at ¶¶8-11; John Doe#7 Decl. at ¶8; Jane Doe#1 Decl. at ¶8-10,12-13; Jane Doe#2 Decl. at ¶5. Several plaintiffs, in fact, have already lost out on subsequent federal employment because of the defendants’ polygraph examinations, or are in the process of applying, notwithstanding the existing stigma. None have yet been able to successfully overcome the stigma. Id. Thus, tangible changes of status clearly exist, and the plaintiffs’ allegations meet the standards set by this Circuit.
[T]he principal recent cases from this court in which a government-imposed stigma was found to have deprived the stigmatized person of a liberty interest involved either loss of employment or foreclosure of a right to be considered for government contracts in common with all other purposes.
Mosrie, 718 F.2d at 1161 (emphasis added).
To be sure, the Third Circuit’s decision in Anderson is the penultimate case for this Court to consider in its adjudication. The plaintiffs in Anderson asserted that they had been falsely branded as liars based on their failure to pass the defendants’ polygraph examinations. The Third Circuit reversed the district court’s decision because of one, and only one, reason: no publication. Id., 845 F.2d at 1222. The Court noted that:
[w]hile the polygraph results might conceivably be viewed as stigmatizing the plaintiffs or damaging their reputations, the plaintiffs have not alleged that any of their polygraph test results were made public. Rather the department’s assertion that the polygraph results are kept confidential and undisclosed stands unchallenged. Given that, we find untenable the plaintiffs’ claim that they have been deprived of a liberty interest.
Id. This alone permits the plaintiffs to defeat the government’s Motion to Dismiss their liberty interest claim. The plaintiffs have clearly asserted that the stigmatizing fact of their polygraph failures is publicly available. See e.g., Complaint at ¶¶123,124,131,132, 138,139,144,145,151,152,161. Without hesitation the defendants will, because of their ability to do so through the Privacy Act, disseminate the stigmatizing details of the plaintiffs’ failed polygraph examinations throughout law enforcement agencies within federal, state and local governments. More than that, the plaintiffs have specifically asserted that the existence of their polygraph failure has already been publicly disseminated to others. See John Doe#6 Decl. at ¶¶9,11; John Doe#7 Decl. at ¶8; Jane Doe#1 Decl. at ¶¶9,12.
It does not require Einsteinium intelligence or even a stretch of the imagination to recognize the stigmatizing nature of an applicant failing a polygraph examination, especially when failure is tantamount to an accusation of lying. Inaccurate polygraph evidence clearly creates an “overwhelming potential for prejudice”. Brown v. Darcy,
783 F.2d 1389, 1396 (9th Cir. 1986). It is worsened by the fact that the defendants permit little, if any, internal administrative remedies and do not notify the rejected applicants of any other remedies that may possibly exist.
2. Releasing Polygraph Results Conveys False Impressions
The defendants absurdly attempt to turn the equation on its head by arguing that no factual dispute exists because “it is not ‘false’ for an agency to disclose that [the plaintiffs] failed the agency’s polygraph examination.” See Defs’ Memo at 27-28. The government reveals its Chutzpah by actually asserting that “a disclosure that a person ‘failed’ the polygraph examination or was considered to be ‘deceptive’ on an issue is not the same as saying that the person is a liar, or drug dealer, or drug user.” Id. at 28. The government not only misstates what is at issue, but distorts reality.
First, this argument raises a factual question that defeats the governments’ own Motion. It is not appropriate to resolve this issue at this stage. The plaintiffs have clearly alleged that the polygraph results do convey false impressions, if not actual facts. See Complaint at passim; John Doe#6 Decl. at ¶9; John Doe#7 Decl. at ¶8; Jane Doe#1 Decl. at ¶¶7,9,12; Jane Doe#2 Decl. at ¶4. For the purpose of this Motion, the Court must accept these allegations as true. Thus, the conclusory contradictory assertions of the defendants have absolutely no weight.
Second, failing a polygraph, contrary to the governments’ assertion, is akin to “lying”. In fact, during the plaintiffs polygraph examinations, the polygraphers repeatedly noted - indeed screamed at times - that the respective plaintiff was “lying”. See e.g. Complaint at ¶¶74,76,82,83,91,92,94,103,105,115,116. The very meaning of the word “deceptive” is “lying”. The government should not be permitted to redefine common concepts or words simply to suit its own interests. The meaning of a polygraph result is either black or white. It cannot be, as the government intimates, an area of gray. If an applicant fails a polygraph test, i.e., deception is indicated, that person is viewed as a liar. Either they have told the truth or they have not. If they have not, they have lied. Indeed, the last time Congress legislatively addressed the use of polygraphs, it was noted that “[t]he polygraph must do two things: correctly identity liars and correctly identify those who are telling the truth.” Employee Polygraph Protection Act: Hearing on S.185 Before the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, 100th Cong., 1st Sess. (Appendix to statement of John F. Beary, III, M.D.)(1988).
Third, if one accepts the governments’ argument, then all or at least some of the plaintiffs should now be employed by the defendant agencies. The plaintiffs have pled that solely as a result of the failed polygraph examinations their conditional job offers were rescinded. See Complaint at ¶¶82,95,108,109,116,117. If the results were not as serious as the defendants would now have us believe, then there is no other explanation as to why full fledged background investigations were not conducted. Yet the facts reveal that once an applicant is shown to be “deceptive”, their employment opportunity is gone. Obviously, the defendants routinely accept their polygraphers’ “interpretation of results” at a level far more seriously than the governments’ attorneys would have us believe. See Defs’ Memo at 28.
3. The Disclosure Of False Polygraph Results Is Stigmatizing
The government asserts that the polygraph results are not stigmatizing because “the experiences of the plaintiffs themselves demonstrate that the failure of a polygraph does not ‘foreclose’ an applicant from further employment opportunities in the law enforcement profession.” See Defs’ Memo at 31. Beyond the fact that this statement is nothing more than conclusory and cannot serve to overcome the plaintiffs assertions in their First Amended Complaint, which of course are taken as true at this stage, the government is wrong.
First, again, these are all factual issues that are totally inappropriate to resolve in an initial Motion to Dismiss, especially before any discovery has taken place or a hearing before the district court. Therefore, the government’s conclusory factual beliefs are meaningless.
Second, the government casually argues the entire lawsuit should be dismissed because “[t]wo of the four plaintiffs concede that they are currently employed in law enforcement positions ... The remaining two work for law enforcement entities in technician positions.” See Defs’ Memo at 29 (citations omitted)(emphasis original). This argument is both legally and factually inaccurate. First, John Doe#6 does not work in a law enforcement position. See John Doe#6 Decl. at ¶7; Second, although John Doe#7 does technically work in a law enforcement position with the INS, his agency does not require polygraph examinations. Because of his failed USSS polygraph, his opportunities to be hired in a law enforcement position that does require a polygraph examination have been foreclosed. In fact, as far as we know at this early stage, all opportunities outside of his current employment are foreclosed. See John Doe#7 Decl. at ¶7. Third, Jane Doe#1’s position is not considered law enforcement since she is not a peace officer. She does not carry a weapon, nor does she possess arrest authority. See Jane Doe#1 Decl. at ¶11. Finally, Jane Doe#2 works for a county law enforcement agency. What is at issue here is attaining employment as a law enforcement official at a federal agency that requires passing a polygraph examination. See Jane Doe#2 Decl. at ¶2. The Complaint clearly details the stigmatization that has taken place to foreclose employment opportunities in the plaintiffs’ chosen profession of “federal law enforcement” (especially within those agencies that require passage of polygraph examinations. See e.g. Complaint at ¶¶124,125,132,133,139, 145,152,162, 177,190. The fact that some of the plaintiffs might presently be employed by the federal government in a non-law enforcement capacity or even by a county law enforcement agency is not relevant, particularly because it is the profession of federal law enforcement (and especially those which maintain polygraph requirements) that is at issue. The plaintiffs have alleged that the fact they failed polygraph examinations - which in and of itself is in dispute - has stigmatized them. Indeed, the existence of a prior failed polygraph examination administered by one federal agency was the sole reason why an applicant was denied employment with a different federal agency. See Declaration of John Doe “C” (dated October 2, 2000), attached as Exhibit “9”. Given that the second agency issued its decision in writing, this cannot be disputed. Id. at ¶¶6,8. This fact alone should serve to defeat the governments’ arguments concerning lack of stigmatization.
In any event, the allegations set forth by the plaintiffs are sufficient to defeat the government’s Motion to Dismiss at this early stage. Kartseva, 37 F.3d 1524 (D.C.Cir. 1994); See also Taylor v. Resolution Trust Corp., 56 F.3d 1497, 1506 (D.C.Cir. 1995) (government action infringes constitutionally protected liberty interests even when preclusion from future employment opportunities is broad); McKnight v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Trans. Auth., 583 F.2d 1229, 1236 (3d Cir. 1978)(holding that harm to future employment possibilities may show sufficient stigma to allow a claim for a violation of a liberty interest); Greene v. McElroy, 360 U.S. 474, 492 (1959)(revocation of security clearance possibly implicates Fifth Amendment liberty interest where action “has seriously affected, if not destroyed, [plaintiff’s] ability to obtain employment in [chosen] field”).
Finally, as already discussed, the fact that the plaintiffs “failed” an agency’s polygraph examination was the sole reason why their conditional job offers were rescinded. How such a fact could not be considered stigmatizing should mystify all reasonable persons. If it was not, then why would the application forms for federal law enforcement agencies inquire about past efforts to obtain employment and, specifically, whether that effort involved the taking of a polygraph examination? See Exhibits “6-7”. Obviously, this information is factored into the consideration an agency utilizes for hiring decisions. The government’s argument that failing a polygraph examinations is not stigmatizing is just plainly absurd, and should be rejected.
i. The Defendants’ Actions Have Effectively Precluded Plaintiffs From Following Their Trade, Profession Or Other Calling To Attain Employment In Federal Law Enforcement
“The concept of liberty protected by the due process clause has long included occupational liberty - ‘the liberty to follow a trade, profession, or other calling.’” Wroblewski v. City of Washburn, 965 F.2d 452, 455 (7th Cir. 1992)(citations omitted).
Protected liberty interests are implicated “‘where government action has operated to bestow [stigma] with an attendant foreclosure from other employment opportunity.’” Paul, 424 U.S. at 705 (citation omitted).
The D.C. Circuit endorsed a plaintiff’s right to demonstrate to the Court, obviously after discovery, to what extent the stigmatizing reasons for discharge have been conveyed to the public or other government agencies and harmed future employment opportunities. Doe, 753 F.2d at 1113. This public disclosure requirement is met because the defendants have placed negative information within the plaintiffs’ files which is “available, even on a limited basis, to prospective employers or government officials.” Id.
Finally, it should be noted that in advancing their defenses to a Fifth Amendment argument the government has intentionally omitted a challenge to the plaintiffs’ assertions that the defendants will disclose the polygraph results. Therefore, this argument must be deemed waived for future purposes. See Fed.R.Civ.Proc.R.12(g). In any event, the law is clear that the publication requirement is satisfied due to the fact that the defendants have placed the information within the plaintiffs’ files. See e.g. Kartseva,
37 F.3d at 1528 (availability of unfavorable information to future potential government employers constitutes status change of due process import); Brandt v. Board of Co-Op. Educational Services, 820 F.2d 41, 45 (2d Cir. 1987)(presence of charges in personnel file has damaging effect on future job opportunities); Hogue v. Clinton, 791 F.2d 1318, 1322 n.7 (8th Cir.)(1986)(personnel file replete with wrongdoing sufficient publication if file made available to prospective employers); Bailey v. Kirk, 777 F.2d 567, 580 n.18 (10th Cir. 1985)(presence of false and defamatory information in personnel file may constitute publication if not restricted to internal use); Burris v. Willis Indep. School Dist., Inc., 713 F.2d 1087, 1092 (5th Cir. 1983)(evidentiary hearing required where information contained in files clearly false and possibility exists that information will not be kept confidential); Old Dominion Dairy Products, 631 F.2d at 966 (liberty interest claim exists due to debarment when government agency made written finding and placed it in permanent file accessed by future government decision-makers); Lawler, 605 F.2d at 958 (government stigmatized plaintiff throughout federal government by making information available in files); Velger, 525 F.2d at 336 (charges entered in personnel file amounted to publication given that “New York City ... grants ready access to its confidential personnel files to all governmental police agencies”); Ervin, 33 F.Supp.2d at 10 (allegations that government officials made disparaging and defamatory statements that effectively barred plaintiff from future contracts with defendant sufficient to overcome motion to dismiss).
4. The Privacy Act Does Not Trump Constitutional Claims
As a last resort to escape liability under the Constitution, the government asserts that even if Constitutional protection exists, the plaintiffs must instead pursue remedies under the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a et seq. See Defs’ Memo at 31-34. The suggestion that the plaintiffs must make a “response to a challenge of [their] constitutional liberty interest in writing smacks of administrative tyranny.” Lawler, 605 F.2d at 962.
Indeed, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has cautioned against the very view expressed by the government. Constitutional claims should be brought openly, and not under the guise of the Privacy Act. “Virtually everything the government does involves paperwork. Each time the government violates the Constitution, statutes or regulations, its paperwork could therefore said to be ‘inaccurate’ or ‘incomplete.’ Not every such violation, however, gives rise to a Privacy Act claim. To hold otherwise would transform every constitutional and statutory claim based on administrative actions into a Privacy Act suit.” White, 787 F.2d at 664. Of course, it is well-settled the Privacy Act does not permit a challenge to opinion, see e.g., Reinbold v. Evers, 187 F.3d 348, 361 (4th Cir. 1999)("[T]he Privacy Act does not allow a court to alter records that accurately reflect an administrative decision, or the opinions behind that administrative decision."); Douglas v. Agricultural Stabilization & Conservation Serv., 33 F.3d 784, 785 (7th Cir. 1994) ("Privacy Act does not authorize relitigation of the substance of agency decisions"; "the right response . . . is to correct the disposition under the Administrative Procedure Act"), which is what the defendants’ argue the polygraph test results reflect. This alone defeats the government’s argument. See Defs’ Memo at 27 (“A polygraph examination result is a statement of opinion....”).
In support of its premise, the government relies principally on two cases: Mittleman v. United States, 997 F.Supp. 1 (D.D.C. 1998) and Perry, 781 F.2d 1294. Neither case supports the relief request by the government. The plaintiff in Mittleman attempted a last ditch effort in one of her several lawsuits to amend her complaint to include Fifth Amendment claims in litigation that dated back twelve years. Based on the specific facts in that case, the court understandably declined to permit the amendment. Id. at 10-11. The only relief she apparently sought was expungement of the records in question (of course, the plaintiffs herein seek more than just expungement) which, in fact, the defendant had already agreed to do under the Privacy Act. Id. at 9 fn.17. Therefore, her constitutional claim would not have provided any further relief than she already had attained, and would have succumbed to a motion to dismiss. Id. at 11.
As for Perry, which is of course not precedent in this Circuit, the decision elaborates upon the litany of specific steps undertaken to satisfy the plaintiff’s due process rights as well as crucial factual information that distinguishes the case. In Perry the government conducted a full background investigation to ascertain the facts, id. at 1298, the adverse information was neither published nor distributed, id. at 1299, the document in question in fact did not even accuse the plaintiff of wrongdoing, id., the plaintiff did not deny he did what he was said to have done, id. at 1301, and he “was given several opportunities at various times to dispute the allegedly false information.” Id. None of the facts are similar to what transpired in the instant matter. Indeed, they are diametrically opposed.
There is no language within either Mittleman or Perry that stands for the proposition that the Privacy Act can trump claims brought under the Constitution. Even to the extent one or both of these cases could somehow be interpreted in the manner intended by the defendants, it has been well-settled by the D.C. Circuit that, notwithstanding the availability of the Privacy Act, expungement of agency records is an available relief for an action brought directly under the Constitution. See Doe v. U.S. Air Force, 812 F.2d 738, 740-41 (D.C.Cir. 1987); Hobson v. Wilson, 737 F.2d 1, 65 (D.C.Cir. 1984); Chastain v. Kelley, 510 F.2d 1232, 1235 (D.C.Cir. 1975).
C. THE PLAINTIFFS ARE CONSTITUTIONALLY ENTITLED TO NAME-CLEARING HEARINGS AS A DUE PROCESS REMEDY
As each of the plaintiffs’ professional reputations were stigmatized by the respective defendants’ actions, it is well-settled that one remedy “mandated by the Due Process Clause of the [Fifth] Amendment is an ‘opportunity to refute the charge.’” Codd,
429 U.S. at 627, quoting Roth, 408 U.S. at 573. Therefore, the plaintiffs are entitled to “name-clearing” hearings. See Codd, 429 U.S. at 627; Roth, 408 U.S. at 573; Doe, 753 F.2d at 1102.
An individual’s right to the protection of his own good name “reflects no more than our basic concept of the essential dignity and worth of every human being -- a concept at the root of any decent system of ordered liberty.” Rosenblatt v. Baer, 383 U.S. 75, 92 (1966). “[L]iberty is not offended by dismissal from employment itself, but instead by dismissal based upon an unsupported charge which could wrongfully injure the reputation of an employee....[T]he purpose of the hearing in such a case is to provide the person ‘an opportunity to clear his name’....” Arnett, 416 U.S. at 157. The same principle applies to denial of employment.
The “right to be heard before being condemned to suffer grievous loss of any kind, even though it may not involve the stigma and hardships of a criminal conviction, is a principle basic to our society.” Joint Anti-Facist Refugee Committee v. McGrath,
341 U.S. 123, 168 (1951)(Frankfurter, J., concurring). The fundamental requirement of due process is the opportunity to be heard “at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner.” Armstrong v. Manzo, 380 U.S. 545, 552 (1965).
1. The Plaintiffs Sought Opportunities To Clear Their Good Names
But All Efforts Were Rejected Or Ignored By The Defendants
Each of the plaintiffs pressed the defendant in question for an opportunity to respond to any allegations of drug use, lying, violent crimes or any other accusations arising from the polygraph examination. See Complaint at passim. Oftentimes, they encouraged the respective agency to conduct a full fledged background investigation to truly determine whether the allegations were true or not. All attempts to attain what would essentially have been a name-clearing hearing failed.
These allegations are not unlike those
discussed in Doe which also contained averments that the plaintiff
sought, “but was systematically denied, an opportunity to address the charges
that resulted” in the termination of his employment. Id., 753 F.2d at
1103. The entire thrust of the plaintiffs’ allegations are that the defendants’
“allegations and the discharge have damaged [their] professional reputation[s]
and that [they] ha[ve]
never been given an opportunity to refute the charges in any orderly way.” Id. More than that, their Complaint specifically requests Codd hearings. See Complaint at 56.
Codd requires that the defendants provide each of the plaintiffs “an opportunity to refute, by cross-examination or independent evidence, the allegations which gave rise to the reputational injury.” Doe, 753 F.2d at 1114 fn. 27 (citations omitted).
The defendants have never done so, and this Court should ensure that they do.
2. This Court Has Other Remedies To Chose From In Resolving The Due Process Violations
A name clearing hearing is but just one available remedy for a due process violation. There are several others that can and should be awarded as a result of the defendants’ infringement of the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.
i. Reinstatement Of Plaintiffs’ Applications For Employment
The defendants offer a generalized argument against the availability of reinstatement as a remedy for a Constitutional violation. See Defs’ Memo at 34. That the plaintiffs may not possess Fifth Amendment property rights, which has not been alleged otherwise, does not affect this Court’s ability to order the defendants to reinstate the plaintiffs applications. In support of its argument, the government simply proffers a footnote citation. Doe, 753 F.2d at 1100 fn.9. However, since that time the D.C. Circuit has reaffirmed that “reinstatement clearly is among those equitable remedies available.” Hubbard, 809 F.2d at 11. “[R]einstatement may be had in a constitutional case involving employment ... ‘if the decision not to rehire him was made by reason of his exercise of constitutionally protected ... freedoms.’” Id. at 12, quoting Mount Healthy City Board of Education v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 283-84 (1977). This long-standing principle specifically entitles federal job applicants to reinstatement if they can demonstrate their application was rejected in violation of the Constitution. Hubbard, 809 F.2d at 12. See also Vitarelli v. Seaton, 359 U.S. 535 (1959)(reinstatement proper remedy for violation of agency regulations); Anderson, 668 F.Supp. at 443 (reinstatement ordered for consideration without polygraph results as sole determinative), rev’d on other grounds, 845 F.2d 1216.
ii. Expungement Of Records
As previously referenced, it is well settled that under the Constitution and the equitable powers of this Court, expungement of agency records is entirely permissible and appropriate as a proper remedy in an action brought directly under the Constitution. See e.g. Doe, 812 F.2d at 740-41; Smith v. Nixon, 807 F.2d 197, 204 (D.C.Cir 1986); Hobson, 737 F.2d at 65; Chastain, 510 F.2d at 1235; Doe v. FBI, 718 F.Supp. 90, 100 (D.D.C. 1989).
“Statutes requiring maintenance and regulating destruction of agency records do not prevent an order requiring expungement, but must ‘yield to statutory or constitutional rights elsewhere guaranteed.’” Doe, 812 F.2d at 741, citing Hobson, 737 F.2d at 64.
One possible recourse to prevent the polygraph results from continuing to harm the plaintiffs is to expunge all references to the existence the examinations ever took place, and all records associated with the application process so that the plaintiffs can have a fresh start elsewhere.
II. THE PLAINTIFFS HAVE ADEQUATELY SET FORTH CLAIMS UNDER THE ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEDURE ACT BASED ON VIOLATIONS OF AGENCY REGULATIONS AND POLICIES AND THE FIFTH AMENDMENT OF THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION
Under the APA’s waiver of the government’s sovereign immunity, “[a] person suffering legal wrong because of agency action ... is entitled to judicial review thereof.”
5 U.S.C. § 702. For claims permitted under the APA, jurisdiction is proper under the federal-question statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and the declaratory-judgment statute,
28 U.S.C. §2201 et seq,, both of which have been asserted by the plaintiffs to challenge the defendants’ decisions. Section 706 sets forth the scope of the Court’s review of agency decisions. A court may:
(2) hold unlawful and set aside agency action, findings, and conclusions found to be --
(A) arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law;
(B) contrary to constitutional right, power, privilege, or immunity;
(C) in excess of statutory jurisdiction, authority, or limitations, or short of statutory right;
(D) without observance of procedure required by law ...
(F) unwarranted by the facts to the extent that the facts are subject to trial de novo by the reviewing court.
Id. at 706.
“Courts, of course, have long required agencies to abide by internal, procedural regulations concerning the dismissal of employees even when those regulations provide more protection than the Constitution or relevant civil service laws.” Doe, 753 F.2d at 1098. The plaintiffs have submitted sworn declarations not only from themselves, but from several other victims of the polygraph device, detailing the unprofessional and unlawful behavior of the defendants’ polygraph examiners (particularly those within the Secret Service). See Declaration of John Doe “A” at ¶5 (dated September 29, 2000), attached as Exhibit “12”; Declaration of John Doe “D” at ¶¶3-7 (dated September 28, 2000), attached as Exhibit “13”.
As the district court observed in U.S. v. Galbreth, 908 F.Supp. 877 (D.N.M. 1995):
the validity of polygraph results in a particular case is absolutely dependent on certain conditions such as a properly conducted examination by a competent examiner. Where the examination is not properly conducted by a competent examiner, the validity of the entire testing procedure and hence the result of the procedure, is seriously called into question.
Id. at 881-82. Of course, the burden of proving nonreviewability is on the agencies involved. See Dunlop v. Bachowski, 421 U.S. 560 (1975); Abbott Laboratories v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136 (1967).
A. The Privacy Act Does Not Preclude The Plaintiffs’ APA Claims
It is well-settled that the Privacy Act “does not authorize relitigation of the substance of agency decisions.” Douglas, 33 F.3d at 785. See e.g., Pellerin v. Veterans Administration, 790 F.2d 1553, 1555 (11th Cir. 1986); White v. CSC, 589 F.2d 713, 715 (D.C.Cir. 1978); Castella v. Long, 701 F.Supp. 578, 584-85 (N.D.Tex.), aff’d 862 F.2d 872 (5th Cir. 1988). “If an agency errs, the right response is not to rewrite history, changing the record in Orwellian fashion to pretend that it reached some other conclusion. The right response to error is to correct the disposition under the Administrative Procedure Act.” Douglas, 33 F.3d at 785.
The Privacy Act, in fact, permits the defendants to freely disseminate the results of their polygraph examinations throughout the federal government thereby stigmatizing their ability to secure employment in their chosen professions. How then, as the defendants argue, could this be a statute that actually offers protection? Indeed, even accepting the plaintiffs’ assertion that the polygraph results themselves are inaccurate (the government argues the technical observation that it is accurate to say the plaintiffs failed the polygraph, but does not address whether the reason why they failed is false or reliable), the Privacy Act does not even prohibit the defendants from disseminating false information to other federal agencies! Section (e)(6) of the Privacy Act, which requires an agency to make reasonable efforts to ensure a records’ accuracy prior to dissemination, contains an exception for the federal government. See 5 U.S.C. § 552a(e)(6).
The defendants fail to cite even one case that is controlling over this Court or supportive of their argument. This is simply because the argument must fail.
B. The Civil Service Reform Act Does Not Preclude The Plaintiffs’ APA Claims Challenging The Polygraph Process
Under the framework established by the Civil Service Reform Act (“CSRA”), Pub.L.95-454, 92 Stat. 111 (codified as amended in scattered sections of 5 U.S.C.), the Office of Special Counsel (“OSC”) is charged with investigating “prohibited personnel practices.” 5 U.S.C. § 1206(a)(1). This includes “an appointment”. Id. at 2302(a)(2). Although the majority of cases interpreting the CSRA have involved employee-employer relationships, see e.g., Barnhart v. Devine, 771 F.2d 1515 (D.C.Cir. 1985); Veit v. Heckler, 746 F.2d 508 (9th Cir. 1984); Williams v. IRS, 745 F.2d 702 (D.C.Cir. 1984); Carducci v. Regan, 714 F.2d 171 (D.C.Cir. 1983), admittedly, however, the statute on its face appears to include applicants as well. 5 U.S.C. § 2302(a)(2). But cf. Klaskala v. U.S. Dep’t of Health and Human Services, 889 F.Supp. 480, 484 (S.D.Fla. 1995)(CSRA not applicable because applicant not employee). Because of the apparent applicability of the CSRA to applicants, the defendants argue that the plaintiffs’ APA claims are precluded. See Defs’ Memo at 5-9. This is not necessarily true.
First, though apparently litigated time and time again, it is certainly well-settled in this Circuit that the CSRA precludes any claims brought against federal officials under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). See Bush v. Lucas, 462 U.S. 367, 367 (1983)(refusing to create Bivens remedy for First Amendment violation arising from employment relationship for which Congress provided remedial scheme); Spagnola v. Mathis, 859 F.2d 223, 224 (D.C.Cir. 1988)(Bivens claim unavailable even if CSRA provides no remedy). Though tempting as it is, the plaintiffs herein have not yet named any specific individuals in an attempt to pursue Bivens remedies, if any exist. Therefore, any analysis interpreting the balance between the CSRA and the APA must take this significant distinction into consideration.
In any event, the CSRA does not preclude the plaintiffs’ claims because it (1) does not apply to applicants, as already mentioned, and (2) the defendants are estopped from arguing that administrative remedies have not been exhausted. Moreover, even should the defendants not be estopped, the plaintiffs’ claims can still proceed because exhaustion would be futile. Finally, the CSRA does not apply to the conduct of the defendants’ polygraphers as no “prohibited personnel action” took place within the scope of the statute.
1. The Defendants Are Estopped From Arguing The Plaintiffs Failed To Exhaust Administrative Remedies
Assuming that the CSRA does apply and the plaintiffs were required to file claims with the OSC, the defendants intentionally misled them by deliberately failing to inform them of available administrative remedies. In fact, the defendants specifically indicate in the letters rescinding the employment offers that no further avenues exist to pursue an appeal. Compare Exhibit “14” (examples of letters received by plaintiffs) with Exhibit “15” (letter received from U.S. Marshals Service by John Doe “C” indicating appeal could be taken to Merit System Protection Board). As a result, the defendants are estopped from claiming the CSRA precludes APA review.
Estoppel is “an equitable doctrine invoked to avoid injustice in particular cases.” Heckler v. Community Health Services, 467 U.S. 51, 59 (1984). Although whether estoppel is available against the government is an unresolved question, “federal cases have indicated that circumstances giving rise to estoppel can create a property interest where one would not otherwise exist.” Klaskala, 889 F.Supp. at 486, citing Reserve, Ltd. v. Town of Longboat Key, 17 F.3d 1374, 1380 (11th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1080 (1995).
Courts which have considered the revocation of federal employees have articulated the following estoppel test: (1) The party to be estopped must know the facts; (2) he must intend that his conduct shall be acted upon or must so act that the party asserting the estoppel has a right to believe it is so intended; (3) the latter must be ignorant of the true facts; (4) he must rely on the former’s conduct to his injury; and (5) he must establish affirmative misconduct on the part of the government.
Klaskala, 889 F.Supp. at 487 (citations omitted). In National Treasury Employees Union v. Reagan, 663 F.2d 239 (D.C.Cir. 1981), several federal appointees challenged the loss of their jobs due to the imposition of a hiring freeze. Although the Court held that estoppel was not present based on the general facts of a class action suit, it remanded the individual estoppel and Fifth Amendment claims back to the district court to allow a determination as to whether viable causes of action could be established. Id. at 249 fn. 17. The issue was left open for the plaintiffs to explore through discovery.
In applying the estoppel test to the plaintiffs’ circumstances, the requirements are sufficiently satisfied. First, the FBI and USSS - the parties to be estopped - knew the facts. Indeed, they were the only entities that possessed all the facts. Second, by writing the plaintiffs and telling them they had no further avenues of recourse available to pursue employment, the defendants intended for their conduct to cause the plaintiffs to rely on those statements. Third, the plaintiffs were all unaware of the possibility of OSC review, if it even does exist. And it certainly does not for those who applied to the FBI as the FBI is exempt. 5 U.S.C. § 2302(a)(2)(C)(ii). Fourth, the plaintiffs relied on the defendants’ statements to their detriment. They all lost out on their employment offers, and subsequent employment opportunities with other agencies. Finally, the plaintiffs have alleged affirmative misconduct on the part of the government throughout their Complaints. See Complaint at passim.
Although it may be true that these are difficult claims to raise, this should not dissuade this Court from following the lead of the D.C. Circuit and the Southern District of Florida and permit the claims to proceed through discovery before a final determination is made on this specific issue. See Klaskala, 889 F.Supp. at 489 (“the Court is not inclined to dismiss [plaintiff’s] Fifth Amendment or Estoppel claims at this early stage of the proceedings”).
2. The Plaintiffs Were Not Required To Exhaust Or Pursue Administrative Remedies Through The CSRA As Such Efforts Would Be Futile
“The general rule in this circuit is that the exhaustion requirement ‘may be waived in only the most exceptional circumstances.’” Communications Workers of America v. AT & T, 40 F.3d 426, 432 (D.C.Cir. 1994)(quotation omitted). “This court has recognized a discretionary exception to the exhaustion requirement where resort to administrative remedies ‘would be futile because of the certainty of an adverse decision.” Id., quoting, Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America v. Weinberger, 795 F.2d 90, 105 (D.C.Cir. 1986).
The government has accurately noted that the FBI is exempt from the CSRA.
5 U.S.C. 2302(a)(2)(C)(ii); Defs’ Memo at 6-7. Therefore, should the government’s CSRA argument prevail, there is absolutely no relief available through the OSC as an administrative remedy. Resort would be futile. Also, “an adverse decision can also be certain if an agency has articulated a very clear position on the issue which it has demonstrated it would be unwilling to reconsider.” Communications Workers of America, 40 F.3d at 432. The obviously entrenched positions of the USSS clearly demonstrates the futility of any administrative exercise to challenge its polygraph decisions. See Exhibit “14”.
3. The Plaintiffs’ Challenge To The Conduct Of The Defendants’ Polygraph Examiners Is Not Precluded By The CSRA As The Polygraphers Did Not Take Or Fail To Take A Personnel Action Involving The Plaintiffs
The plaintiffs have alleged that the defendants’ polygraphers were not competent or ethical, that their conduct fell outside accepted standards and that they were biased against certain categories of applicants. See e.g., Complaint at ¶¶121,128. These claims are not precluded by the CSRA, and can be addressed through the APA as they are not “prohibited personnel actions” as contemplated within the CSRA.
The defendants aptly identify that the only section of the CSRA that can possibly apply is 5 U.S.C. 2302(b)(11) which states:
(b) Any employee who has authority to take, direct others to take, recommend, or approve any personnel action, shall not, with respect to such authority -
(11) take or fail to take any other personnel action if the taking of or failure to take such action violates any law, rule, or regulation implementing, or directly concerning, the merit system principles contained in section 2301 of this title.
Even assuming that this section prohibits the plaintiffs from challenging the actual decision of the respective defendant not to hire them based on a violation of an agency regulation, this has no application to the conduct of individual polygraph examiners who have absolutely no authority whatsoever in the decision-making process of personnel actions. “Personnel action” is specifically defined as “an appointment”. Id. at
§ 2302(a)(2)(A)(i). That is, whether or not the applicant is hired or not. Section (b)(11) only applies to an employee who “has authority to take, direct others to take, recommend, or approve” an appointment.
Polygraph examiners, who are located throughout the country in the defendants’ field offices, do not fall within this category of employees. They do not possess the authority to take steps to hire an applicant. They do not possess authority to direct others to take steps to hire an applicant. They do not recommend an applicant should or should not be hired. Nor do they approve the hiring of an applicant. They administer a polygraph examination and report their findings. That is it. The employees who do possess the relevant authority are at the headquarters of the defendant agencies. The polygraph results are always reviewed by the decision-making employees in Washington, D.C., and it is they who decide whether the applicant deserves “an appointment”. In fact, the decision-makers could disregard the polygraph examiner’s findings whenever they want. In fact, this is what occurred in 1994 when the FBI disregarded the polygraph results when half of its recruitment class failed the examination. See Complaint at ¶45.
Even if the CSRA precludes the plaintiffs’ APA claims to challenge the decision not to hire them, the plaintiffs are nonetheless fully able to challenge the conduct of the defendants’ polygraphers to arrive at a conclusion that they showed “deception” on their polygraph examinations. This is analogous to the scenario that was addressed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Frederick v. Department of Justice, 73 F.3d 349 (Fed.Cir. 1996). In Frederick, an Immigration & Naturalization Service (“INS”) Patrol Agent in Charge successfully defeated his suspension because the filing of his unfavorable recommendation evaluation regarding a trainee was not considered a “personnel action” under the CSRA. Id. at 354. The evaluation recommended that the trainee not be retained by the INS, which is certainly a serious and significant personnel matter. Indeed, the trainee resigned from the INS. Id. at 351. However, the evaluation “did not effectuate any such action and had no binding effect on the agency.” Id. at 353.
In the instant matter, the polygrapher’s report does not even constitute a recommendation. There is no recommendation within a polygrapher’s report. See Exhibit “17” (FBI polygraph report of Jane Doe#2, which is reflective of all agencies). Instead, it merely offers the polygrapher’s opinion of the results of the examination as to whether deception has been found. It does not effectuate any action, and it certainly has no binding effect. The CSRA:
specifically distinguishes between those who recommend personnel actions and those who take or fail to take personnel actions. Id. at 2302(b)-(b)(8). In terms of being within the scope of the [CSRA], the act applies to those who have the authority to recommend a personnel action. Id. 2302(b). However, the [CSRA] under section 2302(b)(8) only attaches liability to those who take or fail to take a personnel action.
Frederick, 73 F.3d at 354 (emphasis original). As with Frederick, the polygraph examiners who administered the polygraphs examinations to the plaintiffs “did not take or fail to take a personnel action.” Id. Therefore, the conduct of the polygraphers is reviewable by this Court under the APA.
C. Plaintiffs Have Demonstrated That There Is A Threat Of Substantial And Immediate Irreparable Harm
The defendants concede that the plaintiffs can demonstrate an “irreparable injury” by alleging prospective violations of a constitutional right. See Defs’ Memo at 9. They challenge, however, whether the plaintiffs have alleged “facts that show a ‘substantial and immediate’ threat.” Id. However, the plaintiffs’ sworn declarations and Complaint offer more than enough evidence that the defendants’ actions have created actual “substantial and immediate” irreparable injuries. See Complaint at passim; John Doe#6 Decl. at passim; John Doe#7 Decl. at passim; Jane Doe#1 Decl. at passim; Jane Doe#2 Decl. at passim. The terms “substantial” or “immediate” are not defined by the cases relied upon by the defendants. Presumably, the terms are defined by their common usage.
As described throughout this pleading, the plaintiffs’ have already lost out on subsequent federal employment opportunities as a result of the defendants’ actions arising from the polygraph examination. How such a fact would not constitute “substantial”, i.e., the inability of an individual to pursue their chosen field of profession, is inexplicable. See supra at 19-21. Moreover, not only has harm already occurred, but the plaintiffs continue to apply for federal employment. Thus, the potential for prospective harm in this case will always be immediate. Every time one of the plaintiffs applies for a federal law enforcement position, he/she will face immediate harm as a result of the past polygraph results. To accept the defendants’ contorted standing argument would eliminate the plaintiffs’ ability to ever challenge the defendants’ actions, and is contrary to settled law. See supra at 16-19.
D. Rescinding Employment Offers Is Not Within Agency Discretion If Undertaken In Violation Of Agency Regulations Or Policies
In order to escape proper judicial review of their actions the defendants seek to entangle this Court into a confused description of exactly what aspect of the plaintiffs’ polygraph examinations and employment decisions is being challenged. The plaintiffs are not attempting and need not attempt to embroil this Court into the “discretionary determinations of who should or should not be hired by the FBI [or] the Secret Service.” See Defs’ Memo at 14. Nor is this an effort to attain review of individual suitability determinations within the discretion of the defendants. It is, however, the pursuit of claims calling into question the defendants’ failure to follow existing agency regulations and policies that have led to harmful results for the plaintiffs. This is exactly the type of challenge envisioned and permitted by the APA. 5 U.S.C. § 706.
The defendants rescinded the plaintiffs’ conditional job offers based solely on the results of their polygraph examinations. It is a simple equation. The plaintiffs were offered employment with the defendants. The plaintiffs passed all aspects of the application processes. The plaintiffs then allegedly failed their polygraph examinations. Then the defendants rescinded their offers of employment. Each plaintiff has so alleged this factual pattern, and for purposes of this Motion said allegations must be accepted as true.
Moreover, each defendant has explicitly indicated that it does not render suitability determinations based solely on polygraph results. See Exhibit “18” (FBI letter to another applicant); Exhibit “19” (noting Secret Service statement to Washington Post). Yet if the plaintiffs’ allegations are true - which, again, they are for purposes of this Motion - then the defendants have failed to follow their own regulations and policies, and this Court has the jurisdiction and authority to review the plaintiffs’ challenges. Beyond even the legal requirement that the plaintiffs’ statements must be true, the FBI’s own decision letters unequivocally reveal that it was the polygraph alone that caused those plaintiffs who applied to the FBI to have their employment offer rescinded. See e.g. Exhibit “14” (FBI letters to John Doe#6 and Jane Doe#2).
The defendants’ reliance on a series of cases, none of which are outright controlling on this Court, where FBI employees challenged their transfers does nothing to undercut the strength of the plaintiffs’ position. Transfer decisions are nonreviewable based on the discretionary authority clearly conveyed to the Attorney General, see 5 U.S.C. § 301, and the FBI regulations that explicitly indicate that transfers are exempt from challenge. See
28 C.F.R. § 0.137; Bramley v. Webster, et al., 476 F.Supp. 351, 352-53 (E.D.Pa. 1979). In transferring FBI personnel from one field office to another, the FBI lawfully followed its own regulations. In fact, there can be no dispute that FBI applicants explicitly acknowledge they agree to be subject to transfer, thereby completely waiving any legal right they have to challenge a later decision. However, rescinding employment offers based solely on polygraph test results, which is what is at issue herein, is explicitly inconsistent with the regulations and policies of the defendants.
Nor does the defendants’ reliance on Padula v. Webster, 822 F.2d 97 (D.C.Cir. 1987) add any strength to its argument. Indeed, Padula, which is binding precedent on this Court, does quite the opposite by providing further support to the plaintiffs’ position that APA review is appropriate and discovery is merited. Padula alleged that the FBI refused to employ her as a special agent because she is homosexual. Id. at 98. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the FBI’s argument that “the challenged hiring decision is sheltered from APA review” because it was action “committed to agency discretion by law.” Id. at 100. This bare conclusion, which is all the defendants refer to it their brief, could lead one to conclude that the plaintiffs’ polygraph challenges are also unreviewable. However, the analysis that led the Court of Appeals to this conclusion unmistakably reveals that the plaintiffs’ case permits this Court to review the defendants’ hiring decisions, particularly because agencies must adhere to their adopted binding policies and constitutional limitations. Id. at 100-01.
Additionally, a court can review what might otherwise be discretionary hiring decisions when there exists judicially manageable standards. Heckler v. Chaney, 470 U.S. 821 (1985). “Judicially manageable standards may be found in formal and informal policy statements and regulations as well as in statutes, but if a court examines all these possible sources and concludes that there is, in fact, ‘no law to apply,’ judicial review will be precluded.” Padula, 822 F.2d at 100, quoting Citizens to Preserve Overton Park, Inc. v. Volpe, 401 U.S. 402, 410 (1971)(citation omitted). This language in and of itself condones this Court’s review of the defendants’ hiring practices following a failure of a polygraph examination, particularly after permitting the parties to conduct discovery and place all “possible sources” before it for consideration. Because the defendants have adopted regulations and policies that have limited their discretion, this Court should avail itself of the opportunity to review the plaintiffs’ claims.
It is well settled that an agency, even one that enjoys broad discretion, must adhere to voluntarily adopted, binding policies that limit its discretion....In determining whether an agency’s statements constitute “binding norms,” we traditionally look to the present effect of the agency’s pronouncements. Statements that are merely prospective, imposing no rights or obligations on the respective parties, will not be treated as binding norms....We also examine whether the agency’s statements leave the agency free to exercise its discretion. Pronouncements that impose no significant restraints on the agency’s discretion are not regarded as binding norms. As a general rule, an agency pronouncement is transformed into a binding norm if so intended by the agency....and agency intent, in turn, is “ascertained by an examination of the statement’s language, the context, and any available extrinsic evidence.”
Padula, 822 F.2d at 100 (citations omitted). The district court allowed Padulla to first conduct discovery in order to identify all relevant policies, regulations, and statutes. The Court of Appeals reviewed relevant FBI statements - in the form of letters sent to various law schools - in order to determine whether the FBI had established a binding policy. Id. at 101. That the Court of Appeals determined the FBI had not established a binding policy that limited its discretion in Padulla, of course, is of no relevance to the issue now before this Court. Id. Even without discovery, the plaintiffs have sufficiently demonstrated that the defendants have, in fact, adopted binding policies that significantly limit their discretion in how they utilize polygraph results to affect hiring decisions. See e.g., Exhibits “18-19”.
The plaintiffs have amply demonstrated that the defendants are not entitled to dismissal of the APA claim at this stage, and that discovery is appropriately warranted.
E. It Would Be Premature For This Court To Render A Substantive Decision Regarding Whether The Defendants’ Preemployment Polygraph Program Is Arbitrary, Capricious, An Abuse Of Discretion Or Otherwise Unlawful Under The APA
In what likely amounts to its boldest statement, even if APA review were available to this Court, the defendants wish to make it clear after setting forth four pages of conclusory statements and legal opinions that their preemployment polygraph examination policies are in no way arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise unlawful. See Defs’ Memo at 15-18. This is somewhat like putting the cart before the horse. Adoption of the defendants’ argument would, of course, completely eviscerate the notion of American justice and hurl us back to the medieval days where the King could do no wrong simply because he said so. Obviously, this is not the present state of the American judicial system. Given that APA review is available, the plaintiffs are entitled to present their side following the completion of discovery.
Notwithstanding the applicability of the simplest notions of justice, the defendants again attempt to confuse the Court by dragging this case into the no-mans land of security clearance challenges. Id. at 16-17. Because the defendant agencies hold national security responsibilities, and the plaintiffs would ultimately be required to hold security clearances in order to serve in the positions for which they applied, the government believes this relieves the Court of its ability to rule against it. Id. at 17. This case, however, does not involve security clearances, much less challenges thereto. This case involves suitability determinations in the preemployment context, which are separate and distinct from security clearance determinations. Had the plaintiffs been denied security clearances, even as applicants, they would have been afforded far more due process than what they have thus far been accorded, which amounts to nothing. See Executive Order 12,968,
60 Fed.Reg. 40245 (August 7, 1995)(establishing appellate framework to challenge denial of security clearances).
Moreover, that other courts, whether federal or state, may have adjudicated similar challenges involving preemployment polygraphs in favor of the government is insufficient to justify this Court’s blanket rejection - particularly without the benefit of discovery - of the plaintiffs’ claims. This Court obviously possesses an unfettered ability to arrive at its own decision regarding the allegations expressed herein.
Finally, the defendants’ bold assertion that “an agency’s decision to rely on a polygraph examination in making a determination of an application for employment cannot be second-guessed by the courts” significantly misstates the breadth of the law. See Defs’ Memo at 18. There is absolutely no such prohibition, and the fact that the defendants made no attempt to thoughtfully expound upon their presumed legal basis for such a blanket pronouncement proves it.
III. THE PLAINTIFFS HAVE SUFFICIENTLY PLED THAT THE DEFENDANTS IMPERMISSIBLY INFRINGED UPON THEIR CONSTITUTIONALLY PROTECTED PRIVACY RIGHTS
The plaintiffs have sufficiently pled their challenges to the specific actions of the defendants, and in particular the USSS, to include within their polygraph examinations questions unrelated to the employment position at issue. These questions infringed the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to privacy.
The defendants accurately note that a single panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has expressed “grave doubts as to the existence of a constitutional right of privacy in the nondisclosure of personal information.” American Federation of Government Employees et al. v. Dep’t of Housing and Development et al., 118 F.3d 786, 791 (D.C.Cir. 1997)(“AFGE”). However, the panel declined to so conclude because it also recognized that the right has been implicitly, if not explicitly, recognized by courts throughout the United States, including the Supreme Court under the right circumstances. The Supreme Court in Whalen v. Roe, 429 U.S. 589, 599 (1977), referenced in dicta that a individual right to privacy exists “in avoiding disclosure of personal matters....” Similarly, in Nixon v. Administrator of General Services, 433 U.S. 425, 457 (1977), the Court stated that “[w]e may agree with appellant that, at least when Government intervention is at stake, public officials, including the President, are not wholly without constitutionally protected privacy in matters of personal life unrelated to any acts done by them in their public capacity.” See also California Bankers Ass’n v. Shultz, 416 U.S. 21, 85-86 (1974)(Douglas, J., dissenting)(“[W]hen ... the Government gets large access to one’s beliefs, ideas, politics, religion, cultural concerns, and the like - the Act should be ‘narrowly drawn’ ... to meet the precise evil.”).
In fact, the D.C. Circuit has suggested in dicta on numerous occasions that there exists a constitutional right to privacy in personal information. See e.g., United States v. Hubbard, 650 F.2d 293, 304-06 (D.C.Cir. 1980)(citing Whalen for proposition that there are constitutionally protected spheres of personal privacy); Doe v. Webster, 606 F.2d 1226, 1238 n.49 (D.C.Cir. 1979)(suggesting that right to privacy could be violated by government’s collection and dissemination of criminal information); Utz v. Cullinane, 520 F.2d 467, 482 n.41 (D.C.Cir. 1975)(“[I]t would appear that there is another constitutional right which might be impaired by the dissemination of preconviction or post-exoneration arrest data for other than law enforcement purposes - the right of privacy.”).
Furthermore, notwithstanding the panel discussion in AFGE, the Court also recognized that several sister circuits have concluded “there is a constitutional right to privacy in the nondisclosure of personal information.” Id. 118 F.3d at 792. See e.g., United States v. Westinghouse Electric Corp., 638 F.2d 570, 577-80 (3d Cir. 1980)(constitutional right in privacy of medical records); Plante v. Gonzalez, 575 F.2d 1119, 1132, 1134 (5th Cir. 1978), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 1129 (1979)(identifying a “right to confidentiality” and holding that balancing is necessary to weigh intrusions). See also Barry v. City of New York, 712 F.2d 1554, 1559 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 1017 (1983)(applying intermediate standard of review to uphold a financial disclosure requirement); Hawaii Psychiatric Soc’y Dist. Branch v. Ariyoshi, 481 F.Supp. 1028, 1043 (D.Hawaii 1979)(disclosure of psychiatric records implicates constitutional right of confidentiality); Mckenna v. Fargo, 451 F.Supp. 1355, 1381 (D.N.J. 1978)(constitutional right of privacy in psychological evaluations).
The defendants’ reliance on Willner is somewhat misplaced and misleading. Willner, of course, pertained to the issue of urine testing for applicants to the Department of Justice. Id. 928 F.2d at 1186. While the case addressed right to privacy issues, it did so primarily in the specific context of the Fourth Amendment’s protection from unlawful search and seizure, which of course is not at issue here. Id. at 1187. Much to do is made about the fact that the plaintiffs “knew in advance that they would be subject to extraordinarily intrusive background examinations and a polygraph examination.” See Defs’ Memo at 40. Notwithstanding the defendants’ conclusory allegation, there is no evidence of this in the record. But more importantly, while the plaintiffs would not argue they were not aware of the requirement to undertake a polygraph examination in general, that is not what is at issue. The plaintiffs were certainly not aware that specific personal questions regarding their sex lives, lawful sexual interests, ancient criminal or drug conduct, or medical or psychological histories that fell outside of the application requirements (i.e., information that was not required to be revealed in their applications) would ever be asked during the examination. This again is a question of fact that necessitates discovery before the government can defeat the plaintiffs’ well-pled claims.
A. The Defendants Have Violated The Plaintiffs’ Privacy Because Their Questions Were Not Reasonably Related To The Employment Position
The defendants actually intimate that it is entirely permissible for the government to inquire into the private lives of an applicant with respect to whether cheating on a girlfriend has occurred or even if an individual lawfully has read or watched pornography (much of which is now accepted by society). See Defs’ Memo at 38 n.10. This argument extends far beyond any permissible conduct by the government.
Of course, pre-employment polygraph examinations are directed at suspicionless conduct. At the time the defendants administer the examination to an applicant-hire, they typically would have no knowledge of any potential wrongdoing or inappropriate conduct, past or present, that would be of concern (otherwise the applicant would not have been conditionally hired). In arguing that questions regarding certain subjects would render the polygraph examination unconstitutional, as do the plaintiffs here, an analogy can be drawn to the D.C. Circuit’s conclusion that suspicionless urinalysis of Justice Department personnel violated the Fourth Amendment unless the individuals were engaged in drug prosecutions. Harmon v. Thornburgh, 878 F.2d 484, 496 (D.C.Cir. 1989), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 110 S.Ct. 865 (1990).
As one commentator noted:
the most serious threat posed by the use of the instrument is the invasion of the personal liberty of the worker subjected to interrogation.... It is the character of the interrogation itself - focusing on past acts and associations, ferreting out attitudes, opinions, and beliefs about sex, politics, and religion - which presents the critical threat to individual integrity by the invasion of personal privacy.
Herman, Privacy, The Prospective Employee and Employment Testing: The Need to Restrict Polygraph and Personality Testing, 47 WASH.L.REV. 73, 153-54 (1971).
In fact, this is not the first time that polygraph examinations have been the subject of a constitutional right to privacy challenge similar if not identical to the one here. In Long Beach City Employees Association, 41 Cal.3d 937, 944, 946, the California Supreme Court found that the standard polygraph test is “far more intrusive than a series of questions related directly to the employee’s job performance”, and that when used for pre-employment screening purposes, “‘fishing expeditions’ and shockingly intrusive questions have been reported.” The Supreme Court of Washington similarly held that certain standards regarding the use of polygraph examinations must be created. See O’Hartigan v. Department of Personnel, 118 Wn.2d 111, 821 P.2d 44 (1991). Although the use of the polygraph device for screening purposes in general was not deemed to have violated an applicant’s constitutional right to privacy, the Court warned that “[b]y authorizing the use of the polygraph in this specific setting, we are not authorizing a fishing expedition into the job applicant’s personal matters. Nor do we authorize indiscriminate and standardless questioning by the examiner.” Id. at 120. Thus, the Court required the State to “adopt guidelines” to be used for applicant screening. Id. at 121.
Perhaps of greater relevance is Thorne v. El Segundo, 726 F.2d 459 (9th Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 979 (1984), which addressed a police officer applicant’s argument that a polygraph examination invaded her personal privacy. During the examination, just as alleged herein, the examiner asked personal questions concerning Thorne’s sexual activity, former relationships, and a miscarriage she had suffered. She was subsequently disqualified from the list of applicants. In addressing her claims, the Ninth Circuit found that Thorne had a constitutionally protected right of privacy under Whalen that was implicated by the polygrapher’s questions. Thorne, 726 F.2d at 469. The government failed to show that the means it had used were narrowly tailored to meet a legitimate interest. There was no showing that “private, off-duty, personal activities of the type protected by the constitutional guarantees of privacy and free association have an impact” on job performance. Id. at 471. See also Los Angeles Police Protective League et al. v. City of Los Angeles et al., 42 Cal.Rptr.2d 23, 25 n.2 (Cal.App.2 Dist. 1995)(polygraph questions standardized and “candidates not asked about personal matters such as sexual preferences, for example, which are irrelevant to their jobs.”); Texas State Employees Union et al., 746 S.W.2d 203 (department’s polygraph policies violate privacy interests protected under state constitution).
The questions asked of the plaintiffs violated their constitutional right to privacy.
IV. THE PLAINTIFFS ARE ENTITLED TO DISCOVERY
As the plaintiffs have sufficiently demonstrated that the defendants’ Motion to Dismiss should be denied, this Court should permit them the opportunity to immediately commence discovery. Courts addressing the type of case set forth herein permit plaintiffs to commence discovery as a routine matter. See e.g., O’Donnell, 148 F.3d at 1139; Orange, 59 F.3d at 1275; Kartseva, 37 F.3d at 1530. Furthermore, because most of the evidence relating to the plaintiffs’ claims are “likely to be exclusively in the possession of the government, it would seem appropriate to accord [plaintiffs] the discovery necessary to this issue.” Britt v. Naval Investigative Service, 886 F.2d 544, 551 (3d Cir. 1989).
There have been several challenges, mostly within the state court systems, across the United States to challenge the use of polygraph examinations in a civil setting. The legal challenges overlap to some extent with those now before this Court. Some have been successful, others have not. Notwithstanding the end results, the one primary commonality is of the most relevance: discovery has invariably been routinely permitted to allow plaintiffs the opportunity to present their full case before final judicial adjudication has occurred. See e.g., Anderson, 668 F.Supp. 441 (district court held trial to determine whether preemployment polygraph program was constitutional); Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5 v. City of Philadelphia, 118 Pa.Cmwlth. 132, 546 A.2d 137 (1988)(testimony permitted in challenge to preemployment polygraph program).
Of course, the fact that this is a challenge against a preemployment polygraph policy is but merely the narrow description of the matter. In its most basic form this lawsuit involves a constitutional challenge under the Fifth Amendment and an attack upon the conduct of federal agencies. These types of cases routinely require discovery in order to allow a court to fairly and properly adjudicate the claims of the parties. See e.g. Bishop, 426 U.S. at 343 (discovery permitted for 5th Amendment liberty interest challenge); Nunez et al. v. City of Los Angeles et al., 147 F.3d 867, 870 (9th Cir. 1998)(discovery permitted in 5th Amendment attack on police department promotion practices); Padula, 822 F.2d at 99 (discovery permitted for constitutional claim involving FBI hiring practices); Mack v. United States et al., 814 F.2d 120, 124 (2d Cir. 1987)(discovery permitted for 5th Amendment challenge to FBI termination); Hogue, 791 F.2d at 1321 (bench trial on liberty interest claims); Bailey v. Kirk, 777 F.2d 567, 569 (discovery permitted on liberty interest claims); Dressler v. Jenne, 87 F.Supp.2d 1308, 1310 (S.D.Fla. 2000)(discovery permitted in constitutional challenges to police officer’s termination); Dziewior, 715 F.Supp. at 1420 (discovery permitted in constitutional claims involving polygraph challenges); See also Hogarth v. Thornburgh et al., 833 F.Supp. 1077, 1080 (S.D.N.Y. 1993)(discovery permitted in termination discrimination claim against FBI).
The plaintiffs have numerous expert witnesses available - including some who have held positions within the defendant federal agencies - who can and will provide testimony concerning, among other topics, the unreliability of the polygraph, the stigmatization caused by a false-positive reading and the unprofessional, and oftentimes incompetent, conduct displayed by the defendants’ polygraphers. Additionally, the government has in its possession relevant information that would be crucial to any judicial determination including, but not limited to, internal regulations and policies, polygraph studies and research.
The plaintiffs are legally entitled to present this information to the Court for its consideration prior to any final judgment being issued.
More than a quarter century ago, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals opined that it “cannot, absent the clearest statement of Congressional policy, impute to Congress an intent to authorize the FBI to damage the reputation of innocent individuals in contravention of settled common law principles.” Tarlton v. Saxbe, 507 F.2d 1116, 1122 (D.C.Cir. 1974). Since this ruling one can rest assured that Congress has never taken that affirmative step whether for the FBI or any other federal agency. Yet, the preemployment polygraph policies of the FBI and USSS inflict such damage and more by falsely tainting the plaintiffs as liars, thereby precluding them from gaining employment in their chosen professions within federal law enforcement. No reasonable person can arrive at any conclusion other than that a failed polygraph stigmatizes an individual’s opportunities to attain employment. As a result, the defendants have violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional, statutory and regulatory rights.
Based on the foregoing, the defendants’ Motion to Dismiss should be denied, and the plaintiffs’ Cross-Motion for Discovery should be granted.
Date: February 26, 2001
Mark S. Zaid, Esq.
Lobel, Novins & Lamont
D.C. Bar #440532
1275 K Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20005
CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE
I HEREBY CERTIFY that on this 26th day of February 2001, a copy of the foregoing Plaintiffs’ Opposition to Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss and Cross-Motion for Discovery was mailed first class, postage pre-paid, to:
Marina Utgoff Braswell
Assistant U.S. Attorney
U.S. Department of Justice
Judiciary Center, Room 10-413
555 Fourth Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20001
Mark S. Zaid, Esq.
This is a companion case to Croddy et al. v. FBI et al., C.A. No. 00-651 (D.D.C.)(EGS). A nearly identical Motion to Dismiss and Cross-Motion for Discovery are also pending before this Court in that matter.
Although Roth dealt with the Fourteenth Amendment, the Supreme Court has consistently applied the same standards to determine deprivation of liberty without due process under both the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. See Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 702 n.3 (1976).
In one of the more recent pronouncements on a Fifth Amendment liberty interest claim, two former Eastern-bloc defectors were found to have sufficiently pled a claim because the Central Intelligence Agency had “substantially hindered” their “abilities to engage in the ‘common occupations of life’....” Doe et al. v. Tenet et al., 99 F.Supp.2d 1284, 1292 (W.D.Wash. 2000). These defectors were neither applicants or employees, yet there seemed to be no question they could grasp the Fifth Amendment for due process protection.
The Court of Appeals noted that “[t]he situation might be different if the United States had excluded White from all government employment. Here, however, the United States has not ‘condem[ed] a man to a suspect class and the outer darkness, without the rudiments of a fair trial.” White, 787 F.2d at 664. The plaintiffs, unlike White, have been placed in that dark suspect class by the actions of the defendants. Additionally, in analyzing whether the Civil Service Reform Act precluded Bivens claims, the D.C. Circuit also noted that “we do not suggest that the CSRA precludes the exercise of federal jurisdiction over the constitutional claims of federal employees and job applicants altogether.” Spagnola v. Mathis, 859 F.2d 223, 229 (D.C.Cir. 1988)(emphasis added).
Furthermore, Judge Harris still examined the plaintiff’s allegations and noted, for example, that the plaintiff’s score on the ALJ examination “is not a matter of public record, which removes any hint or possibility of public stigma....” Gillet, 931 F.Supp. at 14. However, the defendants in this case have made the plaintiffs’ failed polygraph results publicly available to prospective employers through the routine uses in the Privacy Act. See 5 U.S.C. § 552a(b)(3). Additionally, the plaintiffs themselves must reveal the existence of the false and derogatory information when they pursue employment with law enforcement agencies.
The cases cited by the government against this principle deserve nothing more than short shrift. The plaintiff in Perry, 781 F.2d 1294, lost because of the specific facts in his case (i.e., he had not been labeled with a stigma foreclosing future employment opportunities, had not even denied the truth of the accusations, and had already been given sufficient due process), not because an applicant lacked constitutional protections. Id. at 1300-1303. Koch v. Stanard, 962 F.2d 605 (7th Cir. 1992), also fails to support the government’s contention. It did not address the applicability of liberty interest protection, but asserted the plaintiffs had not proven publication of the derogatory information. Id. at 607. The plaintiffs in the current action have done so. Finally, neither O’Donnell, 148 F.3d 1126, or Doe, 753 F.2d 1092, supports the defendants’ position. Both cases, which do not involve applicants, reiterate the standards to be applied in liberty interest cases. In fact, both cases support the argument that the defendants violated the plaintiffs’ due process liberty interests.
The D.C. Circuit noted the Codd decision constituted a “reaffirmation that the liberty clause creates an independent constitutional right of action ... that government employees defamed in the course of job termination can state a liberty interest claim under the Paul standard notwithstanding the absence of independent statutory job protection.” Doe,
753 F.2d at 1108 fn.15.
Beyond even the fact that the defendants would disseminate the false derogatory information to other federal agencies when requested, they also publicly disseminate the polygraph results at their own free will. See Declaration of John Doe “E” (dated
February 2, 2001) at ¶9, attached as Exhibit “5” (FBI provided Army with applicant’s polygraph results without being asked).
Furthermore, each time the plaintiffs apply for new positions in the law enforcement and intelligence communities, they will be required to or will disclose the unfavorable results of their polygraph examinations. See John Doe#6 Decl. at ¶11; John Doe#7 Decl. at ¶8; Jane Doe#1 Decl. at ¶13; Jane Doe#2 Decl. at ¶5; Complaint, at ¶¶139,145. In fact, there is no way around it. For example, the FBI’s current application specifically asks the following two questions: “9. List all federal agencies and any state or local law enforcement agencies to which you have applied for employment?” and “10. Has any organization listed in number 9 above investigated, interviewed, tested, or polygraphed you? If so, indicate the name of the agency and the date and type of pre-screening method.” See Exhibit “6” at 14. Additionally, the U.S. Customs Service’s application asks “14. Have you ever applied to work as a law enforcement officer for any other Federal law enforcement agency?” Other questions specifically focus on whether the applicant ever applied to work for the USSS, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms or the Drug Enforcement Agency. Finally, it asks “19. Were you ever denied employment by any Federal law enforcement agency?” See Exhibit “7” at 19. Clearly, law enforcement agencies of the federal government are interested to know how applicants fared in the past for positions at other agencies, especially if it involved the polygraph.
In fact, the D.C. Circuit has held that liberty interests have been infringed by far less damaging actions than taken by the defendants in the instant case. In Old Dominion Dairy Products, Inc. v. Secretary of Defense, 631 F.2d 953 (D.C.Cir. 1980), the Court held that liberty interests “were infringed when the government failed to renew a contract and branded the plaintiff as ‘nonresponsible’ due to a ‘lack of integrity’ without affording the contractor a meaningful opportunity to clear its name.” Id. at 963. The government’s mere questioning of a plaintiff’s business integrity was also sufficient to impart a stigma of dishonesty resulting in the reversal of a summary judgment dismissal of a liberty interest claim. Conset Corporation v. Community Services Administration, 655 F.2d 1291, 1295-96 & n.12 (D.C.Cir. 1981). See also M.K. et al. v. Tenet et al., Civil Action No.
99-0095 (D.D.C. Mar. 23, 2000)(RMU), at 20-21, attached as Exhibit “8” (allegations that CIA summarily discharged employee and forced another to retire thereby stigmatizing and impugning their reputations sufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss).
Webster’s Dictionary defines “deceptive”, “deception”, “deceit” and “deceitful” as being “dishonest”, “misleading”, “leading astray from the truth” and “lying”.
Throughout the defendants’ brief, the “arguments not only misstate [the plaintiffs’] allegations, but demand that [they] meet a pleading standard that is higher than required at the motion to dismiss stage of litigation.” Ervin & Associates, Inc. v. Dunlap,
33 F.Supp.2d 6 (D.D.C. 1997). In Ervin, which the defendants cite in support of their Motion, the plaintiff, in fact, prevailed against the government’s Motion to Dismiss his claims under the Fifth Amendment and the APA, as should the plaintiffs here. Id. at 4.
The defendants also imply that failing a polygraph may only “diminish a plaintiff’s employability....” See Defs’ Memo at 29. Accusing someone of lying on a federal application constitutes defamation per se as it alleges someone committed an act criminally punishable. See generally 50 Am. Jur. 2d LIBEL AND SLANDER § 136 (1999). In any event, the plaintiffs are not pursuing separate tort claims based on the defendants’ defamation. Instead, the defamation committed by the government was accompanied by a contemporary and future loss of government employment, thereby implicating Fifth Amendment liberty interests. Paul, 424 U.S. at 416-17. See also Doe, 753 F.2d at 1106-07 (“Paul explicitly recognized that the combination of government defamation plus the failure to rehire or the discharge of a government employee states a liberty interest claim even if the discharge itself deprives the employee of no property interest protected by the fifth or fourteenth amendments.”).
Furthermore, the plaintiffs have all alleged that they will be compelled to release the derogatory results of the polygraph examinations on their own to prospective federal employers. See supra n.8. Self-publication can also satisfy the publication requirement. See e.g., Thomas v. St. Luke’s Health Systems, Inc., 869 F.Supp. 1413, 1444 (N.D.Iowa 1994); McKinney v. County of Santa Clara, 110 Cal.App.3d 787, 797, 168 Cal.Rptr. 89 (1980); Grist v. Upjohn Co., 16 Mich.App. 452, 168 N.W.2d 389 (1969). The defendants have not argued otherwise.
Nor does the Civil Service Reform Act. Spagnola v. Mathis, 859 F.2d 223, 229-30 (D.C.Cir 1988). The government has conceded this point. See Defs’ Memo at 9-10.
That the defendants do not provide applicants with adequate due process protections, particularly with respect to polygraph results, is internally well-known throughout the defendants, especially the FBI. In Congressional testimony presented in 1997, a seasoned FBI Special Agent trained in polygraphy publicly accused the FBI of “routinely falsely accusing job applicants of drug usage or drug dealing.” See Opening Statement on Polygraph Screening of Supervisory Special Agent Dr. Drew C. Richardson, FBI Laboratory Division, before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts on the 29th day of September 1997, at http://antipolygraph.org/hearings/senat.../richardson-statement.shtm, attached as Exhibit “10”. Internal memorandums released by the FBI on January 30, 2001, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, reveal Special Agent Richardson continued to express concern regarding the “lack of due process and fairness to polygraph examinees as it relates to the use of polygraph results.” See Exhibit “11”.
“Where a person’s good name, reputation, honor or integrity is at stake because of what the government is doing to him, notice and an opportunity to be heard are essential.” Roth, 408 U.S. at 573 (citations omitted). Indeed, “[w]hen protected interests are implicated, the right to some kind of prior hearing is paramount.” Id. at 570-71.
“Due process, unlike some legal rules, is not a technical conception with a fixed content unrelated to time, place and circumstances.” Cafeteria & Restaurant Workers, 367 U.S. at 895. “Due Process is flexible and calls for such procedural protections as the particular situation demands.” Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 481 (1972).
Given the thrust of the Complaint, the plaintiffs would be entitled to Codd hearings even if they had failed to specifically request one. “Courts are traditionally encouraged to adjudicate the basic legal claim, even where the plaintiff has failed to seek the precisely correct relief but has instead relied on a general request for “other appropriate relief.” Doe, 753 F.2d at 1104. The fact the plaintiffs specifically identified a request for a Codd hearing only strengthens their claims, particularly in light of the fact that their pleadings must be read liberally under Rule 12(b)(6).
The “public disclosure” requirement necessitating a name-clearing hearing as established by Roth, 408 U.S. at 573, and elaborated upon in Codd, 429 U.S. at 627, is amplified by the fact that the defendants have placed documentation concerning the plaintiffs’ alleged unlawful acts and unsuitability in their Privacy Act system of records which are available to other federal and state agencies. See Bishop, 426 U.S. at 348. See also Paton v. La Prade, 524 F.2d 862, 868 (3d Cir. 1975)(expressing concern that other agencies may not understand even innocuous records and the mere existence of a file may at a later time become a detriment).
In fact, expungement may still be appropriate where the records in question are in “closed” files and will be destroyed in a period of years. Doe, 812 F.2d at 741. Of course, in the instant matter, the derogatory records are in “open” files available throughout the government and will likely remain so throughout the lifetimes of the plaintiffs.
With respect solely to Jane Doe#1, the defendants additionally assert that her claims against the USSS are barred by the statute of limitations. See Defs’ Memo at 19-20. Because she received notification from the USSS by letter dated April 6, 1994, and this action was not filed until October 11, 2000, the government claims she is barred by the six year statute. Id. Jane Doe#1 concedes she cannot challenge the USSS decision to withdraw her offer of employment in April 1994. However, her claim against the USSS for using her earlier polygraph results to deny her employment in December 1994 is within the six year statute of limitations. See Complaint at ¶109. This claim particularly allows her to explore the extent to which the USSS violated their own regulations by relying solely on polygraph results to arrive at an employment decision. Furthermore, she has alleged she has been denied employment with other agencies specifically and solely because of the USSS polygraph results. See Jane Doe#1 Decl. at ¶¶9,12 While her claims are admittedly more narrow than her co-plaintiffs, they nevertheless are still sufficient to compel her past the government’s Motion to Dismiss as well.
Given that the professionalism of the defendants’ polygraphers is most in doubt with the USSS, it is worth noting that the USSS tape records its polygraph sessions. The plaintiffs have been unable to obtain copies of these tapes or any documents from the USSS. These tape recordings of the polygraph sessions would reveal a great deal regarding the (mis)conduct of the USSS polygraphers.
For the same reasons the plaintiffs are using pseudonyms, the plaintiffs also wish to publicly protect the identities of the non-party declarants who are identified in this pleading as John Does “A”, “C”, “D” and “E”. However, the plaintiffs have revealed the declarants’ identities to the defendants, which have agreed not to publicly reveal them. Of course, the plaintiffs will also provide this information to the Court should it so desire, although at this stage the actual identities of the declarants would not seem to bear on any particular issue.
“[T]he Privacy Act does not permit a court to alter documents that accurately reflect an administrative action, no matter how contestable the conclusion may be.” Douglas,
33 F.3d at 785.
The Seventh Circuit also noted the limited utility of bringing a claim under section (e)(5) of the Privacy Act, which requires agencies to reasonably maintain accurate records, to challenge an inaccurate record now in the hands of another agency. “Section (e)(5), after all, requires only that an agency act reasonably in ensuring that the information it relies on in making employment decisions is accurate. It might be hard to argue, for example, that it is unreasonable for an agency to rely on a report from the nation’s leading crime-fighting agency, especially when the FBI itself is in the best position to validate the information.” Perry, 759 F.2d at 1276. Thus, the fact that the defendants have concluded the plaintiffs lied during their polygraph examinations will haunt them throughout the federal government as no receiving agency will question the accuracy of the sending agency’s determination. This assertion is beyond conjecture. The plaintiffs have provided evidence it occurs. See Declaration of John Doe “C”, attached as Exhibit “9”.
The defendants do make reference to Mittleman, 997 F.Supp. at 13 fn.30, where the Court made passing reference to the possibility that such an argument exists. However, it was never addressed by either the parties or the Court, and therefore offers little, if any, support.
The government has conceded the CSRA does not preclude the plaintiffs’ constitutional claims. See Defs’ Memo at 9-10.
Additionally, it is worth noting the absence of any CSRA claim or analysis in Kartseva, 37 F.3d 1524, which offers similar factual and legal issues to the instant matter. Although the plaintiff worked for a contractor, she was fired because of being declared ineligible by the State Department which conceivably constituted a “prohibited personnel action” that infringed upon her rights to “an appointment”.
The Supreme Court has ruled that an estoppel claim cannot be asserted against the federal government for the payment of money from the Public Treasury contrary to statutory appropriation, but it left for “another day whether an estoppel claim could ever succeed against the Government.” Office of Personnel Management v. Richmond,
496 U.S. 414, 423-25 (1990).
Additionally, another exception that exists is “where administrative remedies are inadequate.” Randolph-Sheppard, 795 F.2d at 107. Given that no administrative remedies exist, plaintiffs would assert this is synonymous with being “inadequate”. Thus, the defendants’ reliance on Steadman v. Governor, United States Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home, 918 F.2d 963, 967 (D.C.Cir. 1990), must also fail. The CSRA remedy, if one even exists, would not have been “fully effective”. See Defs’ Memo at 7.
With respect to the FBI, the decision not to hire John Doe#6 and Jane Doe#2 solely because of their failed polygraphs, which is a violation of FBI regulations and policies, is completely reviewable under the APA because the FBI is exempt from the CSRA.
5 U.S.C. § 2302(a)(2)(C)(ii). The defendants argue otherwise without explanation through a generic citation to United States v. Fausto, 484 U.S. 439, 447, reh’g denied, 485 U.S. 972 (1988). However, Fausto is inapplicable as its analysis applies to Chapter 75 of the CSRA, whereas the instant matters pertains only to Chapters 22 and 23, which are fundamentally different provisions.
This cannot be in dispute, at least not with respect to the USSS. In a discrimination case currently pending before the Merit Systems Protection Board, USSS Special Agent William Todd Hudson recently submitted a declaration under penalty of perjury where he repeatedly stated polygraph examiners are “not involved in the adjudication” of an applicant’s application. See Exhibit “16” at 2,4. Identifying information within this document has been redacted to protect the privacy of the applicant. However, the defendants have been made aware of the individual’s identity.
Though Frederick dealt with 2302(b)(8), the pertinent language is identical to that of 2302(b)(11).
The plaintiffs do not concede that “law enforcement agencies generally make their own independent evaluation of applicants.” See Defs’ Memo at 10. While the plaintiffs may not have explicitly addressed this in their Complaint (in any event, this is a question of fact), they have certainly alleged that failing a polygraph forecloses other employment opportunities. Additionally, evidence that a subsequent agency will rely solely on another agency’s earlier polygraph results has been introduced. See Declaration of John Doe “C”, at ¶¶6,8, attached as Exhibit “9”.
The USSS does not specifically identify the reasons for the withdrawal of the job offer in their letters to disqualified applicants.
Actually, the FBI is not completely sheltered from judicial review of its transfer decisions. Although the courts “should generally not undertake a full substantive review of the decision ... [they] should still ensure that the complainant’s procedural rights are satisfied.” Bullard v. Webster, 623 F.2d 1042, 1046 (5th Cir. 1980).
In order to rely upon what would appear to be a favorable court decision on its face, the defendants improperly attempt to convert the plaintiffs’ challenge into a security clearance issue. See Defs’ Memo at 14. This case has absolutely nothing to do with a security clearance. If it did, the plaintiffs would have actually been accorded sufficient due process to challenge the defendants’ determinations. See infra at 43.
The government’s assertion, see Defs’ Memo at 15-16, of the fact that the Employee Polygraph Protection Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2001 et seq. exempts the federal government from the broad prohibitions imposed on private employers may very well later factor into a future decision of this Court. However, at this early stage, the very existence of this statute cannot defeat the plaintiffs’ claims. For one thing, the statute has never been legally challenged, whether under the APA, the Constitution or any other available legal framework. Moreover, that the Congress may have permitted the federal government to use polygraph examinations does not imply that the defendants are permitted to abuse polygraph results, which is what the plaintiffs’ allege herein. With respect to the decisions of other courts, they too may play a role at a later date. Of course, the defendants conveniently neglect to alert this Court to those federal and state court decisions where a polygraph program was found to be unconstitutional. See e.g., Woodland v. City of Houston, 918 F.Supp. 1047 (S.D.Tex. 1996)(city’s preemployment polygraph program deemed unconstitutional); Texas State Employees Union et al. v. Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, 746 S.W.2d 203 (Sup.Ct.Tex. 1988)(state employees successfully challenged validity of mandatory polygraph policy); Long Beach City Employees Association v. City of Long Beach, 41 Cal.3d 937, 719 P.2d 660, 227 Cal.Rptr. 90 (Sup.Ct.Calif. 1986)(public employees successfully challenged city’s involuntary polygraph program); Oberg v. City of Billings, 674 P.2d 494 (Mont. 1983)(preemployment polygraph policy struck down as unconstitutional).
The defendants cite two cases, Stehney v. Perry, 101 F.3d 925 (3d Cir. 1996) and Anderson v. City of Philadelphia, 845 F.2d 1216 (3d Cir. 1988), neither of which stand for the asserted principle. Stehney involved a security clearance revocation, not a suitability determination for employment. In any event, courts are permitted to address potential constitutional violations even in the security clearance context. Webster v. Doe, 486 U.S. 592 (1988). Anderson, which is the closest analogous case, arrived at its decision solely based on the plaintiffs’ failure to allege publication of the polygraph results. Id. at1222. The plaintiffs herein have all alleged and sufficiently demonstrated that publication has occurred.
It should also be noted that although the AFGE panel was skeptical of the existence of a constitutional right of privacy, it did address the specific circumstances at issue with the assumption the right does exist. Id. 118 F.3d at 793. The panel then held that “the individual interest in protecting the privacy of the information sought by the government is significantly less important where the information is collected by the government but not disseminated publicly.” Id. This conclusion is, of course, in direct contradiction to the facts at issue herein. The plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that not only have the
defendants already disseminated the protected information (as well as the guarantee that future dissemination will occur), but that they too will be compelled to do so when they apply for future federal employment. See supra at 14. Whether or not the defendants have specifically disclosed information that deserves privacy protection is a question of fact to be addressed later. Indeed, evidence exists that the defendants are not beyond disseminating specific allegations/conclusions that arise from applicant polygraph examinations at their own discretion. See Declaration of John Doe “E”, attached as Exhibit “5”. Additionally, the failure of the Privacy Act to afford adequate protections to the plaintiffs has also been previously addressed. See supra at 21-23.
As an aside, at least urinalysis testing involves recognized and generally accepted scientific tests of which the process can be reasonably challenged. On the other hand, the reliability and accuracy of the polygraph remains hotly contested and, as asserted herein, administratively unchallengable.
Willner understandably held that privacy expectations may be diminished because of advance notice of what would be required. Id. 928 F.2d at 1189. However, the Court still noted that “the government cannot defeat a person’s ‘reasonable’ expectation of privacy merely by giving notice of the impending intrusion.” Id. at 1189-80. See also Kelley v. Johnson, 425 U.S. 238, 245 (1976)(potential employee may not be required to forego constitutional rights simply to gain benefits of government employment).
In fact, it is the plaintiffs’ position that many of these questions fall outside the acceptable standards of the polygraph industry and even the defendants own internal procedures, which is another factor that merits exploration by this Court in evaluating the strength of the plaintiffs’ legal claims. But that time is not now when simply dealing with the defendants’ Motion to Dismiss.
Even the assertion that asking such questions as whether an applicant had sex with an animal on the basis it allegedly relates to an illegal act is far too broad to survive a
constitutional challenge. For one thing, it is not at all clear that every jurisdiction from whence an applicant applies from or would work actually criminalizes this type of conduct. A cursory review of a variety of statutes from several jurisdictions, including those governing the plaintiffs and the defendants themselves, reveals no such criminal statute. Nor can the USSS deny this question is asked. USSS Special Agent William Todd Hudson admits in his declaration that the question is asked. See Exhibit “16” at 2. Moreover, in some states, such as the Commonwealth of Virginia, it is a felony for married couples to consensually engage in oral sex. See http://leg1.state.va.us/000/1st/ LH403528.HTM (reproducing Virginia’s criminal code section 18.2-361 criminalizing “crimes against nature”). The same act in the District of Columbia is not criminalized. The defendants’ arguments, primarily emanating from the USSS, see Defs’ Memo at 38 n.10, would suggest applicants from different states should and could be asked different questions regarding their sexual activities because it might have been illegal conduct in that jurisdiction. This is absurd.
Of course, the extent to which the USSS truly asked the alleged improper questions can be confirmed by the tape recordings of the polygraph sessions, which so far the USSS has refused to release to, notwithstanding its lawful obligation under the Privacy Act. See
5 U.S.C. § 552(a).
Of course there are many cases involving criminal proceedings where the defendant was permitted to substantively challenge the reliability and stigmatizing nature of the polygraph and its resulting determinations. See e.g. U.S. v. Sherlin, 67 F.3d 1208 (6th Cir. 1995); U.S. v. Posado, 57 F.3d 428 (5th Cir. 1995); U.S. v. Piccinonna, 885 F.2d 1529 (11th Cir. 1989); Galbreth, 908 F.Supp. 877.
One recent Court was persuaded to allow a similar Fifth Amendment claim to proceed past the government’s Motion to Dismiss in part because the federal agency had refused to disclose any relevant regulations that might govern the situation. The Court understandably wished for “full briefing and consideration of these issues” before any ruling would be issued. Doe, 99 F.Supp.2d at 1291 & fn.7.
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