Second Circuit Dismisses Suit Over FBI’s Wiretapping of Marital Conversations in Securities Fraud Investigation
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) wiretapping played an important role in the wide-ranging insider trading investigation and subsequent trials of Galleon Group LLC principals and traders. During his criminal prosecution, former Galleon trader, Craig Drimal, unsuccessfully moved to suppress evidence obtained via an authorized wiretap of his cell phone because of a failure to minimize interception of calls with his wife. His wife, Arlene Villamia Drimal, is now pursuing civil claims against FBI agents for wiretapping her personal telephone conversations with her husband, but her claims have thus far been unsuccessful. On May, 15, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit dismissed Ms. Drimal’s complaint without prejudice to repleading, finding that her conclusory pleading failed to state a claim under Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, which requires the government to “minimize the interception of communications not otherwise subject to interception.” The Second Circuit also found fault with the lower court’s assessment of the agents’ qualified immunity defense.
In connection with a federal criminal investigation, the US District Court for the Southern District of New York authorized a wiretap of Mr. Drimal’s cell phone, but stressed that monitoring must “immediately terminate when it is determined that the conversation is unrelated [to criminal matters].” FBI agents also were instructed to “discontinue monitoring if you discover that you are intercepting a personal communication solely between husband and wife.” Despite these instructions, agents allegedly monitored approximately 180 private marital calls between the Drimals that were unrelated to the investigation. Although the district court denied Mr. Drimal’s suppression motion in his criminal matter, it identified 18 calls that were “potentially violative” and observed that the agents’ failure to minimize monitoring of private calls was “inexcusable and disturbing.” Ms. Drimal brought her separate civil lawsuit following the conclusion of her husband’s criminal case with his entry of a guilty plea and subsequent sentencing.
At the district court level, the FBI agents unsuccessfully moved to dismiss Ms. Drimal’s complaint for failure to state a claim and on qualified immunity grounds. The Second Circuit reversed that decision, holding that Ms. Drimal’s complaint was insufficient because it merely stated, in a conclusory fashion, that the interception of marital calls violated Title III, without reference to a duty to minimize. The Second Circuit noted that Title III does not prohibit outright the monitoring of privileged calls. With respect to the agents’ qualified immunity defense, the court of appeals held that the district court should have evaluated each agent’s minimization efforts under an “objective reasonableness” standard based on the particular circumstances, rather than as a group. The Second Circuit vacated the lower court decision and directed dismissal of the complaint with leave to replead, stating that amending the complaint would not be futile.
Drimal v. Makol, Nos. 13-2963 and 13-2965 (2d Cir. 2015)