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Solomon v. Spalitta

July 26, 2006

SAM SOLOMON, TALAL SOLIEMAN, AND ABDULLAH SOLIEMAN PLAINTIFFS,
v.
STEVE SPALITTA, DAVID GAUTREAU, AND OFFICER A OF THE LOUISIANA STATE ALCOHOL AND TOBACCO CONTROL, INDIVIDUALLY; KEITH LANDINE, INDIVIDUALLY, FRANKLIN SUPPLY, INC., A LOUISIANA CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Virginia M. Kendall

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Sam Solomon, Talal Solieman, and Abdullah Solieman ("Plaintiffs") are two brothers and their father, respectively, from an Arab family in the business of selling retail tobacco products. Plaintiffs bring this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985(3) based on Defendants' alleged conspiracy to violate their rights against unreasonable search and seizure, their substantive due process rights, and their equal protection rights guaranteed under the United States Constitution. Plaintiffs assert these causes of action against Steve Spalitta, David Gautreau, and Officer A of the Louisiana State Alcohol and Tobacco Control, as well as the Louisiana Corporation Franklin Supply, Inc. and its owner, Keith Landine (collectively, "Defendants").

Defendants Spalitta and Gautreau have moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint on various grounds under Rules 12(b)(1), (b)(5) and (b)(6), or alternatively to transfer the case to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana. Defendants Landine and Franklin Supply, Inc. have moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue, or alternatively to transfer the case. Because this Court is not a permissible venue for this action, the case is transferred to the Middle District of Louisiana -- an appropriate venue for the action -- pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a).

Plaintiffs' Allegations

In early February 2004, Plaintiff Talal Solieman entered into a sales agreement with Defendant Keith Landine, owner of Franklin Supply, Inc., to purchase 3,680 cartons of cigarettes. See Plaintiffs' Complaint ("Compl."), ¶ 7. These cigarettes were purchased to replace a large quantity of cigarettes that were stolen from Discount Cigarettes, a Baton Rouge, Louisiana store owned by Plaintiff Sam Solomon. See Compl., ¶¶ 4, 7. On the morning of February 17, 2004, the cartons of cigarettes were delivered to Discount Cigarettes. See Compl., ¶ 9. A man who presented himself as Sam Solomon, but was identified later by the Franklin Supply delivery person to be his brother, Talal Solieman, accepted delivery. See Compl., Ex. A, 26.

The parties dispute the agreed upon payment arrangement. Plaintiffs claim that they were obligated to pay Landine within ten days of delivery, while Landine claims that payment was to be made at the time of delivery. See Compl., ¶ 8 and Ex. A, 21. Landine claims that a salesperson for Franklin Supply, J.D. Theriot, was scheduled to accept payment from Plaintiffs at the time of delivery, but he was delayed because of traffic. See Compl., Ex. A, 3. Plaintiffs contend that Landine decided, contrary to their agreement, that he wanted immediate payment and had Theriot visit Plaintiffs' store to demand such payment on the evening of February 17, 2004. See Compl., ¶ 10. In either event, Theriot did not meet with Plaintiffs, and no payment was made. Plaintiffs then moved the cigarettes to a storage facility that had been rented by Salah Abushawish, brother-in-law of Sam and Talal, for fear that the cigarettes may be stolen if left at Discount Cigarettes. See Compl., ¶ 12.

Having not received payment for the delivered cigarettes, Landine filed a criminal complaint in the local sheriff's office in Louisiana against Sam Solomon, owner of Discount Cigarettes. See Compl., ¶ 13. After an investigation, a detective from the local Sheriff's department found no probable cause to support criminal charges. See Compl., ¶ 14. Thereafter, however, Landine brought the case to the Baton Rouge office of the State of Louisiana, Department of Revenue and Taxation's Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control ("OATC"). See Compl., ¶ 15. Landine then conspired with Defendants Steve Spalitta and David Gautreau, both OATC agents, to claim that the cigarettes had been stolen by Plaintiffs and that the proceeds from sale of the stolen cigarettes were used to fund terrorism. See Compl., ¶16. Through the OATC investigation, cigarettes located at Market Plus, a store in Pride, Louisiana owned by Plaintiff Abdullah Solieman, were seized due to Abdullah's inability to produce invoices for the cigarettes, and his admission that the cigarettes came from Sam's store (Discount Cigarettes). See Compl., Ex. A, 22. During the search of Market Plus, OATC agents including Defendants Spalitta and Gautreau drove customers away and did not allow employees to enter or leave the store. See Compl., ¶ 20. Agents Spalitta and Gautreau then forced Abdullah to bring them to his house, where they entered without a search warrant. See Compl., ¶ 23. In addition, Defendants Spalitta and Gautreau obtained an arrest warrant for Plaintiff Sam Solomon, and arrested him on February 20, 2004. See Compl., ¶ 17.

In attempting to contact Plaintiff Talal Solieman, Defendant Gautreau called Solieman's cell phone. See Compl., Ex. A, 22. Gihan Moursy, Talal Solieman's girlfriend, answered the phone and informed Gautreau that she and Solieman were en route to Chicago. Id. Moursy also informed Agent Gautreau that the cigarettes in question were located in a Baton Rouge storage facility, and provided directions to said facility. See Plf.'s Comp, Ex. A, 23. Moursy provided this information under threat that her green card would be taken away if she did not cooperate. See Compl., ¶ 24. Based on this information, OATC visited the storage facility and confirmed via conversations with Ivy Elliot, the owner of the facility, that Sam's and Talal's brother-in-law rented the storage unit in question. See Compl., Ex. A, 23. OATC then obtained a search warrant for the storage unit and seized the cigarettes contained within. See Compl., ¶ 25. On the same day, Sam Solomon's father, Abdullah, bailed him out of jail. See Compl., ¶ 26.

Two days later, Plaintiff Abdullah Solieman called Defendant Gautreau and indicated that he would return the cigarettes in question. See Compl., ¶ 27. Although they already had seized said cigarettes from the storage unit, Defendants accepted Solieman's offer in order to ensure that Plaintiff intended to return the correct cigarettes. See Compl., Ex. A, 24. When Plaintiffs Abdullah Solieman and Sam Solomon arrived at the storage facility, agents confronted them and brought them to headquarters for questioning. Id. During the questioning, Plaintiffs were accused of being "'Arab terrorist [sic] who were using the money from stolen cigarette [sic] to fund terrorists in Afghanistan and Osama Bin Laden,' or words to that effect." Compl., ¶ 28. They also were treated roughly and the agents made disparaging remarks about Arabs. See Compl., ¶¶ 29, 30. Based on the information gathered to this point, Sam Solomon was arrested. See Compl., Ex. A, 25. According to an Agent Kelly who was present at the correctional facility at the time of the arrest, Sam Solomon "stated he was 'Glad' that 9/11 had occurred" and, when "asked for the name and address of his closest relative . . . he stated 'Osama Bin Ladin' and gave a cave number in Afghanistan as an address." Compl., Ex. A, 25. Several days later, on March 12, 2004, OATC agents returned to Discount Cigarettes and seized the remaining inventory, along with some financial documents. See Compl.. Ex. A, 28.

OATC's investigative report concludes that the financial statements show that Discount Cigarettes ordered over $243,000 in product during a two-month period, but that "there are no financial records to account for the money or the product." Compl., Ex. A, 30.

The same body of facts which led to the arrest of Sam Solomon also led to an arrest warrant being issued for Talal Solieman on March 3, 2004. See Compl., ¶ 37. Spalitta and Gautreau entered this warrant into the National Crime Information Center ("NCIC"), and Solieman was arrested in Lombard, IL on March 10, 2004. See Compl., Ex. A, 25, ¶ 39. Spalitta and Gautreau had informed law enforcement officials in Illinois of the grounds on which Talal was being sought. Upon arrest, officials from Homeland Security, the FBI, and other Illinois law enforcement agencies all interrogated Talal. See Compl., ¶¶ 38, 40. After spending sixteen days in an Illinois jail, Talal was extradited to Louisiana on March 26, 2004. See Compl., ¶ 41. Defendants did not travel to Illinois to take part in the interrogation or extradition. See Compl., Ex. A, 28.

A preliminary hearing was held regarding the criminal charges brought against Plaintiffs, and on November 22, 2004 all charges were dismissed due to a lack of probable cause. See Compl., ¶ 42. Plaintiffs now bring this action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois seeking relief for violation of their constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. ¶¶ 1983, 1985(3).

Discussion

A civil action may be brought only in a district court where personal jurisdiction over the defendants exists and venue properly lies. See Leroy v. Great Western United Corp., 443 U.S. 173, 180 (1978) (stating that personal jurisdiction "goes to the court's power to exercise control over the parties"); 28 U.S.C. § 1391 (stating that a civil action may only be brought in a district where venue appropriately lies). A plaintiff has the burden of demonstrating the existence of personal jurisdiction over the defendants and that venue in a district is proper. See Steel Warehouse of Wisconsin v. Leach, 154 F.3d 712, 714 (7th Cir. 1998) (personal jurisdiction); Gwin v. Reynolds & Reynolds Co., 2001 WL 775969, at *1 (N.D. Ill. 2001) (venue). In determining personal jurisdiction and venue, the Court ...


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