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Vance v. Rumsfeld

September 19, 2007

DANIEL VANCE AND NATHAN ERTEL, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DONALD RUMSFELD, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND UNIDENTIFIED AGENTS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wayne R. Andersen District Judge

MEMORANDUM, OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel filed a fifteen-count complaint in this Court against Defendants Donald Rumsfeld, the United States of America, and Unidentified Agents, alleging violation of their constitutional rights. This matter is before the Court on Defendants' motion to transfer venue to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1404(a). For the foregoing reasons, Defendants' motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

According to the Complaint, Plaintiffs Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel, both American citizens, traveled to Iraq in the fall of 2005 to work for a private Iraqi security firm, Shield Group Security ("SGS"). In the course of their employment, Plaintiffs allegedly observed payments made by SGS agents to certain Iraqi sheikhs. They also claim to have seen mass acquisitions of weapons by the company and sales in increased quantities. Questioning the legality of these transactions, Vance claims to have contacted the FBI during a return visit to his native town of Chicago to report what he had observed. Vance asserts that he was put in contact with Travis Carlisle, a Chicago FBI agent, who arranged for Vance to continue to report suspicious activity at the SGS compound after his return to Iraq. Vance alleges to have complied with Carlisle's request and continued to report to him daily. Several weeks later, Vance claims Carlisle put him in contact with Maya Dietz, a United States government official working in Iraq. Dietz allegedly requested that Vance copy SGS's computer documents and forward them to her. Vance contends that he complied with that request.

Plaintiff Ertel claims to have been aware of Vance's communications with the FBI and alleges to have contributed information to that end. Ertel asserts that both he and Vance communicated their concerns with SGS to Deborah Nagel and Douglas Treadwell, two other government officials working in Iraq.

Plaintiffs contend that suspicions within SGS grew as to Vance and Ertel's loyalty to the firm. On April 14, 2006, armed SGS agents allegedly confiscated plaintiffs' access cards which permitted them freedom of movement into the "Green Zone" and other United States compounds. This action effectively trapped plaintiffs in the "Red Zone" and within the SGS compound. Plaintiffs claim to have contacted Nagel and Treadwell who instructed them to barricade themselves in a room in the SGS compound until United States forces could come rescue them. Plaintiffs were later successfully removed from the SGS compound by United States forces. Plaintiffs were then taken to the United States Embassy. Military personnel allegedly seized all of plaintiffs' personal property, including their laptop computers, cellular phones, and cameras. At the Embassy, Plaintiffs claim they were separated and then questioned by an FBI agent and two other persons from United States Air Force Intelligence. Plaintiffs contend that they disclosed all their knowledge of the transactions of SGS and directed the officials to their laptops where most of the information had been documented. Plaintiffs also assert that they informed the officials of their contacts with agent Carlisle in Chicago, and agents Nagel and Treadwell in Iraq. Following these interviews, Plaintiffs claim they were escorted to a trailer to sleep for two to three hours.

Plaintiffs claim they were awoken by several armed guards who then placed them under arrest, handcuffing and blindfolding Vance and Ertel and pushing them into a humvee. Plaintiffs contend that they were labeled as "security internees" affiliated with SGS, some of whose members were suspected of supplying weapons to insurgents. According to Plaintiffs, that information alone was sufficient, according to the policies enacted by defendant Rumsfeld and others, for the indefinite, incommunicado detention of Plaintiffs without due process or access to an attorney. Plaintiffs claim to have been taken to Camp Prosperity, a United States military compound in Baghdad. There they allege they were placed in a cage, strip searched, and fingerprinted. Plaintiffs assert that they were taken to separate cells and held in solitary confinement 24 hours per day.

After approximately two days, Plaintiffs claim they were shackled, blindfolded, and placed in separate humvees which took them to Camp Cropper. Again, Plaintiffs allegedly were strip searched and placed in solitary confinement. During this detention, Plaintiffs contend that they were interrogated repeatedly by military personnel who refused to identify themselves and used physically and mentally coercive tactics during questioning. All requests for an attorney allegedly were denied.

On or about April 20, 2006, Plaintiffs each received letters from the Detainee Status Board indicating that a proceeding would be held April 23rd to determine their legal status as "enemy combatants," "security internees," or "innocent civilians." The letter informed Plaintiffs they did not have a right to legal counsel at that proceeding. The letter also informed Plaintiffs they would only be permitted to present evidence or witnesses for their defense if they were reasonably available at Camp Cropper. On April 22nd, Vance and Ertel allegedly each received a notice stating that they were "security internees." The letter informed Plaintiffs they had the right to appeal by submitting a written statement to camp officials. Both Vance and Ertel appealed, requesting each other as witnesses and their seized personal property as evidence.

On April 26, 2006, Plaintiffs allegedly were taken before the Detainee Status Board. Ertel and Vance claim they were not provided with the evidence requested, nor were they permitted to testify on the other person's behalf. Plaintiffs assert that they were not permitted to see the evidence against them or confront any adverse witnesses.

On May 17, 2006, Major General John Gardner authorized the release of Ertel, allegedly 18 days after the Board officially acknowledged that he was an innocent civilian. Vance's detention continued an additional two months, where he was continuously interrogated. On July 20, 2006, several days after Major General Gardner authorized his release, Vance was permitted to leave Camp Cropper. Neither Plaintiff was ever charged with any crime.

On December 18, 2006, Plaintiffs initiated this lawsuit against Defendants for the alleged constitutional violations that occurred in Iraq by the unidentified agents of the United States as well as for the practices and policies enacted by Rumsfeld which allegedly authorized such actions by those agents. Both Plaintiffs are residents of the State of Illinois. Although there appears to be some uncertainty regarding Defendant Rumsfeld's place of residence, he has recently filed an affidavit stating that his current permanent place of residence is the State of Maryland. Prior to that, he was domiciled in Illinois.

Defendants have filed a motion to transfer venue to the District Court for the District of Columbia ("D.C."), alleging that the District of Columbia would be a more convenient forum in which to litigate this claim.

DISCUSSION

Pursuant to Section 1404(a), "[f]or the convenience of the parties and witnesses, in the interests of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought." To succeed on a motion to transfer venue, the defendant must demonstrate that: (1) venue is proper in the transferor district;(2) venue and jurisdiction are proper in the transferee district; and (3) the transfer will serve the convenience of the parties, the convenience of the witnesses, and the interest of ...


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