Pa. law professor sues FBI, Justice Dept. over botched FOIA request pertaining to Supreme Court Justice Fortas' resignation

By Jon Campisi | Aug 24, 2012

A Philadelphia-area law school professor has filed a civil complaint against the FBI and

the Justice Department over claims that the governmental agencies failed to release the full version of a 46-year-old document relating to the questionable resignation of a U.S. Supreme Court associate justice back in 1969.

Tuan Samahon, a tenured professor of law at Villanova Law School in suburban Philadelphia, filed his civil action Aug. 22 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The complaint relates to Samahon’s Freedom of Information Act request for a document concerning the FBI’s “questionable” encounter with former Justice Abe Fortas in October 1966.

Fortas resigned from the high court three years later.

Samahon, who teaches and researches in the fields of constitutional law and federal courts, has been conducting historical research into Fortas’s “untimely” resignation from the bench, and the causes of his resignation, including supposed abuses of power by then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and his associates, the complaint states.

According to his suit, Samahon submitted a FOIA request for something called the “DeLoach Memorandum,” which related to an October 1966 case titled Black v. United States, which concerned FBI agents’ use of electronic surveillance.

The FBI director at the time, Cartha DeLoach, had approached Justice Fortas to inquire ex parte about the high court’s internal deliberations in the pending case, according to the complaint.

Fortas, a sitting Supreme Court justice at the time, had recused himself from participation in the case, so he went on to comply with DeLoach’s request and leaked the court’s confidential deliberations regarding the case, the DeLoach Memorandum showed, according to the lawsuit.

DeLoach claimed that Fortas hadn’t given out information to which the FBI director wasn’t entitled, but DeLoach later claimed, in a 1995 memoir, that Fortas’s involvement in the leaking of information was “blatantly unethical,” the suit states.

In his complaint, Samahon claims that his FOIA request had redactions in the subject line and first paragraph, redactions that the government claims were done to obscure a name.

Samahon, however, claims no medical information, personnel file information or other confidential information is included in the redactions, and therefore the situation warrants full release.

The law professor further asserts that the information sought was provided to others in the past, including an author and a scholar who sought the memo through FOIA requests and subsequent litigation.

Samahon says the release of the un-redacted memo is crucial to his research.

“Except for Justice Fortas, no other Supreme Court justice to date has resigned under duress arising from alleged ethical lapses,” the lawsuit states. “Therefore, this episode of very great significance and instructional value for the public, including judges, lawyers, historians, law professors, and law students in securing this Country’s commitment to the rule of law.”

The lawsuit accuses the defendants of violating the Freedom of Information Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.

Samahon seeks declaratory judgment that the defendants’ failure to provide him with the requested document was unlawful.

He also seeks injunctive relief requiring the government to promptly provide him with the release of the redactions on the document in question.

Samahon also demands attorney’s fees and costs.


The federal case number is 2:12-cv-04839-ER.

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