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Bechhoefer v. United States Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration
United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
209 F.3d 57 (2000)
Arthur Bechhoefer (plaintiff), a volunteer watchdog, received information about possible drug-trafficking activity involving residents in his area, including someone in the county sheriff’s department. Bechhoefer reported the information to agent Jeffrey Gelina (defendant) at the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) (defendant). At Gelina’s request, Bechhoefer sent the DEA a letter with Bechhoefer’s name and contact information, the names of Bechhoefer’s sources, and the names of the alleged wrongdoers. The letter was marked confidential, and Gelina led Bechhoefer to believe that the letter would be kept confidential. Although the parties disputed the reasons, it was undisputed that the DEA never met with Bechhoefer, made contact with any of his sources, or opened a formal investigation into Bechhoefer’s claims. At the request of a sheriff’s investigator, DEA agent Robert Nearing (defendant) faxed a copy of the letter to the county sheriff’s department that was mentioned in the letter. After the letter was disclosed, Bechhoefer was sued for defamation in three civil actions and faced two separate criminal actions from the county. The defamation suits and one criminal action were dismissed. Bechhoefer was acquitted by a jury in the other criminal action. Bechhoefer sued the DEA, Gelina, and Nearing, alleging that they had violated the federal Privacy Act of 1974 by disclosing Bechhoefer’s letter without his consent. The district court found that the letter was not a protected record under the Privacy Act and dismissed the claim. Bechhoefer appealed the dismissal to the Second Circuit.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Cabranes, J.)
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