WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a Georgia police officer could not be sued in Nevada over the seizure of two travelers’ money at an Atlanta airport.
In a unanimous decision, the justices said a lawsuit against officer Anthony Walden could not go forward in a Nevada court because none of his conduct connected him to the state.
The case was closely watched by business groups concerned about the prospect of facing lawsuits anywhere in the country and the added expense and inconvenience that might create.
Walden, working as a deputized Drug Enforcement Administration agent, seized $97,000 from a Nevada couple while they were traveling at the Atlanta airport in 2006. Walden suspected the money was tied to illegal drug trafficking, but the couple said they won the money gambling in Puerto Rico. Walden said they could get their money back if they produced proper documentation.
They returned home to Nevada and eventually got their money back. But they later filed a lawsuit in Nevada claiming Walden gave a false affidavit to prosecutors showing he had probable cause for seizing the money. A federal judge threw the case out saying the incident happened in Georgia. A federal appeals court reinstated the case in Nevada.
Writing for the court, Justice Clarence Thomas said Walden did not have enough ties to the state of Nevada to justify suing him there. The money was seized in Georgia while the couple was there and Walden formed no relevant contact with Nevada, Thomas wrote.
The Nevada couple argued that in the age of the Internet, it is possible to harm someone without actually setting foot in the state where they reside and there should be broader expectations for where a lawsuit can be filed. They argued that they felt the effects of the seizure in Nevada, where they lived and worked.
But the court held that Walden did not create enough contacts with Nevada simply because he knew the couple was from there. The fact that the cash originated in Nevada and was returned to Nevada was not enough, the court said. The decision means the couple likely has to refile the lawsuit in Georgia.