Plaintiffs, Craig Patty and Thomas Expeditors, LLC, operate a successful trucking company, and in 2011, they hired Lawrence Chapa as a driver for a new truck the company had purchased (a red 2006 Kenworth T600). However, Chapa was secretly working undercover for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). In late November 2011, Chapa and other members of his DEA task force planned to use Patty’s new truck in a law enforcement operation along the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. These plans were made without the knowledge or permission of Patty or any other employees of his company.
Telling Patty that the truck was being taken in for repairs and maintenance, Chapa planned to drive the truck to Rio Grande City, Texas, pick up drugs, and then transport the drugs to Houston to complete a drug deal. The DEA intended to arrest everyone when the truck arrived in Houston. However, the truck was ambushed on its way to Houston and, in the course of ensuing firefight, Chapa was killed and the truck was “wrecked and riddled with bullet holes.”
Patty sued in the Court of Federal Claims, alleging that the DEA unconstitutionally took his personal property (truck) without payment of just compensation. The Government moved to dismiss. The Government argued that the CFC lacked jurisdiction because the complaint alleged wrongful conduct, which would constitute a tort action over which the Court of Federal Claims does not have jurisdiction. The Government also argued that Patty failed to state a claim because the Government used the truck as part of its law enforcement activities, and therefore its actions were immune from Fifth Amendment liability.
The Court rejected both of the Government’s arguments. The Court first concluded that Patty did not challenge the legality of the government’s actions, so there were no jurisdictional problems to support the Government’s motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1). The Court distinguished law enforcement cases in which the Court had found no taking, explaining: “The government’s action uniformly was directed toward property that was related to the law enforcement activity or was the subject of the investigation.”
Because the Court concluded that government used Patty’s truck “as a convenience to the government in pursuing unrelated law enforcement,” the Court held that the Government’s actions were not shielded from constitutional review.
Read Judge Bruggink’s full opinion here.