Walden v. City of Providence

Linet Christina ThomasCase Summary

Does a law enforcement agency's continuous recording of calls fall under the ordinary course of business exception?

Walden v. City of Providence
495 F.Supp.2d 245

In the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island
Civil Action 04-304 S
Before District Judge W.E. Smith
Decided on July 06, 2007

Relevancy of the Case: Does a law enforcement agency’s continuous recording of calls fall under the ordinary course of business exception?

Statutes and Provisions Involved

  • The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2510-2520

Relevant Facts of the Case

  • Over 100 plaintiffs have accused the defendants of installing the “Total Recall” telephone call recording at the Providence Public Safety Complex (PPSC).
  • The Total Recall system recorded hundreds of thousands of incoming and outgoing phone calls while it was in place.
  • The plaintiffs are City of Providence employees and their family members. They claim that the unlawful recording of their phone calls violated their statutory and civil rights.
  • Major Simoneau sent a department-wide email to over 500 police and telecommunication department personnel before the PPSC opened, informing them about the installation of the recording system.
  • However, the plaintiffs said they never received any notice, including the Major’s email. Call recordings started even before the PPSC officially opened. It continued to record all of the PPSC’s telephone lines, with some exceptions.
  • Specific extensions belonging to Vieira, one of the defendants and the city’s Communications Director, were allegedly removed from the recording list.

Prominent Arguments by the Counsels

  • The plaintiffs’ counsel argued that the defendants violated their Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. Further, the defendants’ conduct also violated Section 2511, the federal wiretapping statute, which aligns with Section 2520.
  • The defendants’ counsel submitted that Vieira is not personally accountable for Fourth Amendment violations. There is no evidence that he knew the calls were being recorded. Further, the defendants have qualified immunity on some or all of the plaintiffs’ claims.
  • The Municipal defendants’ counsel stated that installing the Total Recall system does not violate the Fourth Amendment rights since it does not violate Section 2511. The plaintiffs cannot seek relief under both the federal and state wiretapping statutes at the same time. Moreover, municipalities are exempt from Title III suits, so the court must reject the plaintiffs’ claim.

Opinion of the Bench

  • Vieira, the Communications Director, has stated that there is no link between his actions and the plaintiff’s damages. This contention is only relevant if the liability theory rests on supervisory liability.
  • The Total Recall system does not come within the exception of the ordinary course of law enforcement. The recording cannot fall under the consent exception due to the defendants’ repeated and unambiguous denials that they knew the phone lines were being monitored.
  • The term “entity” includes government entities. Hence, the Municipal defendants were not immune from the suit.

Final Decision

  • The court rejected the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.