Appellate court revives suit from Temple professor falsely accused of spying for China
Published in News & Features
PHILADELPHIA — A federal appellate court has revived a lawsuit from a Temple University professor who sued the U.S. government six years ago after he was falsely accused of being an economic spy for China.
In an opinion Wednesday, a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed a lower court decision dismissing claims from Xiaoxing Xi, 66, that the FBI had violated his constitutionally protected rights during an investigation that accused him of stealing schematics for a sophisticated piece of equipment known as a "pocket heater."
That probe abruptly fell apart within months of Xi's indictment after his attorneys proved the government had fundamentally misunderstood the technology at the heart of the case.
Although Xi sued the FBI in 2017, alleging investigators had knowingly ignored evidence that proved his innocence, a lower court judge dismissed the case, citing legal protections shielding government employees from many types of civil suits.
In their 37-page ruling Wednesday, the Third Circuit judges disagreed with that decision.
They maintained that while those protections give investigators wide latitude to conduct their work without second guessing by the courts, it did not give them free rein to investigate, search, and prosecute people without probable cause.
Writing for the panel, Circuit Judge Cheryl Ann Krause concluded the professor had laid out several concrete claims that agents had willfully ignored or recklessly disregarded evidence that would have cleared Xi of suspicion. Still, she stressed that the court was basing its decision solely on Xi's allegations — ones that he will have to back up with evidence should his case go to trial.
She was joined in the decision by Circuit Judges Marjorie Rendell and Stephanos Bibas.
"We are pleased that the court has affirmed the basic principle of justice: that no government agent has the discretion to violate the Constitution," said David Rudovsky, a Philadelphia civil rights lawyer who is representing Xi along with the ACLU. "We are heartened by the fact that Professor Xi can seek damages for the reckless misconduct that caused so much pain and suffering for his family."
In his suit, Xi — a naturalized U.S. citizen and world-renowned expert in the field of superconductivity — contends that well before he was indicted on wire fraud charges, experts informed FBI Special Agent Andrew Haugen, a counterintelligence investigator who led the probe, that he had misinterpreted the technology at the heart of the charges.
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