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Yasin v. Coulter

September 8, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Frank C. Damrell, Jr. United States District Judge


This matter is before the court on defendant Chad Coulter's ("defendant" or "Coulter") motion for summary judgment as to plaintiff Bilal Abdul Yasin's ("plaintiff") first amended complaint ("FAC"), alleging violations of plaintiff's constitutional rights under the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.*fn1 The claims arise out of an investigation and arrest of plaintiff for buying stolen cigarettes and selling illegal narcotics. Plaintiff does not deny in his FAC that he engaged in this conduct but alleges he was impermissibly singled out for investigation because he is Palestinian and a Muslim.

Plaintiff opposes Coulter's instant motion, arguing the hearing on the motion should be continued to permit him time to conduct discovery. Because the court finds that plaintiff has not made the requisite showing under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(f), the court resolves the motion on the papers and evidence presently before it.*fn2

For the reasons set forth below, the court GRANTS defendant's motion on the ground that plaintiff's claims are barred by the statute of limitations. As a result of that finding, the court does not reach defendant's alternative basis for the motion that Coulter is entitled to qualified immunity.


I. Factual Background

A. Investigation of Plaintiff

Coulter, a Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent, first learned of plaintiff's name in connection with potential drug trafficking in the course of the FBI's investigation of a drug trafficking operation in Northern California. (RUF ¶ 1.) Some of the individuals suspected of being involved in the drug trafficking operation either owned convenience stores or also worked as resellers of merchandise to convenience stores along the I-5 Interstate corridor. This corridor is known for drug trafficking, including methamphetamine. Some of the individuals suspected of involvement in the drug trafficking operation also had frequent contacts with plaintiff and his convenience store called "Chinca's Market" located in Chico, California. (RUF ¶ 2.)

Sometime thereafter, Coulter obtained plaintiff's criminal history showing an arrest for drug possession in 1994. (RUF ¶ 3.) In March 2004, Coulter received a 1996 report from the California Department of Justice concerning the arrest of a person for transporting 48 cases of pseudoephedrine tablets in a Ryder truck. The tablets in boxes had labels attached for candy and gum, and it was suspected this was done to conceal the identity of the contents in an effort to utilize the tablets to manufacture methamphetamine (since pseudoephedrine is a major ingredient of methamphetamine). The individual arrested indicated that he had been working for his "cousin" who owned Chinca's Market in Chico. This "cousin" was identified through subsequent investigation as plaintiff. Plaintiff admitted purchasing some pseudoephedrine boxes every so often, but denied knowing that such tablets were used to make methamphetamine. (RUF ¶ 4.)

The FBI also received another report indicating that an individual under investigation frequented plaintiff's apartment in approximately 2000, and that this person was "involved in drugs" and was on probation. (RUF ¶ 5.) In May 2004, Coulter received information from an inmate in a Butte County jail that plaintiff was involved in bartering alcohol for sexual favors, and that he hired young men to drive trucks running drugs to Los Angeles. (RUF ¶ 6.) Coulter also inquired of local law enforcement about criminal activity near Chinca's Market. He received information about such activity, including drug activity. (RUF ¶ 7.)

Based on this information, in September 2004 the FBI, with the assistance of a public utility company, installed a telephone pole camera ("pole camera") to observe possible criminal activity at Chinca's Market. (RUF ¶ 8.) Plaintiff learned of the pole camera from a former public utility employee and called the FBI shortly after it was installed to inquire about the camera. (RUF ¶ 9.)

At some point in 2004, Coulter contacted agents of the California Alcohol Beverage Control Board ("ABC"). He inquired about whether they had any information about plaintiff and his business. This was part of the FBI's routine contact with ABC concerning potential criminal conduct at liquor stores. (RUF ¶ 10.) After this contact, the FBI and ABC jointly opened an investigation of plaintiff, with Coulter providing assistance to ABC's investigation. (RUF ¶ 11.)

ABC began undercover operations beginning in approximately September 2004. On at least three occasions in 2004 and 2005, an undercover ABC operative offered to sell plaintiff cigarettes that the operative told plaintiff were stolen. Plaintiff agreed to purchase the cigarettes. The undercover operative also had contact with employees of Chinca's Market concerning the purchase of cigarettes that the operative told the employees were stolen. (RUF ¶ 12.)

In late January 2005, the undercover ABC operative arranged to sell plaintiff approximately twenty--five cases of cigarettes that the operative told plaintiff were stolen. The operative also arranged to purchase from plaintiff approximately a half pound of marijuana. (RUF ¶ 13.) Coulter had no direct contact with plaintiff or anyone else in Chinca's Market during the undercover operations. (RUF ¶ 14.)

B. Arrest and Search of Plaintiff's Home and Business

On February 1, 2005, ABC obtained a warrant from the Butte County Superior Court to search plaintiff's residence and Chinca's Market for evidence of stolen cigarettes and drug trafficking. (RUF ¶ 15.)*fn4 The warrant was supported by a fifty-page affidavit setting forth the ABC undercover operation and evidence obtained against plaintiff with respect to attempted purchases of stolen cigarettes and attempted sale of marijuana. (RUF ¶ 16.) On February 3, 2005, per agreement, plaintiff met undercover ABC operatives at Chinca's Market. He paid the operatives approximately $11,000.00 for cigarettes he had been told were stolen. He also attempted to sell to the operatives a half pound of marijuana in exchange for approximately $2,200.00. After the attempted transaction, plaintiff was arrested by ABC agents. Coulter was present, but did not physically take plaintiff into custody. (RUF ¶ 17.) Pursuant to the warrant, plaintiff's van was searched by an ABC investigator for evidence of drug trafficking. Marijuana was found in the cup holder next to the driver's seat, as well as in a jar in the center console. Minutes after plaintiff was arrested, investigators from California ABC and other local law enforcement offices, assisted by some FBI agents, executed a state search warrant for Chinca's Market and plaintiff's residence in Chico. (RUF ¶ 19.) Pursuant to the warrant, plaintiff's computers, some cash, and other evidence were seized by ABC agents and transferred to Coulter's custody. (RUF ¶ 20.)

After forensic electronic analysis, in which Coulter did not participate, the computers were returned to plaintiff. (RUF ¶ 21.) Coulter did not participate in questioning plaintiff after he was arrested. (RUF ¶ 22.) Coulter had no additional ...

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