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United States v. Koutsos

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

January 23, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA PLAINTIFF
v.
NIKOLAOS T. KOUTSOS, et al. DEFENDANTS

          ORDER

          CARLTON W. REEVES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is James Horrisberger's motion for reconsideration of the Court's order denying his motion to suppress. Docket No. 63. His codefendant Lai Saechao joins the motion. Docket No. 64. For the reasons stated below, the motion to suppress is once again denied.

         I. Factual Background and Procedural History

         On June 6, 2017, the U.S. Air Marine Operations Center (AMOC) contacted the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations, New Orleans Air and Marine Branch (NOAMB) concerning a Piper airplane. The NOAMB agents were told that the Piper departed California and began a flight to Florida.[1] The aircraft refueled in New Mexico, and continued traveling eastward. And “[b]ased on the type of aircraft, current speed and previous travel, agents from NOAMB determined that the aircraft was likely to land somewhere near Hattiesburg, Mississippi to refuel.” Docket No. 44-1 at 2.

         Shortly before 6 p.m. central time, James Horrisberger landed the Piper at Copiah County Airport in Mississippi. Horrisberger was traveling with two passengers: Lai Saechao and Nikolaos Koutsos.

         Fifteen minutes later, after refueling and as the Piper was taxiing towards the runway for departure, Agent Martin Smith of NOAMB hailed the Piper via radio to conduct a pilot certificate inspection (PCI). Agent Smith, who was flying in a helicopter with Agent Grant Sibley, informed Horrisberger that they were agents with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.[2] He asked Horrisberger to shut down the airplane's engines and present his documents for inspection. Horrisberger complied with the request, and Agent Smith landed in front of the Piper-blocking the only active runway at the airport.

         The agents conducted the PCI and found that each of Horrisberger's documents were in order. But the encounter did not end at that point. Based on a number of factors, the PCI morphed into an investigatory stop. See United States v. Koutsos, 3:17-CR-77-CWR-LRA, 2017 WL 5615893, at *1 (S.D.Miss. Nov. 21, 2017). During the stop, the agents smelled marijuana emanating from the Piper and arrested Horrisberger. Agent Smith then ordered Saechao and Koutsos off the plane and arrested them as well.

         Forty to forty-five minutes later, additional Homeland Security agents arrived at the scene and conducted a K-9 search of the Piper. The search yielded bundles of marijuana packaged in vacuum-sealed, plastic garbage bags. Horrisberger, Saechao, and Koutsos were all charged with crimes related to marijuana distribution.

         Horrisberger and Saechao moved this Court to suppress evidence resulting from their detention and arrest. Following an evidentiary hearing on October 24, 2017, the Court denied the motion in its November 21, 2017 Order. See Id. at *7.

         Aggrieved by the denial, Horrisberger and Saechao now move for reconsideration of a narrow issue. Defendants argue that Agents Smith and Sibley, as CBP agents, did not have statutory authority to inspect Horrisberger's documents because Horrisberger was piloting a purely domestic flight. On December 15, 2017, the Court held a hearing on the present motion, and is now ready to rule.

         II. Legal Standard

         Motions for reconsideration serve a “narrow purpose.” Nationalist Movement v. Town of Jena, 321 Fed. App'x 359, 365 (5th Cir. 2009). “Such requests are often made, but granting the relief is rare, as it is an extraordinary remedy and should be used sparingly.” United States v. Lopez, 817 F.Supp.2d 918, 932 (S.D.Miss. 2011) (quotations marks and citation omitted). When considering such a motion, “[t]he court must strike the proper balance between two competing imperatives: (1) finality, and (2) the need to render just decisions on the basis of all the facts.” Edward H. Bolin Co., Inc. v. Banning Co., Inc., 6 F.3d 350, 355 (5th Cir. 1993). Federal courts recognize only three possible grounds for any motion for reconsideration: (1) an intervening change in controlling law, (2) the availability of new evidence not previously available, and (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice. United States v. Palmer, 122 F.3d 215, 232-33 (5th Cir. 1997).

         Motions for reconsideration are not to be used to relitigate old matters or to present evidence that could have been raised prior to entry of judgment. Lopez, 817 F.Supp. at 932. “Whatever may be the purpose of [a motion for reconsideration] it should not be supposed that it is intended to give an unhappy litigant one additional chance to sway the judge.” Atkins v. Marathon LeTourneau Co., 130 F.R.D. 625, 626 (S.D.Miss. 1990).

         The defendants here do not rely on an intervening change in the law nor have they pointed to any newly discovered evidence. Therefore, their motion is anchored to their belief that this Court manifestly erred when it did not address their argument on this point. Manifest error is defined as “‘[e]vident to the senses, especially to the sight, obvious to the understanding, evident to the mind, not obscure or hidden, and is synonymous with open, clear, visible, unmistakable, indubitable, indisputable, evidence and self-evidence.'” In Re Energy Partners, Ltd., No. 09-32957-H4-11, 2009 WL 2970393, at *6 (Bankr.S.D.Tex. Sept. 15, 2009) (citations omitted). In meeting its obligation to render a just decision on all the facts, the Court will address the Defendants' arguments for purposes of providing sufficient clarity of its prior ruling.

         III. Discussion

         In its November 21 Order, this Court held that AMOC had statutory authority to inspect Horrisberger's documents. See Koutsos, 2017 WL 5615893, at *4 (“Fifth Circuit case law is clear that a ‘[a] ramp check [or PCI], authorized by state and federal law, permits officers of the [FAA] or police to examine the pilot's and aircraft's licensing and certification to ensure that they conform to FAA regulations.'”). Defendants assert that the Court improperly relied on United States v. Zukas, 843 F.2d 179, 181 (5th Cir. 1988) for this proposition, because the “officers conducting the investigation in Zukas were agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), a law enforcement entity with much broader jurisdiction authority than the CBP agents that ...


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