Monday, February 18, 2013

Supreme Court ready to hear another case on the Federal Torts Claims Act

About a month ago, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case brought under the Federal Torts Claims Act asking whether a battery claim against the United States for injuries allegedly caused by military medical personnel is barred by sovereign immunity.  See here

Tomorrow, the Court will hear another case against the US based on the Federal Torts Claims Act challenging a narrow interpretation of the Act by the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.  The case involves a claim filed by an inmate in a federal prison who alleges he was beaten up and forced to perform oral sex on a prison guard.  The District Court dismissed the complaint and the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed holding that the government is liable only for injuries committed by law enforcement officers when they are “executing a search, seizing evidence or making arrests for violations of federal law.” 

It is not too surprising to see the court interpret the statute so narrowly.  Federal courts have tended to favor a narrow interpretation of the statute in order to protect the government of the possible liability, but, at least according to some sources, the Third Circuit is in the minority when it comes to the interpretation of the particular section of the statute relevant to the case. 

Interestingly, the US government itself has changed its position since the beginning of the case.  In its brief, the solicitor general is now arguing that the proper interpreation of the statute should be broader, suggesting that law enforcement officers should be liable for wrongs done while acting within the scope of their employment, regardless of whether they occur during a search, a seizure of evidence, or an arrest.  The solicitor general now seems to support the position that the Third Circuit’s approach improperly limits the courts’ ability to remedy government wrongdoing as Congress intended.

The case is called Millbrook v. United States.  Go here for all the relevant documents, including briefs and lower court opinions.

UPDATE (2/20/13):  For an update and links go here.

UPDATE (2/25/13):  To listen to the oral argument go here.

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