Sunday, July 15, 2018

Third Circuit: US is immune from liability for intentional conduct by TSA officers because they are not "law enforcement officers" under the FTCA

As you probably know, the Federal Torts Claims Act retains immunity in a number of very specific circumstances.  Thus, according to the Act, the United States generally enjoys sovereign immunity for intentional torts committed by federal employees.  However, this rule is subject to an exception which waives immunity for a number of intentional torts if they are committed by employees who qualify as “investigative or law enforcement officers.” 28 U.S.C. § 2680(h).  This means that a plaintiff does not have a right to recover from the US Government if a mail carrier commits battery; but may have a right to recover if an FBI agent does.

In a recent case decided by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the court decided that TSA agents do not qualify as "law enforcement officers" and, therefore, the Government is protected by immunity.

The case is Pellegrino v. The TSA (available here), and the facts are what you would expect given the topic:  a passenger alleged intentional torts related to the conduct of TSA officers during a "screening" at an airport.  The details of the event are described here.

Be careful when reading comments on the case because some of the discussion is a bit inaccurate.  For example, some of the stories state that the officers are immune.  This is not entirely accurate because the FTCA deals with the immunity of the Federal Government, not of the individuals. 

Simple Justice has a comment here.

Tech Dirt has a comment here.

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