Gutierrez de Martinez v. Lamagno

PETITIONER: Gutierrez De Martinez et al.
RESPONDENT: Lamagno et al.
LOCATION: U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico

DOCKET NO.: 94-167
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 515 US 417 (1995)
ARGUED: Mar 22, 1995
DECIDED: Jun 14, 1995

ADVOCATES:
Andrew J. Maloney, III - on behalf of Respondent Lamagno
Isidoro Rodriguez - on behalf of Petitioners
Michael K. Kellogg - as amicus curiae, in support of the judgment below
Malcolm L. Stewart - Federal Respondent in support of Petitioners

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Gutierrez de Martinez v. Lamagno

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 22, 1995 in Gutierrez de Martinez v. Lamagno

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 14, 1995 in Gutierrez de Martinez v. Lamagno

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinions of the Court in two cases will be announced by Justice Ginsburg.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

This case is Gutierrez v. Lamagno number 94-167.

This is a case that presents a who decides question an executive officer definitely or a Court on judicial review.

The case stems from a car accident in Columbia, South America.

The petitioners are citizens of Columbia who were injured in the accident.

They thought to recover for their injuries from the driver whose negligence allegedly caused the accident.

The driver is a federal employee now back in Virginia.

So, the petitioners sued him in a Federal District Court in that state.

Special rules govern personal injury suits against federal employees.

If the attorney general certifies that the employee was on the job at the time of the mishap, the United States replaces the employee as the defendant.

Usually plaintiffs don’t resist the substitution of the United States as the party defendant because the government is able to pay an eventual judgment, and the employee may be less well healed, but in rare cases the United States is immune from suit while the employee is not, and in those cases, the plaintiff will want the employee to remain as the defendant.

This is such a case.

The United States is not suable for accidents occurring abroad.

So, the person injured in Columbia would have no case unless they could perceive against the driver, the federal employee.

The key question in instances like this one is whether the employee was on the job or off duty at the time of the accident.

If the driver was on the job, the United States must be substituted, and the case must be dismissed.

If the driver was not on the job, the driver and not the United States is the proper defendant and the case can continue in Court.

The issue we resolve is who decides the key question whether the driver was on or off the job.

The attorney general certified that the driver was on the job.

Does she have the – not only the first, but also the final word on that subject or is her certification subject to judicial review.

The District Court and the Court Of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit thought the attorney general certification was unreviewable in Court and that meant the case had to be dismissed.

We reverse that that disposition.

Courts ordinarily assume that Congress intended actions of executive officials to be subject to judicial review and we adhere to that assumption here.

The assumption is one the attorney general has self urges and for good reason.

How impartiality as solo judge in a case like this one is rendered doubtful for if she certifies there will be no liability on the part of the United States or on the part of the employee, no litigation cost, no judgment to pay.

So, she has every incentive to certify rather than to review certification.

Because we conclude that the Attorney General’s certification is subject to judicial review, we reverse the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Justice O'Connor has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.

Justice Souter has filed a dissenting opinion in which the Chief Justice and Justices Scalia and Thomas joined.