Hui v. Castaneda

PETITIONER: Esther Hui, et al.
RESPONDENT: Yanira Castaneda, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Francisco Castaneda, et al.
LOCATION:

DOCKET NO.: 08-1529
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2009-2010)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 559 US 799 (2010)
GRANTED: Sep 30, 2009
ARGUED: Mar 02, 2010
DECIDED: May 03, 2010

ADVOCATES:
Conal Doyle - for the respondents
Elaine J. Goldenberg - for the petitioners
Pratik A. Shah - Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioners

Facts of the case

These cases involve malpractice suits against Public Health Service ("PHS") employees. The plaintiffs filed actions recognized by Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in a California federal district court alleging violations of the Fifth and Eighth Amendments. The PHS sought a dismissal arguing that the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) preempted Bivens claims. The district court rejected the argument and denied the motion to dismiss.

On appeal, the Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding that FTCA did not preempt Bivens claims. The court reasoned that the FTCA was enacted six months prior to the Supreme Court's decision in Bivens and, thus, could not have been intended as a substitute.

Question

Is the FTCA the exclusive remedy for claims arising from medical care and related functions provided by PHS personnel, thus, barring Bivens actions?

Media for Hui v. Castaneda

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 02, 2010 in Hui v. Castaneda

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 03, 2010 in Hui v. Castaneda

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Sotomayor has our opinion this morning in case 08-1529 HUI versus Castaneda.

Sonia Sotomayor:

This case arises from Francisco Castaneda’s claim that petitioners the U.S Public Health Service personnel repeatedly denied him necessary medical treatment, while he was in immigration detention.

Immediately after his release from detention, Castaneda was diagnosed with cancer.

He filed suit in Federal District Court, raising medical negligence claims against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act and constitutional claims against petitioners under Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents.

After Castaneda died, respondents were substituted as plaintiffs.

Petitioners moved to dismiss the Bivens claims on the grounds that 42 US code section 233(a) makes them immune from suit.

The District Court denied the motion and the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed.

Based on the plain language of section 233(a) we hold that PHS officers and employees are not personally subject to Bivens actions from harms arising out of the conduct described in that section.

By making the remedy against the United States provided by the FTCA “exclusive of any other civil action or proceeding" for harms resulting from the performance of medical or related functions within the scope of PHS employment.

Section 233(a) grants PHS personnel, absolute immunity from suit for harms arising from such conduct.

For the reasons discussed in our opinion, we find respondent’s counter argument unpersuasive because the Ninth Circuit held that section 233(a) does not immunize petitioners from suit in these circumstances.

We reverse the judgment of that Court and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.