RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: United States Penitentiary
DOCKET NO.: 11-10362
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
CITATION: 569 US (2013)
GRANTED: Sep 25, 2012
ARGUED: Feb 19, 2013
DECIDED: Mar 27, 2013
Anthony A. Yang - Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the respondent in support of reversal and remand
Christopher J. Paolella - for the petitioner (appointed by the Court)
Jeffrey S. Bucholtz - for the Court-appointed amicus curiae in support of the judgment below
Facts of the case
Kim Millbrook was an inmate at the United States Penitentiary, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Millbrook alleges that a correctional officer took him to the basement of the Special Management Unit and sexually assaulted him while other officers stood by. Millbrook filed a complaint under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) alleging sexual assault. Under 28 U.S.C. §2680(h), the United States is not liable for the intentional torts of its employees, except for certain torts committed by law enforcement officials. Pooler v. United States, 787 F.2d. 868 (1986) limited claims that arise under §2680(h) to intentional torts by a law enforcement officer while executing a search, seizing evidence, or making arrests for violations of federal law. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the United States, holding that Millbrook's claim was precluded by Pooler. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed, noting that the definition of seizure is limited to seizure of evidence.
Does 2680(h) allow claims against the United States for the intentional torts of prison guards who are not exercising authority to execute searches, to seize evidence, or to make arrests for violations of Federal law?
Media for Millbrook v. United StatesAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 19, 2013 in Millbrook v. United States
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 27, 2013 in Millbrook v. United States
John G. Roberts, Jr.:
Thomas has our opinion this morning in case 11-10362, Millbrook versus United States.
This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
The Federal Tort Claims Act, FTCA waives the Federal Government sovereign immunity from suit for various tort claims.
Petitioner Kim Millbrook, a federal prisoner filed a suit under the FTCA alleging that prison officials sexually assaulted and battered him.
The Government moved to dismiss arguing that Millbrook could not be cover because Section 26 (a) (d) (h) of the FTCA, known as the “intentional tort exception” preserves the United States sovereign immunity from claims for intentional torts.
Millbrook argued that the intentional tort exception was inapplicable because of the so-called, “law enforcement proviso”.
This provision of the FTCA authorized a suit for certain intentional torts committed by federal law enforcement officers.
The Third Circuit disagreed with Millbrook.
It held that the law enforcement proviso only waives sovereign immunity when the federal officer's conduct occurs in the course of executing a search, seizing evidence for making an arrest.
The Court, thus, concluded that Millbrook's claims were barred.
In an opinion filed with the clerk today, we reversed the judgment of the Third Circuit.
The FTCA's law enforcement proviso waive sovereign immunity for any claim “arising out of assault or battery” that is based on the acts or omissions of law enforcement officers of the United States Government.
So long as the officer is acting within the scope of this employment, the proviso defines law enforcement officer to mean any officer of the United States who is empowered by law to execute searches, seize evidence, or to make arrest for violations of Federal law.
The question is whether the law enforcement proviso waives sovereign immunity for Millbrook's assault and battery claims.
The Court of Appeals have taken three different approaches to the law enforcement proviso.
The Third Circuit limits the waiver to cases where law enforcement officers are executing a search, seizing evidence, or making an arrest.
The Ninth Circuit's approach was slightly broader and holds its sovereign immunity as waived if a tort is committed while law enforcement officers are engaged in “law enforcement activity.”
The final approach adapted by the Fourth Circuit only requires officers to be acting within the scope of their employment.
We agreed with the last approach because it is consistent with the plain meaning of the statute.
The law enforcement proviso states when a law enforcement officers act or mission give rise to a tort claim under FTCA.
The challenged conduct must arise from 106 enumerated intentional torts and the officer's acts or missions must fall within the scope of this office, his office or employment.
Nothing else in the text further qualifies what acts or missions trigger liability under the FTCA.
For this reason and other stated in the opinion, we hold that the law enforcement proviso extends to acts or missions of law enforcement officers that arise within the scope of their employment.
The opinion of the Court is unanimous.