Sheridan v. United States

RESPONDENT:United States
LOCATION:United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan

DOCKET NO.: 87-626
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)

CITATION: 487 US 392 (1988)
ARGUED: Apr 26, 1988
DECIDED: Jun 24, 1988

Facts of the case


Media for Sheridan v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – April 26, 1988 in Sheridan v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 24, 1988 in Sheridan v. United States

John Paul Stevens:

In the second case, we take the facts — we assume the facts are — are as I will state them in the way which in the case comes to us.

After finishing his shift at the Bethesda Naval Hospital, a service man named Carr consumed a large quantity of wine, rum and other alcoholic beverages.

He then packs some of his belongings including a riffle and ammunition into a uniform bag and left his quarters.

Sometime later, three naval corpsmen found him lying faced down in a drunken stupor on the concrete floor of a hospital building.

They attempted to take him into the emergency room but he broke away grabbing the bag and revealing the barrel of rifle.

At the side of the rifle barrel the corpsman fled, or in the words of one other corpsman, they just got out of dodge.

They neither took further action to subdue Carr nor alerted the appropriate authorities that he was heavily intoxicated and brandishing a weapon.

Later that evening, Carr fired several rifle shots into an automobile being driven by petitioners on a public street near the Bethesda Naval Hospital.

Petitioners brought suit against the United States alleging that their injuries were caused by the government’s negligence in allowing Carr to leave the hospital with a loaded rifle in his possession.

The District Court dismissed the action and the Court of Appeals affirmed on the ground that the claim is barred by a provision of the Federal Tort Claims Act that states that the government waiver of sovereign immunity shall not apply to any claim arising out of an assault or battery.

We granted certiorari to decide whether the claim in this case one arising out of the assault or battery committed by Carr as the government contends or is one arising out of the negligence of other government employees as petitioner’s contempt.

On the facts of the case before us, we conclude that the mere fact that Carr happened to be an off-duty federal employee at the time of the incident does not provide a basis for protecting the government from liability that would otherwise attach if he had been an unemployed civilian patient or visitor at the hospital.

Accordingly, for reason stated at greater length than the opinion we have filed with the clerk, we hold that he exception does not apply and therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Justice White has filed a concurring statement.

Justice Kennedy has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment and Justice O’Connor has filed a dissenting opinion in which the Chief Justice and Justice Scalia have joined.