Millbrook v. United States (USSC 2013)

The recent United States Supreme Court case of Millbrook v. United States addressed the scope of governmental immunity under the Federal Tort Claims Act.  The case involved an assault of a prisoner by prison guards.

There is fairly broad governmental immunity under the Federal Tort Claims Act.  However, there are exceptions. The exceptions include claims “arising out of assault, battery, false imprisonment, false arrest, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, libel, slander, misrepresentation, deceit, or interference with contract rights.”

In this case, the Federal District Court had dismissed the claim on summary judgment holding that the exceptions applied only to “tortious conduct that occurs during the course of executing a search, seizing evidence, or making an arrest.”  The Third Circuit affirmed.  The Supreme Court reversed holding that there was no such additional requirements for the waiver of immunity.

The Court found that such an interpretation was inconsistent with the plain language of the statute.  The statute provided no such additional requirements.  The Court found that the waiver of immunity was focused not on the nature of the duties performed but on wrongful acts and the  the status of the person who commits those wrongful acts.

In this case, the perpetrators of the wrongful conduct were prison guards.  The acts involved forced oral sex under physical restraint and threats of death for refusal.  These acts clearly fall within the exceptions to immunity under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

The Court found no statutory basis for additional requirements that the intentional tortious conduct arise in the context of “executing a search, seizing evidence, or making an arrest.”   Likewise, the Court pointed out the text of the statute set forth no requirement “investigative or law enforcement activity.”  The Court stated that no such language was used in the statute and would not be implied.

In sum, it was enough that the conduct fell within the named exceptions and that the conduct was perpetrated by an agent of the government.  The case was reversed and remanded back to the Third Circuit.

To Read the Entire Opinion, go here:  Millbrook v. United States

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