In a unanimous decision written by Justice Thomas, the Supreme Court has held that liability exception in the Federal Tort Claims Act for “investigative or law enforcement officers” applies regardless of whether they commit the specified torts in the course of investigative or law enforcement activities. The plaintiff alleged that three correctional officers employed by the Bureau of Prisons had sexually assaulted him.
The Federal Tort Claims Act waives sovereign immunity of the federal government except for certain intentional torts such as assault unless the assaults are committed by “investigative or law enforcement officers of the United States.” The federal district court granted summary judgment because the assault “did not take place during an arrest, search, or seizure of evidence,” following precedent set by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The Circuit Court affirmed.
The Supreme Court held there was nothing in the language of the statute that narrowed the scope of the exception to assaults committed during arrest, searches or seizures. The exception was limited to assaults by investigative or law enforcement officers but it did not extend to investigative or law enforcement activities. The Court saw no reason to read such a limitation into the otherwise plain language of the statute. Millbrook v. United States, No. 11-10362 (U.S. Sup. March 27, 2013).