A prisoner sued the federal government by alleging that, while in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons he was sexually assaulted and verbally threatened by corrections officers. His lawsuit under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) was dismissed because the reviewing court held that, while the FTCA waives the government’s sovereign immunity for certain intentional acts, those acts must be alleged to have been committed while the officers are executing a search, seizing evidence, or making an arrest.
Whether the FTCA is applicable for the intentional torts conducted by law enforcement officers in activities other than executing a search, seizing evidence, or making an arrest?
Yes. Previous courts’ assertions that intentional torts are only actionable against the United States if conducted during a search, seizure or arrest are overturned.
The federal government cannot be subject to a lawsuit unless it has waived its sovereign immunity. Congress did this for negligent torts in the FTCA. Later, Congress waived the federal government’s sovereign immunity for intentional torts arising out of the wrongful conduct of law enforcement officers. This is known as the “law enforcement proviso.” This proviso allows persons to sue the federal government for six different intentional torts (including assault) based on the misconduct of federal law enforcement officers that occur within the scope of employment.
The Court found that the “plain language of the law enforcement proviso answers when a law enforcement officer’s ‘acts or omissions’ may give rise to an actionable tort claim under the FTCA.” The Court found the additional requirement (that these alleged torts occur during a search, seizure or arrest) to have no support within the statute. “Congress has spoken directly to the circumstances in which a law enforcement officer’s conduct may expose the United States to tort liability. Under the proviso, an intentional tort is not actionable unless it occurs while the law enforcement officer is ‘acting within the scope of his office or employment.’”
569 U.S. ___, 133 S. Ct. 1441 (2013)