Top court rules on prison guard immunity

Jan. 22, 2008 at 12:52 PM

WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- A divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday a prison inmate cannot sue federal prison guards about how their possessions are handled.

In a 5-4 vote, the justices ruled federal law enforcement officers are immune to lawsuits by prison inmates claiming the officers wrongly lost or misplaced the prisoners' personal property, Scotusblog.com reported.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority in Ali v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, rejecting petitioner Abdus-Shahid Ali's argument that a federal immunity law only applies to losses of property during customs or tax collection.

"We conclude that the broad phrase 'any other law enforcement officer' covers all law enforcement officers," Thomas wrote. "(We) are unpersuaded by petitioner's attempt to create ambiguity where the statute's text and structure suggest none."

Dissenting were Justices Anthony Kennedy, John Paul Stevens, Justice David Souter and Stephen Breyer. Kennedy wrote the majority opinion's analysis "cannot be squared with the longstanding recognition that a single word must not be read in isolation but instead defined by reference to its statutory context."

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