The court, in reversing the U.S. Court of Appeals, said the Federal Tort Claims Act applies to all activities of law enforcement officers within the scope of their employment, not just to their investigative or law enforcement activities.
The case has implications for all federal law enforcement that might be accused fairly or unfairly of prisoner abuse, not just corrections officers.
Kim Millbrook, who is serving 31 years in prison on a variety of charges, alleged federal correctional officers sexually assaulted and verbally threatened him while he was in their custody. Millbrook filed suit in federal District Court under the FTCA, which waives the government's sovereign immunity from tort suits, including those based on certain intentional torts committed by federal law enforcement officers.
The District Court dismissed Millbrook's action, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Court of Appeals held that the FTCA only waives the United States' sovereign immunity for certain intentional torts by law enforcement officers when the tortious conduct occurs in the course of executing a search, seizing evidence, or making an arrest.
The Supreme Court ruled the FTCA's waiver is not so limited.
"We hold that the waiver effected by the law enforcement proviso extends to acts or omissions of law enforcement officers that arise within the scope of their employment, regardless of whether the officers are engaged in investigative or law enforcement activity, or are executing a search, seizing evidence, or making an arrest," the unanimous opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, said. "Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."
Milbrook alleged he was forced to perform oral sex on a federal correctional officer in 2010 at the U.S. Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pa., while another officer held him in a choke hold and a third officer stood watch nearby. Millbrook claimed that the officers threatened to kill him if he did not comply with their demands.