U.S. Supreme Court

SCOTUS considers defamation claim by pilot who sued airline over mentally unstable warning


The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday considered a defamation claim by a pilot who sued Air Wisconsin for telling the Transportation Security Administration that he was mentally unstable.

Pilot William Hoeper is seeking to uphold a defamation award of more than $1.4 million, report the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and the New York Times. He received the judgment for a December 2004 incident that began when he failed a flight simulator test for a new plane for the fourth time, which meant that he would be fired. Hoeper was said to be angry, cursing and shouting before he left for Dulles International Airport to board a flight home.

A manager called the TSA to report that Hoeper was an unstable pilot who may be armed. Though Hoeper was authorized to carry a gun on planes, he had no weapon when TSA agents searched him after removing him from the plane, which was stopped as it was taxiing before takeoff.

The Obama administration sided with the airline, arguing that a law adopted after the Sept. 11 attacks gave airlines wide latitude in reporting their suspicions. But the law does not give protection for statements that are known to be false or made in reckless disregard of the truth.

A lawyer for the airline, Jonathan Cohn, argued the standard was met, according to the Post report. “These reports are being made by airline employees such as pilots and flight attendants and baggage handlers and ticket agents who are being told by TSA, they have to report in real time without investigation, without calling their lawyer, without stopping to think on how to refine the perfect script,” he said.

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