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U.S. Supreme Court

US can be sued for alleged sexual assault by prison guards, SCOTUS rules in unanimous opinion

Posted Mar 27, 2013 11:02 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on behalf of a prison inmate who filed a handwritten cert petition seeking to advance his suit claiming sexual assault by guards.

At issue is whether the government’s waiver of immunity for some intentional torts by law enforcement officers extends to the prison setting, or is confined to narrow circumstances, such as police searches, seizures and arrests. In a unanimous opinion (PDF) written by Judge Clarence Thomas, the court said the immunity waiver in the Federal Tort Claims Act applies to all law enforcement officers acting in the scope of their employment.

“The plain text confirms that Congress intended immunity determinations to depend on a federal officer’s legal authority, not on a particular exercise of that authority,” Thomas wrote.

The ruling is a victory for Pennsylvania federal inmate Kim Millbrook, a “frequent filer” who has been housed in four prisons and jails and sued for alleged mistreatment in every one, according to previous coverage of the case. The Solicitor General’s office had given Millbrook’s case a boost when it noticed he had not raised the immunity issue and said it may warrant Supreme Court review in a future case.

Lawyer Christopher Paolella of Reich & Paolella was appointed to represent Millbrook before the Supreme Court. “The Supreme Court read the law as written, and we are pleased they agreed with unanimity,” he said in a statement.

The case is Millbrook v. United States.

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