U.S. Supreme Court

Vet claiming Navy doc operated without consent gets SCOTUS win after successful pro se cert petition


The United States has no immunity from a veteran’s lawsuit claiming a Navy doctor performed cataract surgery without consent, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled.

Steven Alan Levin alleges he became concerned about the operating room equipment and withdrew consent just before the 2003 surgery at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Guam. The U.S. Supreme Court said on Monday that the suit is allowed under the federal Gonzalez Act, which governs suits for medical malpractice by medical personnel of the armed forces.

The law overrides the government’s immunity from suits for battery and other intentional torts, the court said. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the opinion (PDF) that was unanimous save for two footnotes with which Justice Antonin Scalia took exception.

Levin had also sued the government for negligence, but he did not produce expert testimony supporting the allegation and lost at the summary judgment stage. He had claimed his cataract surgery damaged his vision.

The Supreme Court had accepted the case based on a pro se petition. At the Supreme Court’s request, Washington, D.C., lawyer James Feldman filed an amicus brief on behalf of Levin and then handled the oral arguments, SCOTUSblog says.

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