Court Rules TSA Enjoy Sovereign Immunity

TSA agents cannot be sued over allegations of abuse, federal court rules

Here is theopinion from the 3rd circuit court of appeals. The federal government enjoys sovereign immunity in that it is immune from civil suit or criminal prosecution, generally. Only in the instance where the federal government waives its immunity can it be sued. Enter the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The FTCA constitutes a limited waiver of sovereign immunity, permitting citizens to pursue some tort claims against the government. Certain actions by government officials still fall under the soveign immunity doctrine, however, intentional torts committed by “investigative or law enforcement officers,” are allowed to proceed under the FTCA because these individuals should know when it is allowable to legally engage in these types of intentional acts.

The facts of the case if to be believed are quite ridiculous. After being selected for additional TSA screening, the plaintiff Pelligrino, was upset with her treatment. TSA agents claim that she bumped or struck them with her luggage while she was trying to exit. She’s a senior citizen mind. As a result, TSA called police, she was arrested and spent 18 hours in the police station before being released on bond. After filing her complaint with the TSA, she was charged with 10 crimes including two counts of felony aggravated assault, possession of instruments of a crime (her luggage), reckless endangerment, simple assault, and making terroristic threats. Because she allegedly caused her luggage to contact TSA officers.

The court ruled that TSA agents are not investigative or law enforcement officers, therefore they still enjoy sovereign immunity as employees of the government. That they can detain you, search you, etc. wasn’t enough to persuade the court, likening them more to administrative FDA inspectors. Based on this, in the 3rd circuit people have little to no recourse for any mistreatment at the hands of the TSA. They can intentionally assault or otherwise abuse passengers and enjoy sovereign immunity. That is a bad result and should be addressed by Congress.

Agreed, this is an awful decision. It may not require action by Congress - a higher court could simply overturn the ridiculous ruling that TSA officers are not “investigative or law enforcement officers” under the FTCA.

If this is the case, what law or whatever gives them the authority to hold you in a room while they search your bags?

(I read some of the decision, but got bogged down in legal stuff, so I apologize if the decision answers my question)

It seems to be getting harder and harder to get justice in a court of law.

I agree with the OP, this is a terrible ruling, particularly with the reputation the TSA has been acquiring over the years. This is the last group you’d want to see having immunity from accountability for their actions. No one is more concerned about flight safety than I am, but for that we need competence on the front lines, and as a matter of principle we need accountability. The two are not mutually exclusive, and right now we have neither.

I don’t understand what happened, but from what’s been said here it sounds like the TSA itself might not be the problem. Why would a court want to protect airport security checkers from prosecution? The holy so-called “Homeland Security”, that’s why. Their overreach and their extrajudicial powers (and their desire for extrajudicial powers) need to be eliminated.

Can they “hold” you? I thought they had to call the real police to do that.

How likely is it that the decision would be overturned in that circuit tho? Would a Trump-appointed judge be more likely to uphold or overturn this decision, do you think?

Do you think this is a partisan issue? I don’t think the TSA are perceived as the front line of protecting us from scary brown people and Muslims, they treat white people poorly too.

I think everything is a partisan issue, now.

I look forward to a citizen challenging TSA procedure on that basis, and not with some flimsy sovereign citizen crap, but by pointing out that by judicial ruling, they have no actual police powers and arguably are no more entitled to engage in searches of luggage or persons than any mall security guard.

And after the citizen’s multiple taser-burns heal…

No. TSA can detain passengers. TSA can search bags. The search is not considered a 4th amendment search, but rather an administrative search. Like a meat inspector.

I believe there is currently now a circuit split as to the characterization of TSA officers. Officers is funny too because the opinion says they are actually TSA screeners, buy their title was changed to improve morale.

The plaintiff filed the appeal pro se. As a result the court appointed an amici to assist in the argument. Because of the split and the lack of counsel, there’s a decent chance the plaintiff will file for cert. No indication of it wells be granted.

Uhhh, okay? Isn’t that how it already worked? Just as a mall security guard can deny you admittance to the mall if you don’t open your bag and let them look in, the TSA can do the same. And then if you don’t leave, they call the actual police to have you removed.

How did this nonsense get stared? Government employees shouldn’t get sued for doing their job but why is misconduct protected?

It’s weird right? TSA could punch you in the face and while they could be held criminally liable, you can’t sue them for civil damages in the third circuit. Same for sexual molestation or deficating in your bags. That last one may be a wobbler as vandalism, but it would have to be tested in court.

Because freedom, of course.

Because, by and large, the American people are too scared and too stupid to take personal responsibility for their own safety. “Baaa! Almighty government, please protect us! Baaaaa!”

And now we have government-sponsored and government-protected thugs who harass people and sexually assault people, and most people just roll over and take it because it supposedly keeps them safe.

Well then thank Og that places like Florida are finally letting people “take personal responsibility for their own safety”, huh?

I’m sure this is Obama’s fault somehow.

This is what we get as a result of creating an authoritarian society.

This is the product of 3-strikes & you’re out, mandatory minimum sentencing, the USA Patriot Act, roving wiretaps, FISA courts, militarization of police departments, encouraging police officers everywhere to shoot first and ask questions later, and years of endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

People think these are unrelated, but they they are inextricably tied to each other. American values have changed from being a society that values individual liberty to becoming instead a society that values authoritarian protection. We get outraged when we identify individual examples of civil rights being violated (though it usually has to happen to a white person before it becomes an actual “problem”).

Just remember, folks: about 87% of Americans “trust” the military, whereas less than a third of Americans trust the free press or the political parties they vote for. We have far greater trust in authority than we do in our own freedoms, and this is what you get when that happens.

Maybe it’s time to understand that the free press aren’t the enemy of the people, and that without public scrutiny, we’re going to lose even more of our freedoms. Something else to consider: for all of its faults, DHS is generally accepting to be an agency staffed with non-partisan civil servants. Imagine what would happen to your liberty if a president decided to make it easier to fire these civil servants for just doing their jobs and filled the agency with loyalists who serve the interests of a political figure or party. We’re much, much closer there than you want to believe.

If you’re a republican or a conservative-leaning independent, and you’re outraged by this, you really need to consider the above. Democrats need to think about it as well, but I sometimes get the feeling that conservatives tolerate this climate of authoritarianism on the assumption that they don’t have to worry about its consequences.