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TSA Screeners Can't Be Sued for Abuse, Federal Court Rules

The court admits the victims of TSA abuse "will have very limited legal redress."

Andy Abeyta/ZUMA Press/NewscomAndy Abeyta/ZUMA Press/NewscomTransportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners cannot be held liable for abuse claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), a federal court ruled Wednesday.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a dismissal of a lawsuit filed against the TSA by Nadine Pellegrino and her husband. According to The Hill, Pellegrino was upset after she "was randomly selected for additional screening" at Philadelphia International Airport in July 2006.

As USA Today recounts, Pellegrino asked for a private screening, though she took issue with the way the officers treated her bags. When the officers were done searching her luggage, she took her larger bag and started to leave, but not without incident. According to USA Today:

The bag struck one of the TSA officers in the stomach, according to the officers. Pellegrino said an officer stood in her way as she tried to retrieve her smaller bag, and the bag hit him in the leg as she left, according to the officers.

Pellegrino was detained, and two TSA officers decided to press charges. Though she was acquitted in 2008, Pellegrino and her husband sued the TSA in 2009 for "false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution," Reuters reports.

In a 2-1 ruling, the 3rd Circuit said TSA officers are immune to abuse claims from passengers like Pellegrino. The court reasoned that agency employees are not classified as "investigative or law enforcement officers" under the FTCA, which is the law that enables people to file claims against federal employees.

In his dissent, Judge Thomas Ambro argued that the FTCA's definition of "investigative or law enforcement officers" includes people with the "legal authority" to carry out searches looking for violations of the law. Ambro also noted that it will now be very difficult for victims of TSA abuse to get the justice they deserve. "By analogizing TSA searches to routine administrative inspections, my colleagues preclude victims of TSA abuses from obtaining any meaningful remedy for a variety of intentional tort claims," he wrote.

Writing for the majority, Judge Cheryl Ann Krause noted that the court was "sympathetic to the concerns" the ruling may raise, and recognized that "individuals harmed by the intentional torts" of TSA officers "will have very limited legal redress."

Pellegrino, who said she's reviewing the court's ruling, could take several different courses of action.

"If I were the plaintiffs, I'd get new counsel with a proven track record of winning cases at the Supreme Court and appeal this decision," Patrick Eddington, a policy analyst who studies civil liberties at the Cato Institute, told Reason. Eddington said Pellegrino and her husband could "make this an issue" in their local House race, which might put the ruling on Congress's radar.

"There's nothing to stop the House member representing the plaintiffs from filing impeachment articles against all involved TSA employees," Eddington says. "Just filing the impeachment resolution might be enough to make TSA give the implicated screeners the boot."

Photo Credit: Andy Abeyta/ZUMA Press/Newscom

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Two out of three 3rd Circuit Court judges want them on that wall. They need them on that wall.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Vermin Supreme would give them the boot. Vote for him.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    He would also be indefinitely detained for telling them he is packing a glitter bomb.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Government Almighty employees can file charges against us (for brushing against them with our bags, AKA, disrespecting My Authoritah), but we humble peons cannot file charges against them!

    This sounds fair to other employees of Government Almighty!!

    So suck it up, peons, and obey your masters!

  • HGW xx/7||

    "Statist assholes back their statist cohorts. Film at 11."

    Fuck the TSA and all the useless "anti-terror" agencies. Every one of those idiotic, useless screeners would be the first to run from a living, breathing terrorist.

    At least a trigger-happy cop would shoot indiscriminately and have a chance at killing the bastard.

  • BYODB||

    Impeachment articles against a TSA screener? What? That...seems insane.

  • Longtobefree||

    Why not? They have absolute authority just like the President, according to this result.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    I'm no constitutional law expert, but I believe that technically any employee of the civil service (including TSA screeners, obviously) are considered "civil Officers of the United States" which can be "removed from Office [by Congress] on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors,"

  • Rossami||

    Why? Impeachment is not merely the process used to get rid of a sitting president. It's the legal process used to get rid of any number of sitting government employees. Lower-level judges get impeached all the time.

    Note also that impeachment is not merely a process used by the federal House and Senate. Impeachment is also a process used by state legislatures. I'm not sure if a state legislature would have jurisdiction to impeach a member of the TSA - but neither am I sure that they don't. Even a state-level impeachment would certainly put a bug up the TSA Management's back and likely get the abusers preemptively fired as a way to make the case go away.

  • BYODB||

    It seems insane because they could also just fire them for cause, but then again it's possible the TSA is set up in such a way that impeachment is...the only option? That just seems like an outrageously absurd process to go through to fire a couple of jackass TSA people.

    Almost as insane as screeners not being able to be sued for abuse. That actually seems rational though, from the government standpoint, since their job is literally to abuse people. Of course, I'm assuming that blatant violations of rights can be considered abuse.

  • This Machine Chips Fascists||

    So, the agent digging through your personal items in search of contraband, based on a shadow on an x-ray or the results of chemical test or whatever aroused their suspicions, is [i]not[/i] conducting an investigation?

    First we chip all the lawyers.

  • BYODB||

    If they considered it an investigation, which is would appear to be at face value, than they would need to admit that they would need probable cause or a warrant to search them.

    'Safety concerns' do not trump the requirement to get a warrant for searches and seizures, along with the requirement that they have probable cause. Yet, somehow, here we are.

  • Longtobefree||

    What is the point of having unconstitutional searches if a simple court suit could set things right? I mean, really!

    There was a saying in the sixties (yes I remember most of it) that you can't fight city hall, but you can burn it down.
    Maybe use votes instead of torches?

  • Jerryskids||

    The court reasoned that agency employees are not classified as "investigative or law enforcement officers" under the FTCA, which is the law that enables people to file claims against federal employees.

    Wait, so if I'm a government employee - but not an investigative or law enforcement officer - I can just randomly beat the shit out of people and there's nothing they can do about it? Why has nobody ever told me about this perk of the job? Don't wait up, I'm off to get me one of those government jobs!

  • NoVaNick||

    I have yet to see an abuse lawsuit against any law enforcement officer, federal or otherwise, that has been successful.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Wait, so if I'm a government employee - but not an investigative or law enforcement officer - I can just randomly beat the shit out of people and there's nothing they can do about it?

    I think that only applies if randomly beating the shit out of people is part of your "official duties," which makes it a little odd that investigative or law enforcement officers aren't exempted, since they're pretty much the only ones that would have that as part of their official duties. In fact, maybe I'm missing something here, but it seems like TSA screeners now have more immunity to randomly beat the shit out of people than, say, FBI agents. Kinda weird.

  • Jerryskids||

    Pellegrino was detained, and two TSA officers decided to press charges.

    Detained by whom? If the TSA officers are not law enforcement, they have no arrest powers and if they grabbed her to detain her, that's assault and battery if not kidnapping or false imprisonment. In fact, I think somebody should test this theory by walking past the security line and telling the TSA agents to fuck off when they yell at you that you have to go through the line. If they grab you, punch them in the throat, see what happens when you defend your actions on the grounds that they're not law enforcement and you have the right to defend yourself. I'd do it myself, but I've got things to do today so I'm kinda busy.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    I have read that TSA screeners do not have arrest powers, that they call on nearby cops to do the deed. A distinction without a difference, since the cops are just relying on what the screeners say.

  • Griffin3||

    I trying to figure out a way to use

    agency employees are not classified as "investigative or law enforcement officers"

    against them.

  • Juice||

    TSA does not investigate even though that's what they claim 100% of their job is. Utterly baffling.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners cannot be held liable for abuse claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), a federal court ruled Wednesday.

    The next step will be to arm them. I'm sure nothing bad could come from giving a bunch of mouth breathing retards immunity from tort claims, AUTHORITAH (which you will respect), and an over inflated sense of their own worth and then arming with. Nope, nothing at all could possibly go wrong there...

  • Bubba Jones||

    IIRC, TSA does not actually search for law violations. They screen for security threats.

    Theoretically, if a TSA agent sees your marijuana, that's outside their jurisdiction.

    It may not be outside the jurisdiction of the cop standing next to them.

    I think this is the important distinction for this case.

    This is why TSA doesn't carry guns, etc. And why there is ALWAYS a real cop in the security area.

  • Olderthandirt-stillkickin||

    If the court says the TSA agents are not "law enforcement" then they should not have the authority to detain, arrest, or do anything except perhaps to deny permission to board a plane. My first flight was in 1951, my last one was in 2010, and I'll not fly again until I am once again free to travel without being treated like a potential criminal. The entire Department of Homeland Security is a farce, an abuse of power, and nothing but an extension of the growing American Gestapo.

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