The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) shields most US government employees from intentional tort claims, with the exception of law enforcement or investigators. However, TSA personnel do not fall into this category, the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday in a 2-1 verdict.
“TSA employees typically are not law enforcement officers and do not act as such,” but rather carry out “administrative searches and contact local law enforcement if they encounter situations requiring action beyond their limited though important responsibilities,” the majority explained.
The court was “sympathetic” to concerns that this would leave travelers with “very limited legal redress” in case they encounter aggressive or overzealous TSA screeners, but expanding the liability would be “squarely in the realm” of Congress, Circuit Judge Cheryl Ann Krause wrote in the 53-page majority opinion. Judge Thomas L. Ambro disagreed, appending a 58-page dissent.
Nadine Pellegrino, a consultant from Boca Raton, Florida, had filed the lawsuit for false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution over a 2006 incident at the Philadelphia International Airport. Pellegrino and her husband were jailed for 18 hours and charged with 10 criminal counts over a confrontation with several TSA agents, including assault and making terrorist threats. They were acquitted in 2008.
The 3rd Circuit ruling comes a day after New York Giants footballer A.J. Francis slammed the agency on Twitter for spilling his mother’s ashes during a baggage search. TSA has apologized and offered condolences.
TSA and airlines urge travelers to keep remains in a wood or plastic container that can be easily X-rayed and placed in carry-on baggage for easier inspection. Asked why he had placed the urn in the checked baggage, Francis said that Delta Airlines was demanding a death certificate, which he had not received by that point.
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