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Sixth Circuit Holds FTCA Bars False Arrest Claim; Summary Judgment for Media Upheld

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a Tennessee woman's false arrest claims against the United States. It also affirmed the dismissal of defamation and false light claims against a media outlet.

In 2006, the U.S. Marshals Service and local law enforcement agencies across 24 states conducted a fugitive round-up which led to the arrest of 10,733 fugitives with federal, state or local felony warrants.

Due to a series of clerical mistakes, on October 24, 2006, Paula Ann Milligan was incorrectly arrested in the sting. When it became clear that Milligan was arrested by mistake, all criminal charges against her were dropped on November 1, 2006.

WZTV-Fox 17, a local Tennessee television station operated by Sinclair Broadcasting was allowed to film the operation, but was barred from airing the footage until November 2, 2006. A Fox 17 reporter and videographer filmed Milligan's arrest.

The day after the charges were dismissed, Fox 17 aired its story about the operation on November 2, 2006. The story showed footage of Milligan's arrest and reported that she was wanted on four counts of forgery and one count of identity theft.

In October 2007, Milligan and her husband brought federal suit against state and federal law enforcement, the United States government, and Sinclair. After most claims were resolved, the district court dismissed the claims against the United States, for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The court also granted summary judgment to Sinclair on the defamation and false light claims.

The Sixth Circuit affirmed. With respect to the claims against the United States, the court held that neither the FTCA’s discretionary function exception nor intentional tort exception applied to the Milligans' negligence suit against federal officers.

The court also affirmed summary judgment for Sinclair, finding that "the Milligans were unable to meet their burden under (Tennessee's) fair report privilege of proving actual malice, and ... no genuine issues of material fact relating to the defamation or false light claims exist." See: Milligan v. United States, 670 F.3d 686 (6th Cir. 2012).

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Related legal case

Milligan v. United States