Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

US Court of Appeals Reverses Federal Employee Assault Claim Against Coworker

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed in March 2012 the sovereign immunity finding of the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia, and remanded for further proceedings the cause of contract security officer Nicholas Ignacio, Plaintiff, against the United States in a Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) suit alleging assault on the part of Pentagon police officer, Kevin Lane. Ignacio and Lane were working a security checkpoint at the Pentagon when in December 2009 a dispute arose between the two as to the caliber of the M-16 rifle round. The disagreement becoming vitriolic until, two weeks later, Lane threatened Ignacio with bodily harm. Lane was suspended ten days; Ignacio sued the government under FTCA 28 USC §2680(L).

In court, the United States moved for summary judgment, arguing the FTCA’s waiver of sovereign immunity did not apply because the assault did not occur within the scope of Lane’s employment, nor was it within the course of law enforcement activity, which exempted the government from Lane’s actions. The district court agreed, dismissing Ignacio’s claim.

Ignacio argued on appeal that the “law enforcement proviso,” an exception to the exception shielding government employees, included in the same section of the statute, applied to the instant case. The proviso preserves waiver of immunity when certain named intentional torts, assault among them, are “acts or omissions of investigative or law enforcement officers of the United States government.”

The court of appeals agreed with Ignacio, noting district court incorrectly construed the proviso as waiving immunity exception only when a law enforcement officer commits a specific tort “while engaged in investigative or law enforcement activities.” The court of appeals ruled from 28 § 260(h): “The plain language of the law enforcement proviso stipulates two conditions for its application: (1) an individual fitting the definition of an ‘investigative or law enforcement officer’ must commit an intentional tort and (2) the claim must arise out of assault, battery, false imprisonment, false arrest, abuse of process, or malicious prosecution.” Absent was any language regarding the context in which the officer must commit the tort.

A separate concurring opinion addressed only the inconsistency brought about by the FTCA, allowing some federal employees immunity to such tort litigation while others, not in an investigative or law enforcement capacity, exposed, but could not offer a remedy save case-by-case scrutiny. See: Ignacio v. United States, 674 F.3d 252 (4th Cir. 2012).

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Ignacio v. United States