412 U.S. 521 (1973), 72-656, Logue v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 72-656
Citation:412 U.S. 521, 93 S.Ct. 2215, 37 L.Ed.2d 121
Party Name:Logue v. United States
Case Date:June 11, 1973
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 521

412 U.S. 521 (1973)

93 S.Ct. 2215, 37 L.Ed.2d 121



United States

No. 72-656

United States Supreme Court

June 11, 1973

Argued April 24, 1973




Petitioners, claiming that their son's suicide while he was confined as a federal prisoner in a county jail was proximately caused by the negligence of Government agents and employees, brought suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which establishes Government liability for negligent acts or omissions of an "employee of the Government," defined, inter alia, as a person officially "acting on behalf of a federal agency . . . with or without compensation." The Act excludes any contractor with the United States from the definition of federal agency. Though finding that the county had contracted with the Federal Government to house federal prisoners in its jail, the District Court held that the Government was liable on the grounds that the sheriff's employees negligently failed to maintain adequate surveillance of the decedent (who had attempted suicide while initially incarcerated), and that the Deputy United States Marshal negligently failed specifically to arrange for constant surveillance. The Court of Appeals reversed on the grounds that, under the "contractor" exclusion, the United States was not accountable for the negligence of the sheriff's employees, and those employees were not acting on behalf of a federal agency in an official capacity within the meaning of the Act.


1. The Court of Appeals correctly concluded that, contrary to petitioners' contention, the deputy marshal had no authority to control the activities of the sheriff's employees, and that the jail was a "contractor," not a "Federal agency," within the meaning of the Act; and the statutory authorization for the housing of federal prisoners in state facilities clearly contemplated that the day-to-day operation of the contractor's facilities was to be in the contractor's, not the Government's, hands. Pp. 526-530.

2. Petitioners' alternative contention that, even though the sheriff's employees might not be "employees" of a federal agency, they might nonetheless be "acting on behalf of a Federal agency in an official capacity," and thus "employee[s] of the Government" within the meaning of the Act, is not consistent with the legislative purpose of the Act. Pp. 530-532.

Page 522

3. The Court of Appeals, not having given consideration to the question of the deputy marshal's negligence apart from other issues, should address itself to that question on remand. Pp. 532-533.

459 F.2d 408 and 463 F.2d 1340, vacated and remanded.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. STEWART and MARSHALL, JJ., filed a separate statement.

REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

Reagan Logue, a federal prisoner confined in a county jail pending trial, fashioned a noose from a bandage covering a laceration on his left arm and hanged himself. His mother and adoptive father sued the United States for damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1346(h),1 claiming that negligence on the part of Government agents and employees proximately caused the death of their son. The District Court determined that Logue's death was the result of negligence for which the United States was liable, and awarded damages. 334 F.Supp. 322 (SD Tex.1971).

Page 523

The Court of Appeals reversed this judgment, 459 F.2d 408 (1972), rehearing en banc denied, 463 F.2d 1340 (1972). We granted certiorari in order to consider the application to this case of the Act's exclusion of employees of a "contractor with the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2671.

On May 22, 1968, Reagan Logue was arrested by Deputy United States Marshal Del Bowers on a bench warrant charging Logue with conspiracy to smuggle 229 pounds of marihuana into the United States. After a hearing, he was taken to the Nueces County jail in Corpus Christi, Texas, to await trial. This jail is one of some 800 institutions operated by state and local governments that contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to provide for the safekeeping, care, and subsistence of federal prisoners.2

Page 524

[93 S.Ct. 2218] On the day after his initial incarceration, Logue attempted to commit suicide by slashing veins in his left arm. He was immediately taken to a hospital emergency room for treatment of the laceration. While the wound turned out to be relatively minor, Logue was admitted to the hospital's psychiatric floor because of the attending doctor's observation that he was actively hallucinating and out of touch with reality. The psychiatrist who later took charge of the case, recognizing Logue's suicidal tendencies, recommended to federal officials that he be committed to a medical facility for rehabilitation.3

On the following day, May 24, the District Court ordered that Logue be transferred to a federal medical facility pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4244. While awaiting the processing of papers and other steps preparatory to the actual transfer, however, federal officials made arrangements to transfer Logue back to the Nueces County jail.4 Before the transfer, Bowers informed the chief jailer of Logue's suicidal tendencies and requested that he prepare for Logue a special cell removed of all dangerous objects that might be used in another suicide attempt. Such a cell was prepared by the jail authorities, and Logue was placed in it. Bowers made no specific arrangements for constant surveillance of Logue once he

Page 525

was confined, and the jail employees made only periodic checks when they were on that floor for some other reason. The day after his return to the jail, Logue removed the Kerlix bandage that had been applied to the laceration on his left arm and hanged himself.

The District Court found that there had been a contract between the Government and Nueces County whereby the latter undertook to house federal prisoners in the county jail at Corpus Christi. That court nonetheless found that the United States was liable for the negligence of the employees of the Nueces County sheriff as well as for the negligence of its own employee. The court found the former to have been negligent because their surveillance of Logue was "inadequate," and it found Bowers to have been negligent in failing to make "specific arrangements . . . for constant surveillance of the prisoner."

The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the District Court, stating in its opinion that:

We interpret [18 U.S.C. § 4002] as fixing the status of the Nueces County jail as that of a "contractor." Title 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2671. . . . This insulates the United States from liability under the FTCA for the negligent acts or omissions of the jail's employees. We find no support in the record for holding that Deputy Marshal Bowers had any power or authority to control any of the internal functions of the Nueces County jail. The deputy marshal, accordingly, violated no duty of safekeeping with respect to the deceased.

459 F.2d at 411.

The Federal Tort Claims Act makes the United States liable for money damages "caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government. . . ."

Page 526

28 U.S.C. § 1346(b). Section 2671 of Title 28 U.S.C. contains the following definitions:

As used in this chapter and sections 1346(b) and 2401(b) of this title, [93 S.Ct. 2219] the term "Federal agency" includes the executive departments, the military departments, independent establishments of the United States, and corporations primarily acting as instrumentalities or agencies of the United States, but does not include any contractor with the United States.

"Employee of the government" includes officers or employees of any federal agency, members of the military or naval forces of the United States, and persons acting on behalf of a federal agency in an official capacity, temporarily or permanently in the service of the United States, whether with or without compensation.

For the Government to be liable for the negligence of an employee of the Nueces County jail, he must be shown to be an "employee of the Government" as that term is used in the Federal Tort Claims Act. Though petitioners do not always distinguish between their two theories, they appear to contend alternatively that the Nueces County jail is a "Federal agency" by reason of its contract for the care of federal prisoners, or that the employees of the jail are "acting on behalf of" the Bureau of Prisons or the Government in performing services for federal prisoners. The Court of Appeals rejected these contentions, and we believe that it was right in doing so.

We read that portion of the Court of Appeals' opinion quoted supra, as treating the "contractor" exemption from the definition of "Federal agency" in § 2671 as adopting the common law distinction between the liability of an employer for the negligent acts of his own employees

Page 527

and his liability for the employees of a party with whom he contracts for a specified performance. Both the modern common law as reflected in the Restatement of Agency5 and the law of Texas6 make the distinction between the servant or agent relationship and that of independent contractor turn on the absence of authority in the principal to control the physical conduct of the contractor in performance of the contract.

In Maryland v. United States, 381 U.S. 41 (1965), one of the factors relied upon by the Court in determining that both military and civilian National Guard personnel were employees of the States, rather than of the United States,...

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