499 U.S. 160 (1991), 89-1646, United States v. Smith

Docket Nº:No. 89-1646
Citation:499 U.S. 160, 111 S.Ct. 1180, 113 L.Ed.2d 134, 59 U.S.L.W. 4201
Party Name:United States v. Smith
Case Date:March 20, 1991
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 160

499 U.S. 160 (1991)

111 S.Ct. 1180, 113 L.Ed.2d 134, 59 U.S.L.W. 4201

United States

v.

Smith

No. 89-1646

United States Supreme Court

March 20, 1991

Argued Nov. 7, 1990

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Respondents Smith filed suit in the District Court against one Dr. Marshall, alleging that he had negligently injured respondent Dominique Smith during his birth at a United States Army hospital in Italy. The court granted the Government's motion to substitute itself for Marshall pursuant to the Gonzalez Act, which provides that, in a suit against military medical personnel for employment-related torts, the Government is to [111 S.Ct. 1182] be substituted as the defendant and the suit is to proceed under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The court then dismissed the suit on the ground that the FTCA excludes recovery for injuries sustained abroad. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that neither the Gonzalez Act nor the Federal Employees Liability Reform and Tort Compensation Act of 1988 (Act) required substitution of the Government or otherwise immunized Marshall. It ruled that § 5 of the Act -- which, with two exceptions not here relevant, confers absolute immunity on Government employees by making an FTCA action against the Government the exclusive remedy for their employment-related torts -- applies only when the FTCA provides a remedy.

Held: The Act immunizes Government employees from suit even when an FTCA exception precludes recovery against the Government. Pp. 165-175

(a) The Act's language confirms that § 5 makes the FTCA the exclusive mode of recovery. Congress recognized that requiring substitution of the Government would sometimes foreclose a tort plaintiff's recovery altogether when it provided in § 6 of the Act that suits proceeding under the FTCA are subject to the "limitations and exceptions" applicable to FTCA actions. Moreover, in light of § 5's two express exceptions preserving employee liability, a third exception preserving liability when the FTCA bars suit cannot be implied, absent a contrary legislative intent. Furthermore, the enactment of § 9 of the Act -- which provides for the substitution of the Tennessee Valley Authority as defendant in employment-related tort suits against its employees -- supports no inference on the scope of § 5 immunity when the FTCA precludes suit against the United States. Pp. 165-169

(b) Respondents' several arguments to support the decision below are rejected. Construing the Act to preclude Marshall's tort liability does

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not result in an implied repeal of the Gonzalez Act. The Gonzalez Act functions solely to protect military medical personnel from malpractice liability, and does not create rights in favor of malpractice plaintiffs, whose rights arise instead under state or foreign law. Since respondents' rights as malpractice plaintiffs were not created by Congress, the rule disfavoring implied repeals is not implicated when Congress limits those rights. Similarly, respondents' suggestion that the Act was meant to apply solely to those Government employees not already protected from tort liability by a preexisting federal immunity statute is inconsistent with the Act's purpose. The Act's plain language makes no distinction between employees who are covered under pre-Act immunity statutes and those who are not. Congress clearly was aware of the pre-Act immunity statutes. Congress' enactment of the two express limitations of immunity under § 5 of the Act indicates that, if it intended to limit the Act's protection to employees not covered under the pre-Act immunity statutes, it would have said this expressly. Finally, since nothing in the Gonzalez Act imposes any obligations or duties of care upon military physicians, respondents' malpractice claim does not involve a violation of the Gonzalez Act. Thus, it does not fall within the Act's exception for suits brought for a violation of a United States statute under which action against an employee is otherwise authorized. Pp. 169-175.

885 F.2d 650 (CA9 1989), reversed and remanded.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, O'CONNOR, SCALIA, KENNEDY, and SOUTER, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 175.

MARSHALL, J., lead opinion

[111 S.Ct. 1183] Justice MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Federal Employees Liability Reform and Tort Compensation Act of 1988 (Liability Reform Act or Act) limits the relief available to persons injured by Government employees acting within the scope of their employment. For persons so injured, the Act provides that "[t]he remedy against the

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United States" under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) "is exclusive of any other civil action or proceeding for money damages." 28 U.S.C. § 2679(b)(1). Subject to certain exceptions, the FTCA permits a person injured by a Government employee acting within the scope of his or her employment to seek tort damages against the Government. One exception bars such recovery for injuries sustained outside the country. See 28 U.S.C. § 2680(k). This case presents the question whether a person injured abroad by a military physician, and whom the FTCA foreign-country exception therefore precludes from suing the Government, may nonetheless seek damages from the particular Government employee who caused the injury. We hold that the Liability Reform Act bars this alternative mode of recovery.

I

In 1982, while working on the medical staff of the United States Army hospital in Vicenza, Italy, Dr. William Marshall served as attending physician to Hildegard Smith during the delivery of her son Dominique. At this time, Ms. Smith's husband, Marcus Smith, was an Army Sergeant stationed in Italy. According to the Smiths, Dominique was born with massive brain damage. In 1987, the Smiths, who are respondents in this Court, sued Dr. Marshall in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, basing jurisdiction on diversity of citizenship. The Smiths alleged that Dr. Marshall's negligence during the delivery caused Dominique's injuries.[1]

The Government intervened and sought to have itself substituted for Dr. Marshall as the defendant pursuant to the Gonzalez Act, 10 U.S.C. § 1089. The Gonzalez Act provides that, in suits against military medical personnel for torts committed within the scope of their employment, the Government is to be substituted as the defendant and the suit is to

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proceed against the Government under the FTCA. See §§ 1089(a), (b). The Government also argued that, because the action arose overseas, the FTCA exception excluding recovery for injuries sustained abroad, 28 U.S.C. § 2680(k), precluded Government liability. Consequently, the Government concluded, the action should be dismissed. The District Court granted the Government's motion for substitution and dismissed the action. See App. to Pet. for Cert. 17a-18a.[2]

In 1988, while respondents' appeal was pending, Congress enacted the Liability Reform Act as an amendment to the FTCA. Congress took this action in response to our ruling in Westfall v. Erwin, 484 U.S. 292 (1988), which held that the judicially created doctrine of official immunity does not provide absolute immunity to Government employees for torts committed in the scope of their employment. In Westfall, we ruled that such official immunity would have to be determined on a case-by-case basis, according to whether "the contribution to effective government in particular contexts" from granting immunity "outweighs the potential harm to individual citizens." 484 U.S. at 299. The Liability Reform Act establishes the absolute immunity for Government employees that the Court declined to recognize under the common law in Westfall. The Act confers such immunity by making an FTCA action against the Government the exclusive [111 S.Ct. 1184] remedy for torts committed by Government employees in the scope of their employment.[3]

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On appeal in the present case, the Government relied on this new statute to support the District Court's dismissal of respondents' action.[4] The Government argued that the Liability Reform Act essentially had the same effect as that which the District Court had found to result from the Gonzalez Act. Because Dr. Marshall's alleged malpractice occurred in the scope of his employment, the Government argued, respondents' action should proceed against it as an FTCA action.[5] The Government further contended that, because of the FTCA exception under § 2680(k) barring recovery for injuries occurring overseas, the District Court's ruling dismissing the suit should be affirmed.

The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that neither the Gonzalez Act nor the Liability Reform Act required substitution of the Government as the defendant in this suit or otherwise immunized Dr. Marshall from liability. See 885 F.2d 650 (1989).[6] With respect to the Liability Reform Act, the

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Ninth Circuit reasoned that, although the Act renders a suit against the Government under the FTCA the exclusive remedy for employment-related torts committed by Government employees, the Act applies only when the FTCA in fact provides a remedy. Because § 2680(k) of the FTCA precludes any remedy against the Government in cases arising from injuries incurred abroad, the Ninth Circuit concluded that respondents' tort claim against Dr. Marshall was not barred by the Liability Reform Act. Id. at 654-655.

We granted certiorari, 496 U.S. 924 (1990), to resolve a conflict among the Circuits over whether the Liability Reform Act immunizes Government employees from suit even when an FTCA exception precludes recovery against [111 S.Ct. 1185] the...

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