Maryland Levin v. United States

Decision Date03 May 1965
Docket NumberNo. 345,345
Citation14 L.Ed.2d 205,85 S.Ct. 1293,381 U.S. 41
PartiesMARYLAND, for the Use of Nadine Y. LEVIN, Sydney L. Johns, et al., Petitioners, v. UNITED STATES
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Theodore E. Wolcott, New York City, for petitioners.

David Rose, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice HARLAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question we decide here is whether a civilian employee and military member of the National Guard is an 'employee' of the United States for purposes of the Federal Tort Claims Act when his National Guard unit is not in active federal service.1

Petitioners' decedents were passengers on a Capital Airlines plane that collided over Maryland with a jet trainer assigned to the Maryland Air National Guard. The only survivor of the accident was the pilot of the trainer, Captain McCoy, and it is not disputed that the collision was caused by his negligence. The estates of the pilot and co-pilot of the Capital plane, and Capital Airlines itself, filed suit against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act in the District Court for the District of Columbia, and recovered judgments. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed, United States v. State of Maryland, for the Use of Meyer, 116 U.S.App.D.C. 259, 322 F.2d 1009, cert. denied, 375 U.S. 954, 84 S.Ct. 445, 11 L.Ed.2d 314, motion for leave to file petition for rehearing pending, No. 543, 1963 Term, 380 U.S. —-, 85 S.Ct. —-. Meanwhile, petitioners filed a similar suit in the Western District of Pennsylvania, and all parties agreed to proceed solely on the record made in the Meyer case. The District Court rendered judgment for petitioners, but the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed. 329 F.2d 722. We granted certiorari, 379 U.S. 877, 85 S.Ct. 149, 13 L.Ed.2d 85, to resolve the conflict between the two Circuits on this single record, and, more broadly, to settle authoritatively the basic question stated at the outset of this opinion which is at the core of other litigation arising out of this same disaster, now pending in a number of courts in different parts of the country. 2

Captain McCoy held a commission from the Governor of Maryland as an officer in the Maryland Air National Guard, and he served on alternate Saturdays as a fighter pilot and Squadron Maintenance Officer with the 104th Fighter Interceptor Squadron. During the rest of the month Captain McCoy was employed by the Guard in a civilian capacity as Aircraft Maintenance Chief under 32 U.S.C. § 709 (1958 ed.), the socalled federal 'caretaker' statute.3 In his civilian capacity Captain McCoy supervised the maintenance of the squadron aircraft assigned to the Air National Guard but owned by the United States. On the day of the accident, Captain McCoy had obtained permission from his superior to take a passenger on a flight in order to interest the passenger in joining the Air National Guard. The principal factual dispute below was whether at the time of the accident Captain McCoy was performing his duties with the Guard in a military or civilian capacity. A line of cases in the courts of appeals beginning with United States v. Holly, 192 F.2d 221 (C.A.10th Cir., 1951), has held that civilian 'caretakers' are employees of the United States for purposes of suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act.4 Another line of cases has been equally consistent in treating military members of the Guard as employees of the States, not the Federal Government.5 We do not deal with the factual question, on which the decision below turned,6 since, in agreement with the views of Judge Smith7 and in disagreement with the Court of Appeals in the Meyer case, we hold that in both capacities Captain McCoy was an employee of the State of Maryland, and not of the United States. Hence the United States cannot be held liable under the Tort Claims Act for his negligence in either capacity.


The National Guard is the modern Militia reserved to the Statees by Art. I, § 8, cl. 15, 16, of the Constitution.8 It has only been in recent years that the National Guard has been an organized force, capable of being assimilated with ease into the regular military establishment of the United States. From the days of the Minutemen of Lexington and Concord until just before World War I, the various militias embodied the concept of a citizen army, but lacked the equipment and training necessary for their use as an integral part of the reserve force of the United States Armed Forces.9 The passage of the National Defense Act of 191610 materially altered the status of the militias by constituting them as the National Guard. Pursuant to power vested in Congress by the Constitution (see n. 8), the Guard was to be uniformed, equipped, and trained in much the same way as the regular army, subject to federal standards and capable of being 'federalized' by units, rather than by drafting individual soldiers.11 In return, Congress authorized the allocation of federal equipment to the Guard, and provided federal compensation for members of the Guard, supplementing any state emoluments. The Governor, however, remained in charge of the National Guard in each State except when the Guard was called into active federal service; in most instances the Governor administered the Guard through the State Adjutant General,12 who was required by the Act to report periodically to the National Guard Bureau, a federal organization, on the guard's reserve status.13 The basic structure of the 1916 Act has been preserved to the present day.

Section 93 of the National Defense Act authorized the payment of federal funds for the employment by the Guard of civilian 'caretakers' to be responsible for the upkeep of federal equipment allocated to the National Guard.14 This section was later amended to make explicit that employment as a caretaker could be held by officers in the Guard, who would receive a full-time salary as civilian caretakers, and in addition would receive compensation for service as military members of the Guard.15 The legislative history of these amendments makes clear that the State Adjutant General could appoint officers of the Guard to serve as civilian caretakers, provided only that the appointees met the requirements established by the federal authorities.16


It is not argued here that military members of the Guard are federal employees, even though they are paid with federal funds and must conform to strict federal requirements in order to satisfy training and promotion standards. Their appointment by state authorities and the immediate control exercised over them by the States make it apparent that military members of the Guard are employees of the States, and so the courts of appeals have uniformly held. See n. 5, supra. Civilian caretakers should not be considered as occupying a different status. Caretakers, like military members of the Guard, are also paid with federal funds and must observe federal requirements in order to maintain their positions.17 Although they are employed to maintain federal property, it is property for which the States are responsible, and its maintenance is for the purpose of keeping the state militia in a ready status. The National Defense Act of 1916 authorized the allocation of federal property to the National Guard, but provided

'That as a condition precedent to the issue of any property as provided for by this Act, the State, Terri- tory, or the District of Columbia desiring such issue shall make adequate provision, to the satisfaction of the Secretary of War, for the protection and care of such property * * *.'18

The Act also provided that damage or loss of federal property would be charged to the States, unless the Secretary of War determined that the damage or loss was unavoidable.19 Caretakers appointed under § 90 of the Act were thus to perform a state function, the maintenance of federal equipment allocated to the Guard.20 The caretakers have been termed the 'backbone' of the Guard, 21 and are the only personnel on duty with Guard units during the greater part of the year. Like their military counterpart, caretakers are appointed by the State Adjutant General,22 and are responsible to him in the performance of their daily duties. They can be discharged and promoted only by him.23 Civilian caretakers are treated as state employees for purposes of the Social Security Act,24 for state retirement funds,25 and under the regula- tions issued by the Department of the Air Force.26 As early as 1920 the Comptroller of the Treasury ruled that a civilian caretaker was not a federal employee entitled to the annual leave provisions applicable to the War Department,27 an opinion that was reiterated in 1941 by the Comptroller General28 and that reflects the consistent position of the Department of Defense.29

United States v. Holly, supra, decided in 1951, held that civilian caretakers were employees of the United States, and has since been followed in other courts of appeals (n. 4, supra). Holly rested on a construction of the National Defense Act which, in our view, is not supported by the legislative history. Although the original section provided that caretakers were to 'be detailed by the battery or troop commander' (who was a state employee), n. 14, supra, in 1935 Congress amended the statute to provide that the Secretary of the military establishment concerned (here the Secretary of the Air Force) 'shall designate the person to employ' the caretaker.30 The court in Holly read this amendment to mean that caretakers could be employed directly by federal authorities or by the State Adjutant General acting as a federal agent. However, the purpose of the amendment was simply to permit a State to pool its caretakers, and not to restrict the employment of such personnel only to those on the military roster of the unit where the equipment was allotted. The Senate report indicates that Congress envisaged that caretakers would continue to be...

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