Last year, ruling en banc, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that TSA screeners are not immune from suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act for intentional harm that they do to passengers.
The TSA argues that although they call their screeners Transportation Security Officers (“TSOs”) they aren’t actually officers, and that they don’t actually search anyone just ‘screen’ them.
The third circuit didn’t buy that, deciding 9-4 that TSA security checkpoint employees are “officers or employees” of the federal government and that they “execute searches.”
Brian Iverson went through security at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. Because of a prior injury, Iverson walked with the aid of crutches. At the security checkpoint, TSOs performed a pat-down search. During that search, Iverson was allowed to place his hands on his crutches but had to stand on his own power. Iverson alleges that a TSO pulled him forward and then abruptly let go, causing Iverson to fall. The fall injured Iverson.
Iverson filed an administrative claim, which the TSA denied. He then filed this suit, asserting battery and negligence claims. The government moved to dismiss, arguing that the FTCA’s waiver of sovereign immunity does not cover intentional torts, such as battery.
As a result of the ruling, you can now sue TSA for any intentional battery they may inflict on you as a passenger in the states of Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. They join Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania (as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands) in recognizing this right of redress.
In the 11th Circuit states of Alabama, Florida, and Georgia you cannot sue under the 2014 decision in Jonathan Corbett v. TSA. Increasingly then we’re seeing a circuit split, making it possible that the Supreme Court may someday rule on TSA-imposed beatings and sovereign immunity.