Synopsis of Rule of Law. Â The Federal Tort Claims Act (âFTCAâ), authorizes private tort actions against the United States (in effect, the United States waives its sovereign immunity) under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the state where the act or omission occurred.
Held. Not necessarily.Â The FTCA says it waives sovereign immunity âunder circumstances where the United States, if a private person,â would be liable.Â It does not say immunity is waived where the United States, if a state or municipal entity, would be liable.Â The FTCA requires a court to look to the state-law liability of private entities, not public entities, when assessing the Government’s liability.Â In addition, the FTCA makes the United States liable âin the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances.âÂ Such âlike circumstancesâ do not restrict a court’s inquiry to the exact same circumstances, but require it to look further afield.Â The Ninth Circuit should have found a more compelling analogy to compare the federal mine inspectors activities to those of private individuals in order to find that sovereign immunity had been waived.Â The Supreme Court vacated the Ninth Circuit’s judgment and remanded the case back to the district court to determine whether the United States is liable.
Discussion. The FTCA was enacted because the federal government’s sovereign immunity from tort suit eventually became a nuisance to Congress.Â This is because citizens who were denied access to courts often sought recovery from their Congressperson via a âprivate billâ, consuming Congressional time.Â To minimize time loss, Congress passed the Federal Tort Claims Act in 1946, turning over such claims to the judicial process.Â The FTCA waived the federal government’s immunity from tort suits, but did not do so completely, as this case demonstrates.Â Moreover, this case demonstrates that although FTCA claims must be brought in federal court, the substantive law that governs claims under the FTCA is the law of the state in which the alleged tort occurred.