Cope (Plaintiff) sued the National Park Service (Defendant) over an accident that occurred on a road Defendant maintained, alleging negligence in poor maintenance and lack of adequate warning signs.
Discretionary decisions on what types of road signs to post and where to post them are not necessarily protected from lawsuits.
The National Park Service maintained a busy road that traveled through an urban park in Washington, D.C. On the day of the accident at issue, the road was worn and slippery from rain. Plaintiff was involved in an accident on the road and sued the Park Service for negligence in failing to maintain the road or to post safety warnings on the road. The trial court found for the Park Service, determining that the actions alleged to be negligent were discretionary and that the Park Service was therefore immune from suit. Plaintiff appealed.
Are discretionary decisions on what types of road signs to post and where to post them necessarily protected from suit?
(Tatel, J.) No. Discretionary decisions on what types of road signs to post and where to post them are not necessarily protected from lawsuits. The discretionary function exception to liability applies only to decisions with economic, social, or political concerns. Plaintiff was entitled to plead his claim that the government acted negligently by not posting adequate warning signs to a factfinder. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.
The Government argued that concerns regarding the aesthetic effect of posting additional road signs fell under the discretionary function exception. However, the court made clear that these considerations were not political. Only political policy decisions are considered discretionary. Discretionary acts are immune from suit, but administrative functions are not.