Brief Fact Summary.
Plaintiff was trying to enter a highway in Missouri. Due to the poor visibility at the highway entrance from mailboxes that were shielding his view, a truck struck Plaintiff when he entered the highway. Plaintiff endured serious injuries. Plaintiff brought suit against the United States claiming that its postal service, USPS, negligently positioned the mailboxes near the highway. The federal district court dismissed the suit on the grounds that the United States has sovereign immunity. Plaintiff appealed.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A government agency’s act is shielded from civil tort liability on sovereign immunity grounds when the agency’s act was an exercise of discretion.
In February 2002, Lucas Rile, Plaintiff, was trying to make a turn in his vehicle from a local road onto U.S. Highway 63 in Missouri. However, the visibility in that area of Highway 63 was poor due to the mailboxes that were present. Thinking the road was clear, Plaintiff entered the highway. At that moment, Plaintiff’s vehicle was struck by a truck, causing Plaintiff serious injuries. Plaintiff brought suit against the United States on the ground that the United States Postal Service (USPS) had negligently positioned the mailboxes. Locals in the area previously complained about the position and location of the mailboxes, but the USPS refused to pay to move them to another location. Nonetheless, due to Plaintiff’s accident, the USPS agreed to move the mailboxes. As a defense, the United States introduced evidence that the USPS positioned the mailboxes in that curbside location for efficiency and safety because many homes were located away from the roadway. The federal district court dismissed Plaintiff’s complaint on the grounds that the United States has sovereign immunity. Plaintiff appealed.
Whether a government agency’s act is shielded from civil tort liability on sovereign immunity grounds when the agency’s act was an exercise of discretion.
Yes, a government agency’s act is shielded from civil tort liability on sovereign immunity grounds when the agency’s act was an exercise of discretion.
Pursuant to the rules of sovereign immunity, suit may only be brought against the United States when the United States consents to suit. Under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), the groundsPlaintiff brought suit, is a limited waiver of the United State’s sovereign immunity. Nonetheless, the FTCA’s waiver of immunitydoes not shieldthe government’s acts or omissions that are deemed to be “a discretionary function or duty” by a federal agency or employee, despite the fact thatthe agent abused the discretion. A two-part test has been established to determine if the FTCA’s discretionary-function exception is applicable in a given case.Berkovitz v. United States, 486 U.S. 531 (1988). First, the court must determine whether the conduct is discretionary, meaning does it involve “an element of judgment or choice”? Second, the court must determine whether the conduct is deemed to be a type of a character that the discretionary-function exception was intended to shield? The second inquiry is satisfied when it involves a social, economic, or political policy. In this case, pursuant to the Berkovitz analysis, the discretionary function exception is applicable The decision to create and place mailboxes at a specific location is discretionary decision, as there are not any federal statutes or regulations requiring a specific location for them. Additionally, the “Green Book,” published by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and incorporated into the Code of Federal Regulations, does not result in a change in the result because the Green Book is only meant to provide guidance, not to mandate a specific conduct. Likewise, these type of decisions, mailbox placement, are the type that the discretionary decisions the exception was intended to protect because they are founded on considerations of efficiency and safety.Therefore, the district court’s decision is affirmed.