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Cestonaro v. United States

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Cestonaro’s wife filed a negligence suit against the National Park Service after her husband was shot and killed in a parking lot within the boundaries of Chirstiansted National Historic Site.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    The United States can be sued if a federal agency performs a duty that is not within the goal of the agency.

    Facts.

    An Itlaian citizen, Cestonaro, was shot and killed in a parking lot within the boundaries of Chirstiansted National Historic Site, owned by the National Park Service (NPS), in the Virgin Islands. Cestonaro’s wife filed a negligence suit against the National Park Service claiming that NPS was negligent by failing to provide sufficient lighting or warning about nighttime parking. Cestonaro also claimed that although the lot was not a typical paved or marked lot, the space was regularly used as a parking lot and NPS was aware that crimes regularly occurred within the lot. NPS had five large lights to illuminate the parking lot in the evening. The district court granted a motion to dismiss to NPS.

    Issue.

    Whether the United States can be sued if a federal agency performs a duty that is not within the goal of the agency?

    Held.

    Yes. The judgment of the district court is reversed. The NPS did not show how providing some lighting, rather than more, were rooted in the social, economic, or political goals of the NPS maintaining a historic site.

    Discussion.

    The United States can be sued if a federal agency performs a duty that is not within the goal of the agency. Although the United States cannot normally be sued without it’s consent, the Federal Torts Claim Act waives sovereign immunity for the United States and some federal agencies. The discretionary function exception, requiring that (1) the action at issue was mandated at law, and (2) the federal agency’s actions were rooted in the social, economic, or political goals of the agency, allows the federal government and federal agencies to maintain their sovereign immunity.


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