Our colleague Stuart Gerson of Epstein Becker Green has a new post on SCOTUS Today that will be of interest to our readers: Court’s Unanimous Opinion in Federal Tort Claims Act Case Provides Useful Guidance on Claim/Issue Preclusion.
The following is an excerpt:
The Court rendered a unanimous opinion (per Thomas, J., with Sotomayor, J., concurring) in the case of Brownback v. King. The Respondent, King, suffered personal injury in a confrontation with Brownback and Allen, two members of a federal task force, and brought suit against them and others under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), a statute waiving federal sovereign immunity under certain limitations, and allowing a plaintiff to bring some state-law tort suits against the federal government. 28 U. S. C. §2674. The FTCA includes a provision, called the “judgment bar,” that prohibits “any action by the [plaintiff], by reason of the same subject matter, against the employee of the government whose act or omission gave rise to the claim” if a court enters “[t]he judgment in an action under section 1346(b).” §2676.
King also brought individual actions against the federal officers under the authority of Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U. S. 388. The District Court in Brownback dismissed the FTCA claims, holding that that the officers had qualified immunity and that the plaintiff had failed to state a valid claim under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12. The Bivens claim also was dismissed but only the FTCA holding was appealed. The Sixth Circuit held that the dismissal below did not trigger the judgment bar to block King’s Bivens claims. However, noting that the District Court’s order was a judgment on the merits of the FTCA claims that can trigger the judgment bar, the Supreme Court reversed the Sixth Circuit and held that, similar to common-law claim preclusion, the judgment bar requires a final judgment on the merits, and that is precisely what the lower court rendered. The District Court’s dismissal of the FTCA claims hinged on a “quintessential merits decision” concerning whether the complaint was based on facts that established all the elements of an FTCA claim. And while a Rule 12(b)(6) holding generally does not deprive a court of subject-matter jurisdiction, the case is otherwise in the unique context of the FTCA.
Click here to read the full post and more on SCOTUS Today.