In a Massachusetts tort case, a prisoner who was incarcerated at FMC Devens filed a pleading captioned as a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. He alleged that while he was incarcerated at FCC Butner, prison staff members negligently failed to secure his personal property while he was in the special housing unit. As a result, his property was stolen. On March 3, 2017, he filed with the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP“) an administrative tort claim concerning the loss of his property. The government denied the claim, concluding that there was not any evidence of negligence on the part of any BOP staff member. The plaintiff sought $663.95 in damages.The U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts held that the pleading failed both as a habeas and as a tort action. This blog post will focus exclusively on the tort issue.
The Federal Employees Reform and Tort Compensation Act of 1988, or the “Westfall Act,” 28 U.S.C. § 2679(b), provides that a lawsuit against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA“) is the exclusive remedy for property loss, injuries, or death arising or resulting from the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the government while acting within the scope of his office.
The FTCA exempts a range of intentional torts. However, the FTCA does not exempt intentional torts committed by investigative officers or law enforcement officers, thereby permitting individuals aggrieved by the actions of law enforcement officers to have their day in court. The Supreme Court affirmed this so-called “law enforcement provision” in Millbrook v. United States. There, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the law enforcement provision of the FTCA applies to all of the activities of law enforcement officers within the scope of their employment, rather than just to their investigative or law enforcement activities.