A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that Transportation Security Administration screeners cannot be sued when accused of abuses such as assault or false arrest.
What? How can that be?
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia decided in a 2-1 vote that TSA agents are protected under the Federal Tort Claims Act, because they are not considered “investigative or law enforcement officers.”
U.S. Attorney William McSwain, who represented the TSA workers, said of the decision: “The court rightly concluded that Congress did not provide for suits against the government for the acts of federal employees, including Transportation Security Administration Officers, who are not empowered by law with traditional law enforcement responsibilities.”
Business consultant Nadine Pellegrino brought the suit after a 2006 incident when she was randomly selected for further screening at the Philadelphia airport. Although eventually acquitted, Pellegrino was arrested and jailed for 18 hours after she objected to the TSA’s enhanced search methods.
Pellegrino represented herself in the case, where she accused TSA officials of false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution.
Dissenting Judge Thomas Ambro wrote that the court’s opinion “leaves several plaintiffs without a remedy, even if a [Transportation Safety Officer] assaults them, wrongfully detains them, or fabricates criminal charges against them.”
Attorney Wendy Patrick, a lecturer at San Diego State University, said that this court decision doesn’t mean that cases against TSA agents will disappear.
“Given how eager people are to film everything that goes on at the airport, it’s a problem that isn’t going away. It’s going to get worse,” Patrick said.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more litigation that focuses on what can the recourse be if you feel you have been unfairly subjected to unlawful force or some type of discrimination by a TSA agent.”