Wednesday, December 11, 2013
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case concerning the scope of immunity granted to airlines under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA). That act shields carriers from civil liability for reports of suspicious activity made to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). But that immunity does not extend to reports "made with actual knowledge that the disclosure was false, inaccurate, or misleading" or with "reckless disregard as to the truth or falsity of that disclosure."
William Hoeper, a pilot for Air Wisconsin was visibly upset after a failed certification test ended his employment with the airline. He was later that day removed from his return flight by TSA agents after Air Wisconsin reported that Hoeper was armed and unstable. Hoeper successfully sued Air Wisconsin under Colorado law for defamation, infliction of emotional distress and false imprisonment. The question before the court is whether the Wisconsin Airlines' report to the TSA, which appears to have clearly overstated the danger Hoeper represented, satisfies the reckless disregard for the truth standard necessary to pierce Wisconsin Airlines' immunity under the ATSA.