Thursday, February 25, 2021
SCOTUS Opinion in Brownback v. King: Preclusion, Jurisdiction & the FTCA's Judgment Bar
Today the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Brownback v. King, which involves the so-called “judgment bar” of the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). (See our earlier coverage here.)
There’s a lot of interesting stuff in Justice Thomas’s opinion for the Court, but the basic takeaway is that the judgment in an FTCA suit against the federal government can trigger the judgment bar—and thereby preclude claims against the responsible government employees—even when the result of the FTCA suit is a dismissal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. In this case, the plaintiff’s tort claims against the federal government “failed to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss,” meaning that “the United States necessarily retained sovereign immunity, also depriving the court of subject-matter jurisdiction.” As Justice Thomas puts it: “where, as here, pleading a claim and pleading jurisdiction entirely overlap, a ruling that the court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction may simultaneously be a judgment on the merits that triggers the judgment bar.”
The Supreme Court leaves open one important issue—whether the judgment bar applies to the dismissal of claims raised in the same lawsuit. In footnote 4, Justice Thomas leaves this issue for the Sixth Circuit to address on remand, and Justice Sotomayor writes a concurring opinion “to emphasize that, while many lower courts have uncritically held that the FTCA’s judgment bar applies to claims brought in the same action, there are reasons to question that conclusion.”
When the case gets back to the Supreme Court from the Sixth, if the Supremes rule the S2676 judgement bar bars other claims in the same action, it will be completely irrational to file an FTCA claim in an action that also has Constitutional or Federal Law violation tort claims.
Posted by: Edward Miessner | Mar 3, 2021 3:10:03 PM