Sunday, February 3, 2013

Coulthurst v. United States case brief

Coulthurst v. United States case summary
214 F.3d 106 (2d Cir. 2000)
Subject: Sovereign Immunity in Tort.
Tort Law

PROCEDURAL HISTORY:  Plaintiff federal prisoner appealed from a judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, which dismissed plaintiff's tort suit against defendant United States on the grounds that the discretionary function exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C.S. § 2680(a), shielded defendant from liability for the conduct alleged by plaintiff.

FACTS:
Plaintiff federal prisoner was injured when a cable on a weight machine snapped, bringing the bar down on his shoulders and neck. Prison guidelines required prison officials to visit the wellness area and determine if the equipment was arranged in a safe manner and if participants used the equipment properly. Plaintiff brought an action against defendant under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C.S. §§ 1346(b), 2671 et seq., alleging that plaintiff's injuries were caused by defendant's negligence and carelessness. The district court granted defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction on the ground that the discretionary function exception (DFE), 28 U.S.C.S. § 2680(a), barred recovery for the alleged conduct.

HOLDING:

On appeal, the court vacated the judgment. The complaint fairly alleged negligence outside the scope of the DFE, and dismissal on the basis of the allegations of the complaint was inappropriate. The district court erred in assuming that the negligence alleged in the complaint involved only discretionary functions.

RULES:
-Under traditional principles of sovereign immunity, the United States is immune from suit except to the extent the government has waived its immunity.

-28 U.S.C.S. § 1346(b)(1) of the Federal Tort Claims Act authorizes suits against the government to recover damages for injury or loss of property, or personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment, under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred.

CONCLUSION: Judgment dismissing plaintiff's complaint was vacated. Dismissal was inappropriate because the negligence alleged in the complaint was possibly outside the scope of the discretionary function exception.

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