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Ali v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons - 552 U.S. 214, 128 S. Ct. 831 (2008)

Rule:

The broad phrase "any other law enforcement officer" in 28 U.S.C.S. § 2680(c) covers all law enforcement officers.

Facts:

Upon his transfer from an Atlanta federal prison to one in Kentucky, petitioner prisoner Abdus-Shahid M. S. Ali noticed that several items were missing from his personal property, which had been shipped to the new facility by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). Alleging that BOP officers had lost his property, petitioner filed this suit under, inter alia, the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The District Court dismissed that claim as barred by 28 U.S.C.S. § 2680(c), which carves out certain exceptions to the United States' waiver of sovereign immunity for torts commited by federal employees. On appeal, petitioner argued that the clause "any other law enforcement officer" in § 2680(c) applied only to law enforcement officers enforcing customs or excise laws, and thus did not affect the waiver of sovereign immunity for his property claim against BOP officers. The Eleventh Circuit rejected petitioner's argument and affirmed the decision of the district court. The Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari to resolve the "split" or disagreement among the circuit courts as to the scope of § 2680(c), particularly whether federal officers qualified as "any other law enforcement officer(s)."

Issue:

Where federal prison officials claimed sovereign immunity in a lost property claim, did the clause “any other law enforcement officer" in 28 U.S.C.S. § 2680(c) apply only to federal law enforcement officers enforcing customs or excise laws, as contended by the federal prisoner?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

Affirming by a 5-4 count, the Court held that Section 2680(c)'s text and structure demonstrated that the broad phrase "any other law enforcement officer" covered all law enforcement officers. Petitioner's argument that § 2680(c) was focused on preserving sovereign immunity only for officers enforcing customs and excise laws was inconsistent with the statute's language. According to the Court, the text indicated that Congress intended to preserve immunity for claims arising from the detention of property; there was no indication that Congress intended immunity for those claims to turn on the type of law being enforced. Recent amendments to § 2680(c) also supported the conclusion that the broad phrase "any other law enforcement officer" was not limited to officers acting in a customs or excise capacity. Moreover, the structure of the expansive phrase "any officer of customs or excise or any other law enforcement officer" in § 2680(c) did not lend itself to application of the ejusdem generis canon. Had Congress intended to limit § 2680(c)'s reach as petitioner contended, it easily could have written "any other law enforcement officer acting in a customs or excise capacity." Instead, it used the unmodified, all-encompassing phrase "any other law enforcement officer." The Court must thereby give effect to the text Congress enacted.

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