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The Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C.S. § 2680, does not cover suits alleging that customs officials injured property that had been detained by the U.S. Customs Service.
Petitioner Kosak’s art collection was seized by customs officials when he was suspected of smuggling the collection into the country. Subsequently, petitioner was acquitted of the smuggling charge, and the objects of art were returned to him upon his petition for relief from civil forfeiture. He then filed an administrative complaint seeking compensation for alleged damage to the property occurring while it was in the Customs Service's custody. When the Service denied relief, petitioner filed suit in Federal District Court under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), seeking damages for the alleged injury to his property. The District Court granted the Government's motion for dismissal of the complaint or summary judgment on the ground that the claim was barred by 28 U. S. C. § 2680(c), which exempted from the coverage of the FTCA any claims arising in respect of the detention of any goods or merchandise by any officer of customs. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.
Did 28 U. S. C. § 2680(c) preclude recovery against the United States for the alleged injury to petitioner's private property sustained during a temporary detention of the property by the Customs Service?
On writ of certiorari, the Court affirmed and held that 28 U. S. C. § 2680(c), which exempted from the coverage of the Federal Tort Claims Act any claim arising in respect of the detention of any goods or merchandise by any customs officer, precluded recovery against the United States for injury to private property sustained during a temporary detention of the property by the Customs Service. The Court construed the words "any claim arising in respect of" to mean any claim "arising out of" the detention of goods and to include a claim resulting from negligent handling or storage of detained property. The Court said that the legislative history and the legislative purposes in creating the exceptions to the Federal Tort Claims Act supported its interpretation.