Will v. Hallock

546 U.S. 345



A refusal to apply the Federal Tort Claims Act’s judgment bar is not open to collateral appeal.


In a warranted search of Susan and Richard Hallocks' residence, Customs Service agents seized computer equipment, software, and disk drives, damaging the equipment. Susan Hallock sued the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), and against the individual agents under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388, 91 S. Ct. 1999, 29 L. Ed. 2d 619, alleging that the damage they caused to her computers deprived her of property in violation of the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause. After the District Court dismissed the first suit on the ground that the agents' activities fell within an exception to the Tort Claims Act's waiver of sovereign immunity, § 2680(e), the agents moved for judgment in the Bivens action. They relied on the Tort Claims Act's judgment bar, § 2676, which provides that "the judgment in an action under Section 1346(b) constitute[s] a complete bar to any action against the employee of the government whose act or omission gave rise to the claim."

The District Court denied the motion, holding that dismissal of the Tort Claims Act suit against the Government failed to raise the Act's judgment bar. The Second Circuit affirmed, and an appeal to the United States Supreme Court followed.


Is a refusal to apply the FTCA’s judgment bar open to collateral appeal?


No. A refusal to apply the FTCA’s judgment bar is not open to collateral appeal.


Three conditions are required for collateral appeal: the order must [1] conclusively determine the disputed question, [2] resolve an important issue completely separate from the merits …, and [3] be effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment.P

Although the statutory judgment bar is arguably broader than traditional res judicata, it functions in much the same way, with both rules depending on a prior judgment as a condition precedent The concern behind both rules is a different one, of avoiding duplicative litigation, "multiple suits on identical entitlements or obligations between the same parties." But this rule of respecting a prior judgment by giving a defense against relitigation has not been thought to protect values so great that only immediate appeal can effectively vindicate them. Absent particular reasons for discretionary appeal by leave of the trial court, a defense of claim preclusion is fairly subordinated to the general policy of deferring appellate review to the moment of final judgment.”

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