Federal inmate obtains U.S. Supreme Court decision unanimously rejecting application of FTCA "judgment bar" to Eighth Amendment Bivens suit
Clients Himmelreich, Walter
On June 6, 2016, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled unanimously in favor of Jones Day's client, a federal inmate named Walter Himmelreich, in a case involving the "judgment bar" of the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). Mr. Himmelreich was serving a sentence in a federal prison in 2008 when he was violently assaulted by a fellow inmate. Alleging that prison officials had improperly ignored that inmate's prior threats against him, Mr. Himmelreich sought compensation for his injuries by filing a putative FTCA action against the United States and a Bivens action for Eighth Amendment violations against the prison officials personally. The district court dismissed the action against the United States as falling within the "discretionary function" exception to the FTCA, and then dismissed the Bivens action as precluded by the FTCA's judgment bar. After the court of appeals reinstated Mr. Himmelreich's Bivens action, the Supreme Court agreed to review the case at the government's request. The issue before the Court was whether the judgment bar precludes suit against federal employees personally only where a prior FTCA action arising out of the same occurrence was resolved on the merits, or whether the bar also applies where a putative FTCA claim was dismissed for falling within one of the FTCA's enumerated statutory exceptions.
In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the Court agreed with Jones Day's position that the judgment bar is not triggered by dismissal of a putative FTCA claim under one of the Act's exceptions. The Court explained that the plain statutory text rendered the judgment bar inapplicable under those circumstances, and reasoned that such a result makes good sense in light of the purposes of the statutory scheme. Accordingly, Mr. Himmelreich's Bivens claim may proceed on the merits. This was a complete victory for Jones Day's client.
Simmons v. Himmelreich, No. 15-109 (U.S.)