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Will v. Hallock

Close Date: 01/18/2006
Topic(s): Court Procedure, Federal Jurisdiction, and Appellate Jurisdiction
Scope of Statutory Rights and Remedies
Status: open
Citation: 126 S. Ct. 952 (Decided Jan. 18, 2006)
Date Of Involvement: 06/06/2005
Docket: 04-1332

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Public Citizen represented Susan Hallock and her defunct business, Ferncliff Associates, in a lawsuit against individual U.S. Customs Service agents for their deliberate destruction of computer equipment and the subsequent loss of her business. Her husband, Richard Hallock, had been the victim of identity theft: Unknown to him, his credit card information was used to pay the subscription fee for a website that displayed child pornography. Agents of the Customs Service obtained a warrant and seized the computer equipment. When the equipment was returned to the Hallocks months later, the hard drives of several had been irreparably damaged. As a result, Ferncliff Associates, a computer software business, was forced to go out of business.

Susan Hallock and her business initially brought suit against the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act, but that suit was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction because of an exemption within the statute that made the FTCA inapplicable. A provision in the FTCA provides that "[t]he judgment in an action under [the FTCA] shall constitute a complete bar to any action by the claimant, by reason of the same subject matter, against the employee of the government whose act or omission gave rise to the claim." The question here was whether that provision bars Hallock's claims against the individual Customs Service agents for intentional violation of constitutional rights.

Questions presented:

  1. Whether a court of appeals has jurisdiction over the interlocutory appeal of a district court's order denying a motion to dismiss based on the judgment bar provision of the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).
  2. Whether the FTCA's judgment bar applies to a case against government employees based on the same facts as a prior case, where the first case was styled as an action under the FTCA but was dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on the ground that the FTCA did not apply to the claim alleged.

Allison Zieve of Public Citizen argued for the Hallock in the Supreme Court. On the first question presented, the Court agreed with her and held, 9-0, that the appellate court had lacked jurisdiction to hear the case. The Court therefore did not reach the second question. Because Hallock had prevailed below, this outcome preserved their lower court victory and allowed them to continue litigatng their case.