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Brownback v. King

Court Type: U.S. Supreme Court
Status: Closed (Judgment)
Last Update: December 7, 2021

What's at Stake

Whether the district court’s dismissal of a Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) claim against the United States for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction bars adjudication of simultaneously filed constitutional claims against the individual officers responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries.

The ACLU, together with its Michigan and Utah affiliates, filed an amicus brief in support of James King. Mr. King alleges that two plainclothes task force officers wrongfully stopped, arrested, and beat him, when the officers mistook him for a fugitive. He brought a single lawsuit—against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), and against the individual officers for constitutional violations under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). The district court dismissed Mr. King’s FTCA claim for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and also dismissed his Bivens claims. Mr. King appealed the dismissal of his Bivens claims but not the dismissal of his FTCA claims. The individual officers argue that the district court’s decision dismissing Mr. King’s FTCA claims precludes him from pursuing his independent constitutional claims against them..

The FTCA bars adjudication of claims against individuals if judgment has been entered on an FTCA claim arising out of the same events. Amici argue that this “judgment bar” provision does not apply to dismissals for lack of jurisdiction, but only to rulings on the merits. It was adopted against the backdrop of the common law claim “res judicata” doctrine, and thus necessarily incorporates the common law understanding that only judgments on the merits have claim preclusive effect. Dismissals for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction are not judgments on the merits, and therefore do not trigger the judgment bar. Where, as here, a district court rules that the plaintiff failed even to allege facts to support a valid FTCA claim, the district court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, and a dismissal on that ground is not a “judgment” for purposes of the judgment bar provision. We argue that Mr. King has never had a ruling on the merits, and should get his day in court.

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