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TSA Agents Not Liable for Assaults, False Arrests

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

You know that feeling you get when airport screeners pat you down or invade your luggage?

Well, maybe not you in particular, but those other guys who get treated like suspected bombers when they're just having a bad day. It's not funny when people get singled out by security for no good reason.

Unfortunately, it's going to get worse because a federal appeals court said airport screeners are immune from liability for assaults, false arrests and other intentional abuses. Let's just hope they get the real bad guys.

Overzealous Screeners

In Pellegrino v. United States of America Transportation Security Administration, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals said TSA agents are shielded from liability under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

The appeals court said it was "sympathetic" to concerns that there may be "very limited legal redress" for alleged mistreatment by overzealous screeners.

"For most people, TSA screenings are an unavoidable feature of flying," Circuit Judge Cheryl Ann Krause wrote.

However, the 2-1 majority said, Congress did not expand liability for abuses to airport screeners. Under the FTCA, the government generally has sovereign immunity for intentional torts by federal employees.

False Arrest

In dissent, Judge Thomas Ambro faulted the majority for minimizing TSA searches as if they were "routine administrative inspections." For Nadine Pellegrino, it was much worse.

She sued the TSA for false arrest and malicious prosecution following an altercation at a Pennsylvania airport in 2006. She had been randomly selected for additional screening before boarding a flight to Florida.

She objected to the invasiveness of the screening, and conditions deteriorated. She was jailed for 18 hours and criminally charged, but acquitted at trial.

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