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Philadelphia - U.S. Appeals Court: TSA Screeners Win Immunity From Flier Abuse Claims

Published on: July 11, 2018 04:05 PM
By: Reuters
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A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) official's wears a TSA badge at Terminal 4 of JFK airport in New York City, U.S., May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Penney A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) official's wears a TSA badge at Terminal 4 of JFK airport in New York City, U.S., May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Penney

Philadelphia - Fliers may have a tough time recovering damages for invasive screenings at U.S. airport security checkpoints, after a federal appeals court on Wednesday said screeners are immune from claims under a federal law governing assaults, false arrests and other abuses.

In a 2-1 vote, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia said Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners are shielded by government sovereign immunity from liability under the Federal Tort Claims Act because they do not function as “investigative or law enforcement officers.”


The majority said it was “sympathetic” to concerns that its decision would leave fliers with “very limited legal redress” for alleged mistreatment by aggressive or overzealous screeners, which add to the ordinary stresses of air travel.

“For most people, TSA screenings are an unavoidable feature of flying,” but it is “squarely in the realm” of Congress to expand liability for abuses, Circuit Judge Cheryl Ann Krause wrote.

The decision, the first on the issue by a federal appeals court, was a defeat for Nadine Pellegrino, a business consultant from Boca Raton, Florida.

She and her husband had sued for false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution over a July 2006 altercation at Philadelphia International Airport.

Pellegrino on Wednesday said she was reviewing the decision. A lawyer who helped with her appeal did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

According to court papers, Pellegrino had been randomly selected for additional screening at the Philadelphia airport before boarding a US Airways flight to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Pellegrino, then 57, objected to the invasiveness of the search, but conditions deteriorated and she was later jailed for about 18 hours, the papers show. Criminal charges were filed, and Pellegrino was acquitted at a March 2008 trial.

Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro dissented from Wednesday’s decision.

“By analogizing TSA searches to routine administrative inspections, my colleagues preclude victims of TSA abuses from obtaining any meaningful remedy for a variety of intentional tort claims,” he wrote.

Torts are civil wrongs that can result in damages.

A spokesman for U.S. Attorney William McSwain in Philadelphia, whose office represented TSA officials, had no immediate comment.

The appeals court ruled 11 months after throwing out a First Amendment claim by an architect, Roger Vanderklok, who said he was arrested in retaliation for asking to file a complaint against an ill-tempered TSA supervisor.

The case is Pellegrino et al v U.S. Transportation Security Administration et al, 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 15-3047.

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Read Comments (2)  —  Post Yours »


 Jul 11, 2018 at 08:02 PM Frish Says:

This is terrible. These TSA workers are if a very low class every insensitive and trigger happy. Guess they x bite into the wrong apple yet. Someone with alit of pull & money to fight them all the way to the supreme court


 Jul 11, 2018 at 08:03 PM Abolish the TSA Says:

TSA employees are incompetent, and useless; since 9/11/01, they have never apprehended one terrorist, at any commercial U.S. airport. The vast majority of their work involves harassing and inconveniencing passengers. They refuse to profile passengers and will subject small children and old people to intrusive searches. Most of them are dumber than h---; also, many of them have been charged and convicted of stealing valuables from passengers. In addition, their turnover is very high, as one rarely sees the same TSA personnel, a second time. Last, they have different standards not only from airport to airport, but within the same airport, from gate to gate. Many of their screening procedures are very subjective in nature, and make no sense. They don't even know their own regulations regarding what is permitted, and what is not permitted. They could learn a lesson from Israeli security at Ben-Gurion, where they don't put fliers through the garbage that is perpetrated here.


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