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Supreme Court rules government medical personnel can be sued for battery

The US Supreme Court [official website] on Monday ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously in Levin v. United States [JURIST report] that the intentional tort exception in the Gonzales Act [10 USC § 1089 text] does not immunize individual government medical personnel against battery suits. Thus, instead of suing the entire government under the Federal Torts Claim Act (FTCA) [official website], a plaintiff can sue the individual medical personnel who allegedly caused the injury. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the court:

Warding off this mistaken inference, the Government asserts, §1089(e) eliminates any doubt that the military medical personnel covered by §1089(a) are personally immune from malpractice liability. Ensuring that immunity, the Government reminds us, was the very purpose of the Gonzalez Act.

The choice between these alternative readings of §1089(e) is not difficult to make. Section §1089(e)'s operative clause states, in no uncertain terms, that the intentional tort exception to the FTCA, §2680(h), "shall not apply," and §1089(e)’s introductory clause confines the abrogation of §2680(h) to medical personnel employed by the agencies listed in the Gonzalez Act.

The Government invites us to read the phrase "section 2680(h) . . . shall not apply," to convey "§2680(h) does apply," a reading most unnatural.

The court's decision overturns the ruling [opinion] of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The court ruled in favor of Steven Alan Levin, who appealed to the court pro se [JURIST report] from the US territory of Guam. Levin, a Navy veteran, sued after he claimed that Navy surgeons performed cataract surgery on him without his consent. Levin, who has neither telephone nor Internet, has not commented on his victory.

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