The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Wednesday that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) [official website] is immune from certain claims brought by passengers alleging wrongdoing.
In a 2-1 ruling, the court held that TSA officers are not “investigative or law enforcement officers,” and therefore are protected by federal law against certain tort claims.
Citing a previous ruling, the court noted that, “[r]einforcing the distinction we recognized in Vanderklok, the [Aviation and Transportation Security Act] frequently distinguishes between ’employees’ who conduct administrative searches and ‘law enforcement officers.'”:
[Amicus for petitioner] argues that TSOs must qualify as “law enforcement officers” because of their title—they are “transportation security officers”—and because they wear a badge that labels them as “officers.” We are not persuaded that the word “officer” has this talismanic property.
In his dissent Judge Thomas Ambro said:
[M]y colleagues … equate airport screenings with routine administrative inspections, even though the former involve rigorous and thorough searches that often extend to an individual’s physical person. Their opinion leaves several plaintiffs without a remedy, even if a TSO assaults them, wrongfully detains them, or fabricates criminal charges against them.
Nadine Pellegrino and her husband, Henry Waldeman, brought the suit as pro se litigants after Pelligrino says that TSA officers damaged her bags during a private screening and filed a false police report against her in 2006.