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On June 6, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Simmons v. Himmelreich. This case arose out of lawsuits filed by federal prisoner Walter Himmelreich after he was assaulted by a fellow prisoner. Himmelreich’s initial lawsuit, filed against the United States, was ultimately dismissed pursuant to an exception under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) for certain discretionary actions by prison officials. While that suit was still pending, however, Himmelreich filed a second suit: a constitutional tort action against individual Bureau of Prisons employees. When Himmelreich’s initial suit was dismissed, these employee defendants argued that his action against them was foreclosed by the FTCA’s “judgment bar” provision, under which a judgment in an FTCA suit forecloses any future suit against individual employees. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the employees. On appeal the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that the judgment bar provision did not apply to Himmelreich’s suit. The Supreme Court then granted certiorari to resolve a Circuit split on whether the judgment bar provision applies to suits that, like Himmelreich’s, are dismissed as falling within an “exception” to the FTCA.
By a vote of 8-0, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Sixth Circuit and remanded the case. Justice Sotomayor delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court, holding that the FTCA’s judgment bar provision does not apply to claims dismissed because they fall within an FTCA "exception."
To discuss the case, we have Aaron Nielson, who is Associate Professor of Law at Brigham Young University Law School.