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Ali v. Federal Bureau of Prisons

January 22, 2008

ABDUS-SHAHID M. S. ALI, PETITIONER
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS ET AL.



On Writ Of Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Eleventh Circuit Court Below: 204 Fed. Appx. 778

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

OCTOBER TERM, 2007

Argued October 29, 2007

The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) waives the United States' sovereign immunity for claims arising out of torts committed by federal employees, see 28 U. S. C. §1346(b)(1), but, as relevant here, exempts from that waiver "[a]ny claim arising in respect of the assessment or collection of any tax or customs duty, or the detention of any ... property by any officer of customs or excise or any other law enforcement officer," §2680(c). Upon his transfer from an Atlanta federal prison to one in Kentucky, petitioner noticed that several items were missing from his personal property, which had been shipped to the new facility by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). Alleging that BOP officers had lost his property, petitioner filed this suit under, inter alia, the FTCA, but the District Court dismissed that claim as barred by §2680(c). Affirming, the Eleventh Circuit rejected petitioner's argument that the statutory phrase "any officer of customs or excise or any other law enforcement officer" applies only to officers enforcing customs or excise laws.

Held: Section 2680(c)'s text and structure demonstrate that the broad phrase "any other law enforcement officer" covers all law enforcement officers. Petitioner's argument that §2680(c) is focused on preserving sovereign immunity only for officers enforcing customs and excise laws is inconsistent with the statute's language. "Read naturally, the word `any' has an expansive meaning, that is, `one or some indiscriminately of whatever kind.' " United States v. Gonzales, The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Thomas

Opinion of the Court

This case concerns the scope of 28 U. S. C. §2680, which carves out certain exceptions to the United States' waiver of sovereign immunity for torts committed by federal employees. Section 2680(c) provides that the waiver of sovereign immunity does not apply to claims arising from the detention of property by "any officer of customs or excise or any other law enforcement officer." Petitioner contends that this clause applies only to law enforcement officers enforcing customs or excise laws, and thus does not affect the waiver of sovereign immunity for his property claim against officers of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). We conclude that the broad phrase "any other law enforcement officer" covers all law enforcement officers. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals upholding the dismissal of petitioner's claim.

I.

Petitioner Abdus-Shahid M. S. Ali was a federal prisoner at the United States Penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia, from 2001 to 2003. In December 2003, petitioner was scheduled to be transferred to the United States Penitentiary Big Sandy (USP Big Sandy) in Inez, Kentucky. Before being transferred, he left two duffle bags containing his personal property in the Atlanta prison's Receiving and Discharge Unit to be inventoried, packaged, and shipped to USP Big Sandy. Petitioner was transferred, and his bags arrived some days later. Upon inspecting his property, he noticed that several items were missing. The staff at USP Big Sandy's Receiving and Discharge Unit told him that he had been given everything that was sent, and that if things were missing he could file a claim. Many of the purportedly missing items were of religious and nostalgic significance, including two copies of the Qur'an, a prayer rug, and religious magazines. Petitioner estimated that the items were worth $177.

Petitioner filed an administrative tort claim. In denying relief, the agency noted that, by his signature on the receipt form, petitioner had certified the accuracy of the inventory listed thereon and had thereby relinquished any future claims relating to missing or damaged property. Petitioner then filed a complaint alleging, inter alia, violations of the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U. S. C. §§1346, 2671 et seq. The BOP maintained that petitioner's claim was barred by the exception in §2680(c) for property claims against law enforcement officers. The District Court agreed and dismissed petitioner's FTCA claim for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Petitioner appealed.

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, agreeing with the District Court's interpretation of §2680(c). 204 Fed. Appx. 778, 779-780 (2006) (per curiam). In rejecting petitioner's arguments, the Court of Appeals relied on this Court's broad interpretation of §2680(c)'s "detention" clause in Kosak v. United States, 465 U. S. 848, 854-859 (1984), on decisions by other Courts of Appeals, and on its own decision in Schlaebitz v. United States Dept. of Justice, 924 F. 2d 193, 195 (1991) (per curiam) (holding that United States Marshals, who were allegedly negligent in releasing a parolee's luggage to a third party, were "law enforcement officers" under §2680(c)). See 204 Fed. Appx., at 779-780.

We granted certiorari, 550 U. S. ___ (2007), to resolve the disagreement among the Courts of Appeals as to the scope of §2680(c).*fn1

II.

In the FTCA, Congress waived the United States' sovereign immunity for claims arising out of torts committed by federal employees. See 28 U. S. C. §1346(b)(1). As relevant here, the FTCA authorizes "claims against the United States, for money damages . . . for injury or loss of property . . . caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment." Ibid. The FTCA exempts from this waiver certain categories of claims. See §§2680(a)-(n). Relevant here is the exception in subsection (c), which provides that §1346(b) shall not apply to "[a]ny claim arising in respect of the assessment or collection of any tax or customs duty, or the detention of any goods, merchandise, or other property by any officer of customs or excise or any other law enforcement officer." §2680(c).

This case turns on whether the BOP officers who allegedly lost petitioner's property qualify as "other law enforcement officer[s]" within the meaning of §2680(c).*fn2 Petitioner argues that they do not because "any other law enforcement officer" includes only law enforcement officers acting in a customs or excise capacity. Noting that Congress referenced customs and excise activities in both the language at issue and the preceding clause in §2680(c), petitioner argues that the entire subsection is focused on preserving the United States' sovereign immunity only as to officers enforcing those laws.

Petitioner's argument is inconsistent with the statute's language.*fn3 The phrase "any other law enforcement officer" suggests a broad meaning. Ibid. (emphasis added). We have previously noted that "[r]ead naturally, the word `any' has an expansive meaning, that is, `one or some indiscriminately of whatever kind.' " United States v. Gonzales, 520 U. S. 1, 5 (1997) (quoting Webster's Third New International Dictionary 97 (1976)). In Gonzales, we considered a provision that imposed an additional sentence for firearms used in federal drug trafficking crimes and provided that such additional sentence shall not be concurrent with "any other term of imprisonment." 520 U. S., at 4 (quoting 18 U. S. C. §924(c)(1) (1994 ed.) (emphasis deleted)). Notwithstanding the subsection's initial reference to federal drug trafficking crimes, we held that the expansive word "any" and the absence of restrictive language left "no basis in the text for limiting" the phrase "any other term of imprisonment" to federal sentences. 520 U. S., at 5. Similarly, in Harrison v. PPG Industries, Inc., 446 U. S. 578 (1980), the Court considered the phrase "any other final action" in amendments to the Clean Air Act. The Court explained that the amendments expanded a list of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator actions by adding two categories of actions: actions under a specifically enumerated statutory provision, and "any other final action" under the Clean Air Act. Id., at 584 (emphasis deleted). Focusing on Congress' choice of the word "any," the Court "discern[ed] no uncertainty in the meaning of the phrase, `any other final action,' " and emphasized that the statute's "expansive language offer[ed] no indication whatever that Congress intended" to limit the phrase to final actions similar to those in the specifically enumerated sections. Id., at 588-589.

We think the reasoning of Gonzales and Harrison applies equally to the expansive language Congress employed in 28 U. S. C. §2680(c). Congress' use of "any" to modify "other law enforcement officer" is most naturally read to mean law enforcement officers of whatever kind.*fn4 The word "any" is repeated four times in the relevant portion of §2680(c), and two of those instances appear in the particular phrase at issue: "any officer of customs or excise or any other law enforcement officer." (Emphasis added.) Congress inserted the word "any" immediately before "other law enforcement officer," leaving no doubt that it modifies that phrase. To be sure, the text's references to "tax or customs duty" and "officer[s] of customs or excise" indicate that Congress intended to preserve immunity for claims arising from an officer's enforcement of tax and customs laws. The text also indicates, however, that Congress intended to preserve immunity for claims arising from the detention of property, and there is no indication that Congress intended immunity for those claims to turn on the type of law being enforced.

Petitioner would require Congress to clarify its intent to cover all law enforcement officers by adding phrases such as "performing any official law enforcement function," or "without limitation." But Congress could not have chosen a more all-encompassing phrase than "any other law enforcement officer" to express that intent. We have no reason to demand that Congress write less economically and more repetitiously.

Recent amendments to §2680(c) support the conclusion that "any other law enforcement officer" is not limited to officers acting in a customs or excise capacity. In the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000, Congress added subsections (c)(1)-(c)(4) to 28 U. S. C. §2680. §3(a), 114 Stat. 211. As amended, §2680(c) provides that the §1346(b) waiver of sovereign immunity, notwithstanding the exception at issue in this case, applies to:

"[A]ny claim based on injury or loss of goods, merchandise, or other property, while in the possession of any officer of customs or excise or any other law enforcement officer, if --

"(1) the property was seized for the purpose of forfeiture under any provision of Federal law providing for the forfeiture of property other than as a sentence imposed upon conviction of a criminal offense;

"(2) the interest of the claimant was not forfeited;

"(3) the interest of the claimant was not remitted or mitigated (if the property was subject to forfeiture); and

"(4) the claimant was not convicted of a crime for which the interest of the claimant in the property was subject to forfeiture under a Federal criminal forfeiture law."

The amendment does not govern petitioner's claim because his property was not "seized for the purpose of forfeiture," as required by paragraph (1). Nonetheless, the amendment is relevant because our construction of "any other law enforcement officer" must, to the extent possible, ensure that the statutory scheme is coherent and consistent. See Robinson v. Shell Oil Co., 519 U. S. 337, 340 (1997) (citing United States v. Ron Pair Enterprises, 489 U. S. 235, 240 (1989)). The amendment canceled the exception -- and thus restored the waiver of sovereign immunity -- for certain seizures of property based on any federal forfeiture law. See 28 U. S. C. §2680(c)(1) (excepting property claims if "the property was seized for the purpose of forfeiture under any provision of Federal law providing for the forfeiture of property" (emphasis added)).

Under petitioner's interpretation, only law enforcement officers enforcing customs or excise laws were immune under the prior version of §2680(c). Thus, on petitioner's reading, the amendment's only effect was to restore the waiver for cases in which customs or excise officers, or officers acting in such a capacity, enforce forfeiture laws. This strikes us as an implausible interpretation of the statute. If that were Congress' intent, it is not apparent why Congress would have restored the waiver with respect to the enforcement of all civil forfeiture laws instead of simply those related to customs or excise. Petitioner's interpretation makes sense only if we assume that Congress went out of its way to restore the waiver for cases in which customs or excise officers, or officers acting in such a capacity, enforce forfeiture laws unrelated to customs or excise. But petitioner fails to demonstrate that customs or excise officers, or officers acting in such a capacity, ever enforce civil forfeiture laws unrelated to customs or excise, much less that they do so with such frequency that ...


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