US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Opinions
Joiner v. United States
Opinion Date: March 27, 2020
Judge: James C. Ho
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Personal Injury
The Fifth Circuit withdrew its prior opinion and substituted the following opinion. The court affirmed the district court's dismissal, based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction, of plaintiff's action under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) and the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). Plaintiff, a security guard, was shot in the leg while on duty by a pair of Islamic terrorists. The court held that plaintiff failed to establish that the discretionary function exception does not apply under the FTCA, and thus sovereign immunity has not been waived. Although the district court erred in stating the standard for construing exceptions to the FTCA, the error was harmless because plaintiff's contentions failed either way. The court held that the district court correctly declined jurisdiction under a two-step framework. First, plaintiff failed to identify a nondiscretionary duty violated by an agency or employee of the United States. Furthermore, the government did not violate any directives prohibiting agents from engaging in acts of violence. Second, the court held that the discretion at issue here is precisely the kind that the exception was designed to shield. The court held that plaintiff's remaining arguments were unavailing. The court declined to forge new circuit precedent and adopt the state-created danger doctrine in such uncharted territory; the district court properly dismissed the ATA claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction; and the district court did not abuse its discretion by barring additional discovery.
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