Civil rights – Immigration custody – Immunity


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Where a plaintiff has alleged mistreatment by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers during his detention and transportation while he was in immigration custody, a grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants should be affirmed as to the Suffolk County Sherriff’s Department but vacated as to the United States.

“Emmanuel Thiersaint, a Haitian national, appeals the District Court’s grant of summary judgment to the United States on his Federal Tort Claims Act (‘FTCA’) claims and to the Suffolk County Sherriff’s Department (‘SCSD’) on his Rehabilitation Act (‘RHA’), 29 U.S.C. §794, and Americans with Disabilities Act (‘ADA’), 42 U.S.C. §12132, claims. All the FTCA claims concern his alleged mistreatment by officers of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (‘ICE’) during his detention and transportation while he was in immigration custody. We affirm in part and vacate in part. …

“We start with the District Court’s ruling insofar as it concerns the RHA. …

“… The District Court … determined that the RHA did not render the allegedly tortious conduct underlying this set of FTCA claims nondiscretionary as a matter of law because the RHA was ‘too broad to mandate conduct.’

“To support the determination, the District Court relied solely on three district-court cases and one out-of-circuit appellate decision: Hooker v. United States, No. 17-cv-345-JNL, 2019 WL 4784593, at *5 (D. Me. Sept. 30, 2019); Chaney v. United States, 658 F. App’x 984, 990-91 (11th Cir. 2016) (per curiam); Adetiloye v. Cass County Warden, No. 3:14-cv-05, 2015 WL 4208708, at *4 (D.N.D. July 10, 2015), aff’d, No. 15-2682 (8th Cir. Nov. 3, 2015); and García-Feliciano v. United States, 101 F. Supp. 3d 142, 147 (D.P.R. 2015). But, as we will next explain, these cases do not show that there is no genuine issue of disputed fact as to whether the RHA’s mandate to make reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities in some circumstances barred the allegedly tortious conduct that is at issue in this set of claims. …

“… Thus, because the District Court did not hold — and the United States does not offer any argument for our concluding — that no juror could reasonably find that the RHA’s mandate to provide a reasonable accommodation to a person with a disability in some circumstances would not apply in these circumstances, these decisions also provide no support for the District Court’s ruling. We therefore vacate the District Court’s grant of summary judgment to the United States on Thiersaint’s claims related to his ground transportation in Florida on March 3 and March 17, 2016 and his ground transportation in Connecticut on February 29, 2016. …

“We turn, then, to the portion of the District Court’s grant of summary judgment to the United States on the FTCA claims that rests on the application of the ‘independent contractor’ exception to the FTCA’s waiver of sovereign immunity. …

“The District Court relied on this exception in granting summary judgment to the United States on Thiersaint’s FTCA claims that concern his air transportation in Florida, New Jersey, and Louisiana on February 29, March 3, March 17, and March 21, 2016. It also relied on this exception in granting summary judgment to the United States on Thiersaint’s FTCA claims that concern his ground transportation in Massachusetts and Connecticut on February 18, March 21, and April 1, 2016. The District Court reasoned that the exception applied to all these claims because the record indisputably established that the allegedly tortious conduct underlying each claim was caused by a contractor over whom the United States did not ‘exercise[] day-to-day supervision and control.’ … Here too, we cannot agree. …

“There is no dispute that Thiersaint was in ICE custody during the flights in question. The only dispute concerns whether it was ICE officers or independent contractors retained by ICE who were responsible for the tortious conduct alleged to have occurred in the claims predicated on these flights. …

“For one thing, as Thiersaint points out, the contracts between ICE and CSI [Aviation] that authorize CSI to transport ICE detainees out of the Miami and Alexandria airports plainly cannot support a grant of summary judgment on all the claims at issue based on the independent-contractor exception. …

“We thus cannot see how we could conclude, on this record, that, as a matter of law, the United States has met its burden to show that the relevant duty was delegated to CSI. And, given that the United States does not contest that it bears the burden to prove that the independent-contractor exception applies here, we must vacate the District Court’s independent-contractor-exception-based grant of summary judgment as to these air-transportation-related claims. …

“Thiersaint next challenges the District Court’s independent-contractor-exception-based grant of summary judgment to the United States on his claims related to his ground transportation in Massachusetts and Connecticut on February 18, March 21, and April 1, 2016. Once again, there is no dispute that Thiersaint was in ICE custody on the dates in question. And, once again, Thiersaint does not dispute that the ‘independent contractor’ exception to the FTCA would bar the claims if the injuries that he alleged that he suffered were solely caused by an independent contractor acting within the terms of its contract. But he does argue that the United States has failed to meet its burden to show, as a matter of law, that it is more likely than not that the injuries were so caused. And, if he is right about that, the grant of summary judgment against him as to these claims cannot stand, insofar as it is based on the independent-contractor exception. …

“Thus, because the United States does not contest that it is their burden to prove that the independent-contractor exception applies here, the United States cannot rely on the independent-contractor exception to the FTCA to shield itself on summary judgment from Thiersaint’s claims related to that transportation.12 Accordingly, we vacate the District Court’s grant of summary judgment to the United States on Thiersaint’s claims related to his ground transportation in Massachusetts and Connecticut on February 18, March 21, and April 1, 2016. …

“We affirm the District Court’s award of summary judgment to SCSD on all relevant counts, but we vacate the District Court’s award of summary judgment to the United States on all grounds and remand to the District Court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

Thiersaint v. Department of Homeland Security, et al. (Lawyers Weekly No. 01-219-23) (35 pages) (Barron, C.J.) Appealed from a decision by Casper, J., in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. Isabelle Barnard and Emma Frank, with whom Anant K. Saraswat, Gregory F. Corbett, Bryan S. Conley, Michelle Nyein, Wolf Greenfield & Sacks, Muneer I. Ahmad, Kirby Tyrrell, Angela Uribe, Kailyn Gaines, Talia Rothstein and Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization were on brief, for the plaintiff-appellant; Eve A. Piemonte, with whom Rachael S. Rollins was on brief, for appellee United States; Melissa J. Garand, with whom Maura Healey and Allen H. Forbes were on brief, for appellee Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department (Docket No. 22-1213) (Nov. 6, 2023).

Click here to read the full text of the opinion.



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