04 March 2013

Law in Plain English: Levin v. United States

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

Levin v. United States

Levin scheduled cataract surgery at a Navy hospital, but withdrew his consent before the operation started. The doctor performed the surgery anyway, and Levin sued for battery. However, the federal government has sovereign immunity. As a result, it cannot be sued unless it waives this immunity. The Federal Tort Claims Act waives the government's sovereign immunity in certain circumstances, primarily when someone acting in their capacity on behalf of the United States causes damage. However, certain torts, such as battery, are exempted from this waiver. So under the FTCA, someone cannot sue the government for battery by someone acting on behalf of the United States. On the other hand, The Gonzalez Act provides that this particular exemption doesn't apply to "any cause of action arising out of a negligent or wrongful act or omission in the performance of medical...functions." The question in this case was whether Levin's lawsuit could be brought against the United States for battery by his military doctor acting within the scope of his employment. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the Gonzalez Act effectively repealed the exemption in the FTCA for these particular circumstances. As a result, Levin's claim can go forward. The practical impact of this decision is that Gonzalez Act claims of the sort raised by Mr. Levin will be able to be brought even if the FTCA exempted certain torts.

For more posts on sovereign immunity, see here, here, and here.
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