The Supreme Court on Monday morning issued orders from the justices’ private conference last week. The justices did not add any new cases to their merits docket for the 2023-24 term, and they did not act on several of the high-profile petitions for review that they considered on Friday. The justices denied review in one case that they had considered at four consecutive conferences, despite Justice Sonia Sotomayor noting in a written statement that the case “presents a consequential statutory interpretation question that has divided the courts of appeals.”
The Federal Tort Claims Act is a 1946 law that allows private individuals to sue the United States for the negligent or wrongful acts of federal employees. A provision of the FTCA, known as the “judgment bar,” provides that once there has been a “judgment” in an FTCA action, the plaintiff cannot rely on a different ground to bring another “action” based on the same conduct. In King v. Brownback, the justices declined to decide whether that judgment bar applies when the action was brought as part of the same lawsuit as the FTCA claim.
The question came to the court in a case with which the justices were already familiar. It began in 2014, when members of a plainclothes FBI task force mistakenly stopped James King, a college student, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. When King believed he was being mugged and tried to run away, one of the agents put him in a chokehold, which King says caused him to briefly lose consciousness. King then resisted the agents’ efforts to subdue him, leading them to beat him on the face and head and prompting bystanders to call 911 to report that the agents were going to “kill this man.”
King, who was acquitted on charges of resisting arrest, filed a lawsuit in federal district court. His claims included an FTCA claim against the United States as well as a claim under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, a 1971 decision that in some circumstances allows plaintiffs to collect money damages from federal officials for violations of the Constitution.
The district court dismissed all of King’s claims. It held that it did not have the power to hear his FTCA claims, while the agents were entitled to qualified immunity from his Bivens claims. The case went to the Supreme Court, which in 2021 ruled that the district court’s dismissal of King’s FTCA claims was the kind of final judgment that could trigger the FTCA judgment bar. But the justices did not decide then whether the judgment bar applies to claims brought in the same lawsuit as the FTCA claims – the question that they declined to decide today, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled on remand that it does.
Sotomayor penned a brief statement regarding the court’s decision not to take up King’s case again. She contended that applying the judgment bar to cases like King’s “produces unfair and inefficient results”: King cannot bring his “compelling” claims “solely because he brought them together with his FTCA claim, which was dismissed for unrelated reasons.”
Sotomayor emphasized that although the Supreme Court had not taken up King’s case, the lower courts could continue to weigh in on the question that it presents. That question, she wrote, “still ‘deserves much closer analysis and, where appropriate, reconsideration.’ In an appropriate future case,” Sotomayor concluded, “this Court should decide this issue.”
The justices did not act on a pair of petitions challenging New York’s rent-stabilization regime, as well as a challenge to a Washington state law that bars licensed therapists from practicing conversion therapy on children.
The justices will meet again for another private conference on Friday, Nov. 3.