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KLEIN v. UNITED STATES

October 28, 1958

Ernest KLEIN, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES of America, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BRUCHHAUSEN

The defendants moves for a dismissal of the complaint herein on the grounds that the Court lacks jurisdiction of the subject matter and that no claim is stated upon which relief can be granted, also for summary judgment.

The plaintiff brought this action to recover damages for personal injuries, alleged to have been sustained by him on November 6, 1957, at the Holland-American Line Pier, Hoboken, New Jersey, through the negligence of Customs Officers and Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He claims that it is within the purview of the Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b) and 2671-2680. This the defendant, by its present motion, disputes.

The fact that the plaintiff may have sustained personal injuries while dealing with Government employees, however deplorable, does not of itself warrant a legal claim. For the greater part of the existence of this Government, it was immune from suit. In recent years this immunity has been waived by statute to a somewhat limited extent. That such immunity is so limited is emphasized in the cases of Dalehite v. United States, 346 U.S. 15, 17, 73 S. Ct. 956, 97 L. Ed. 1427 (involving a tort claim) and Eastern Transportation Company v. United States, 272 U.S. 675, 685, 47 S. Ct. 289, 71 L. Ed. 472 (pertaining to the Suits in Admiralty Act). In Dalehite, the Court said (346 U.S. 17, 73 S. Ct. 959):

 'That Act (the Federal Tort Claims Act) waived sovereign immunity from suit for certain specified torts of federal employees. It did not assure injured persons damages for all injuries caused by such employees.'

 In Eastern Transportation Company, the Court wrote (272 U.S. 685, 47 S. Ct. 291):

 'The sovereignty of the United States raises a presumption against its suability, unless it is clearly shown; nor should a court enlarge its liability to suit conferred beyond what the language requires.'

 It is plain that the plaintiff may recover only if he establishes that his claim comes within the confines of the statute cited by him, i.e., 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b) and 2671-2680, which insofar as they are herein applicable set forth as follows:

 '* * * the district courts * * * shall have exclusive jurisdiction of civil actions on claims against the United States, for money damages * * * for personal injury * * * 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, under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred * * * (excepting) any claim arising out of assault, battery, false imprisonment, false arrest * * *.'

 It should be noted that any claim 'arising out of * * * false imprisonment' is barred, obviously meaning that any claim origination from, incident to or having connection therewith is excluded.

 The issue before this Court is whether the complaint states a cause of action for negligence, an allowable claim under the Tort Claims Act, or whether it is in reality a claim for damages for false arrest or false imprisonment, both of which are barred by the statute.

 This leads me to an examination of the complaint. The substance of the cause of action is alleged in paragraphs 7, 8, 9 and 13 thereof, viz.:

 The aforementioned defendant's employees at 8:30 A.M. 'surrounded' the plaintiff, examined him from 8:30 A.M. until 2:30 P.M., during which time he was repeatedly 'taken' from one part of the pier to another part;

 They 'exposed him to cold, damp and windy conditions forcing him to be so exposed for extended periods of time and in various states of undress * * *.'

 Steamship piers are usually exposed to the elements. The plaintiff went to the said pier to greet incoming relatives. He was then aware that it was not fully protected from the weather. He makes no claim that the operators of the pier or the defendant should have provided a better or different place for those visiting the pier, including himself. Undoubtedly, upon the performance of his mission, he would have left the pier and ...


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