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Vidro v. United States

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

June 21, 2013

MONSERRATE VIDRO, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant-Appellee.

Monserrate Vidro appeals from the October 18, 2012 judgment of the District Court for the District of Connecticut (Underhill, Judge) granting the government's motion to dismiss his FTCA suit at the pleading stage. Vidro alleged that two federal law enforcement officers maliciously and falsely testified before a federal grand jury about his involvement in a drug conspiracy, causing the tortious intentional infliction of emotional distress. However, because Connecticut would recognize an absolute privilege for grand jury witness testimony and the officers would not be liable in tort for their statements, the United States is not vicariously liable under the FTCA.

JOHN R. WILLIAMS, John R. Williams and Associates LLC, 51 Elm St., New Haven, CT, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

SANDRA S. GLOVER (Alan M. Soloway, on the brief), Assistant United States Attorneys, of counsel to David B. Fein, United States Attorney, District of Connecticut, New Haven, CT, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before: WALKER, CHIN, Circuit Judges, RESTANI, [1] Judge.

JOHN M. WALKER, JR., Circuit Judge:

In the October 18, 2012 judgment of the District Court for the District of Connecticut (Underhill, Judge), Monserrate Vidro's Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2671 et seq., suit was dismissed at the pleading stage.[2] Vidro had alleged that two federal law enforcement officers maliciously and falsely testified before a federal grand jury about his involvement in a drug conspiracy, causing the tortious intentional infliction of emotional distress.

We must address two questions of first impression in this circuit: (1) whether, in FTCA suits, the United States may assert all defenses available to private persons; and (2) whether grand jury witness testimony is absolutely privileged under Connecticut law. Although our analysis is different from that of the district court, we concur with its ultimate conclusion that, if its agents would enjoy immunity from suit under state tort law, the United States may also assert immunity in FTCA actions. Further, because Connecticut would recognize an absolute privilege for grand jury witness testimony, the United States is not vicariously liable under the FTCA for the officers' statements before the federal grand jury. The district court's order of dismissal is affirmed.

BACKGROUND

In his September 6, 2011 federal complaint for the state tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress, Vidro alleges that two law enforcement officers intentionally and falsely testified before a federal grand jury about his involvement in a drug conspiracy. Vidro further alleges that this resulted in his subsequent indictment, four-month detention, and attendant injuries. Specifically, Vidro states that he "suffered imprisonment, loss of liberty, public humiliation and disgrace, severe emotional distress and economic losses." J.A. 10-11.

On December 6, the government moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that it should be construed as a claim for false imprisonment and that it failed to make out such a claim. Vidro opposed the motion, arguing that the complaint properly stated a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The government then filed a supplemental memorandum noting that the Supreme Court's recent decision in Rehberg v. Paulk, 132 S.Ct. 1497 (2012), might be relevant insofar as it discussed justifications for grand jury witness immunity. At the district court's request, the parties then filed supplemental memoranda addressing the meaning of the FTCA phrase "judicial or legislative immunity." 28 U.S.C. § 2674.

On September 26, 2012, the district court granted the government's motion to dismiss the complaint on the basis that the United States was immune from suit. After finding § 2674 ambiguous and examining the limited legislative history, the district court concluded that the provision was meant to preserve all common law protections for officers. It further found that Connecticut common law implicitly recognizes absolute immunity for grand jury witness testimony and that the United States could therefore not be held liable for the officers' statements. This appeal followed.

DISCUSSION

We review a district court's grant of a motion to dismiss on the pleadings de novo, accept all factual claims in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Anschutz Corp. v. ...


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