Thacker v. Tennessee Valley Authority

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Sovereign Immunity
  • Date Filed: April 29, 2019
  • Case #: 17-1201
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: KAGAN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
  • Full Text Opinion

The waiver of immunity in the Tennessee Valley Authority’s "sue-and-be-sued" clause is not subject to a discretionary function exception of the kind in the Federal Tort Claims Act.

Petitioners filed suit against Respondent for personal injuries incurred due to Respondent’s attempts to raise a downed power line. Under 16 U.S.C. § 831c(b), Respondent may “sue and be sued” in its own name and enjoys tort-suit immunity in particular circumstances, including the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) discretionary function exception. The District Court dismissed, holding Respondent immune from suit under the FTCA’s discretionary function exception. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, stating that Respondent’s action fell outside the "sue and be sued" clause. The Supreme Court held that the discretionary function exception does not apply to Respondent’s sue-and-be-sued clause. They reasoned that a sue-and-be-sued clause might have an implied restriction, but such a restriction should only be recognized if the type of suit is not in line with the statutory scheme, or it is necessary to avoid serious interference with a governmental function’s performance. See Fed. Housing Admin. v. Burr 309 U. S. 242. They remanded for the court below to determine if Respondent has immunity. In doing so the court must decide whether Respondent’s conducted was governmental in nature, in which case, an implied limitation might bar the suit if prohibiting such a suit is necessary to avoid serious interference with performance of the function, or commercial in nature, in which case they cannot invoke sovereign immunity. REVERSED AND REMANDED 

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