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Clark v. United States


March 26, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stiehl, District Judge


Before the Court is defendant United States of America's motion to reconsider (Doc. 72), to which plaintiff responded (Doc. 73). Defendant seeks reconsideration of the Court's Order, dated May 30, 2007 (Doc. 34), which denied defendant's motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint, pursuant to Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.*fn1

Plaintiff's complaint alleges that prison officials at the Federal Corrections Institution at Greenville, Illinois (FCI-Greenville) lost or destroyed plaintiff's personal property, for which plaintiff claims that he is entitled to relief pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b) (FTCA).

In November of 2006, defendant filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint. Defendant argued that the FTCA's waiver of the United States' sovereign immunity did not apply because defendant fell within the "detention of goods" exception articulated in 28 U.S.C. § 2680(c).*fn2 Subsequently, the Seventh Circuit decided Dahler v. United States, 473 F.3d 769, 771-72 (7th Cir. 2007)(holding that the Federal Tort Claims Act waives the government's sovereign immunity from suits arising from the unlawful detention of a prisoner's property by Federal Bureau of Prison officials). This Court properly relied upon that decision and denied defendant's motion to dismiss (See Order at Doc. 34). Thereafter, the United States Supreme Court overruled Dahler in Ali v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, 128 S.Ct. 831, 841 (Jan. 22, 2008)(holding that the meaning of "any other law enforcement officer" in § 2680 covers all law enforcement officers, including officers of the Federal Bureau of Prisons). Defendant's current motion to reconsider argues that, because the Supreme Court overruled Dahler, this Court no long has subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiff's claim because defendant constitutes a "law enforcement officer" under § 2680(c), to which the United States' sovereign immunity applies.

Plaintiff argues that the relief defendant seeks is not justified in this instance because, inter alia, the Supreme Court did not explicitly articulate whether it intended its ruling in Ali to apply retroactively. Therefore, this Court must consider whether to retroactively apply the Supreme Court's ruling in Ali to the case now before the Court.

Plaintiff relies on Chevron Oil Co. v. Huson, 404 U.S. 97 (1971) to argue that this Court should apply a three-part balancing test in determining whether to apply a judicial decision retroactively.*fn3 The Court notes, however, that the Supreme Court has abrogated the Chevron Oil retroactivity analysis. Harper v. Virginia Dep't. of Taxation, 509 U.S. 86 (1993). In Harper, the Court determined:

When this Court applies a rule of federal law to the parties before it, that rule is the controlling interpretation of federal law and must be given full retroactive effect in all cases still open on direct review and as to all events, regardless of whether such events predate or postdate our announcement of the rule.

Id. at 97. The Court further reasoned that the need to apply the Supreme Court's pronouncements of federal law retroactively must "prevail over any claim based on a Chevron Oil analysis." Id. at 98 (quoting James B. Beam Distilling Co. v. Georgia, 501 U.S. 529, 540 (1991)).

Upon review of the record, the Court FINDS that Ali controls this dispute. Ali, 128 S.Ct. at 841 ("Section 2680(c) forecloses lawsuits against the United States for the unlawful detention of property by "any," not just "some," law enforcement officers."). Therefore, this Court must give retroactive effect to the Ali Court's "controlling interpretation of federal law" and apply that ruling retroactively to this case. Accordingly, the Court FINDS that the defendant United States of America is immune from suit because federal law enforcement officers at FCI-Greenville fall within the § 2680(c) "detention of goods" exception to the FTCA's waiver of sovereign immunity. Ali, 128 S.Ct. At 841. Because defendant Jansen/Thomas constitutes a law enforcement officer, he too falls within the § 2680(c) exception and is, therefore, immune from suit. The Court GRANTS defendant United States of America's motion for reconsideration and DISMISSES Count I of plaintiff's complaint as to the United States. Harper v. Virginia Dep't. of Taxation, 509 U.S. 86, 97 (1993). The Court, sua sponte, DISMISSES Count I as to defendant Thomas/Jansen. Plaintiff's Bivens retaliation claim in Count II against defendants Carney, Nuedeck, Thomas/Jansen, Solmomson and Nelson is the only claim remaining.


WILLIAM D. STIEHL District Judge

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