Arlington, Virginia—Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Brownback v. King, a police brutality case involving an innocent college student, James King, who was brutally beaten in an unprovoked assault by members of a state-federal task force. On first glance, many presumed yesterday’s opinion ended James King’s legal quest to hold the officers who assaulted him accountable for their actions. But that is far from the case. The Court, in fact, remanded the heart of James King’s case to be heard by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
King sued officers Allen and Brownback for violating his constitutional rights. In the same lawsuit, he filed claims against the U.S. government, under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The case went all the way to the Supreme Court because the federal government argued that once King’s FTCA claims against the government got dismissed, his constitutional claims against the officers were also cancelled.
“Yesterday’s opinion handed the government a technical victory on an obscure issue of jurisdiction dealing with the FTCA, but through footnote 4 of the opinion and a powerful concurrence by Justice Sotomayor, the Court denied the government the substance of what it wanted, which was to end James King’s case,” said Institute for Justice Attorney Patrick Jaicomo, who argued the case before the Supreme Court. “Instead, the Court cleared away the complicated issues of jurisdiction and merits and remanded the case for the 6th Circuit to address the strongest argument James King has—whether you can sue the United States and its employees in the same lawsuit without one claim cancelling out the other one. The Institute for Justice will now present that case squarely and cleanly before the 6th Circuit.”
Associate Justice Thomas wrote in his opinion:
King argues, among other things, that the judgment bar does not apply to a dismissal of claims raised in the same lawsuit because common-law claim preclusion ordinarily “is not appropriate within a single lawsuit.” The Sixth Circuit did not address those arguments, and “we are a court of review, not of first view.” We leave it to the Sixth Circuit to address King’s alternative arguments on remand.
“We have centuries of common law on our side to make the point that if claims are brought in the same lawsuit, a dismissal of one cannot affect the fate of another,” said IJ Attorney Anya Bidwell, co-counsel in the case. “There is still a path to accountability for King, and if we prevail, the impact will be significant for those who want to hold government officials individually accountable for their actions when they violate your constitutional rights.”
As reported late yesterday by SCOTUSblog, “King’s case will live to see another day as he seeks to hold the officers who assaulted him accountable.”
For more information on this case, visit: https://ij.org/case/brownback-v-king/.