Gonzalez v. U.S. - Ninth Circuit

Headline: Ninth Circuit held that Government is not liable under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) when a Federal Agent fails to disclose information to law enforcement.

Area of Law:
 Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”); Tort Law

Issue Presented: Whether the discretionary function exception applies – immunizing the Government from liability under the FTCA – where the plaintiff alleges the FBI negligently failed to disclose information to local law enforcement under the Attorney General Guidelines, which provides that the FBI “shall promptly transmit” “serious criminal activity not within the FBI’s investigation jurisdiction”?

Brief Summary: 
Plaintiff brought a negligence claim, in the U.S. District Court, against the United States under the Federal Torts Claim Act (“FTCA”) and sought damages for wrongful death, personal injuries, pain and suffering. Plaintiff alleges that an FBI Agent failed to disclose information to law enforcement that the Minutemen American Defense planned an attack to invade plaintiff’s home. Three masked intruders (later identified as members of the Minutemen American Defense) entered plaintiff’s home and fatally shot – execution style – the plaintiff’s husband and nine-year-old daughter.

The defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss on the grounds that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the FTCA claim because the discretionary function exception applied. The District Court granted the Motion to Dismiss and Plaintiff appealed.

The Ninth Circuit panel analyzed the discretionary function exception and applied the Berkowitz two-prong test – the “Discretionary Act” and the “Policy Judgment” – in holding that the FBI’s decision on whether to disclose information to local law enforcement was discretionary and therefore shielded the government from liability under the FTCA. Affirmed.

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