July 11, 2018 / 11:08 AM / Updated an hour ago
TSA screeners win immunity from flier abuse claims: U.S. appeals court

Jonathan Stempel
3 Min Read


(Reuters) - Fliers may have a tough time recovering damages for invasive 
screenings at U.S. airport security checkpoints, after a federal appeals court 
on Wednesday said screeners are immune from claims under a federal law 
governing assaults, false arrests and other abuses.

FILE PHOTO: A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) official's wears a 
TSA badge at Terminal 4 of JFK airport in New York City, U.S., May 17, 2017. 
REUTERS/Joe Penney/File Photo
In a 2-1 vote, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia said 
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners are shielded by 
government sovereign immunity from liability under the Federal Tort Claims Act 
because they do not function as “investigative or law enforcement officers.”

The majority said it was “sympathetic” to concerns that its decision would 
leave fliers with “very limited legal redress” for alleged mistreatment by 
aggressive or overzealous screeners, which add to the ordinary stresses of air 

“For most people, TSA screenings are an unavoidable feature of flying,” but it 
is “squarely in the realm” of Congress to expand liability for abuses, Circuit 
Judge Cheryl Ann Krause wrote.

The decision, the first on the issue by a federal appeals court, was a defeat 
for Nadine Pellegrino, a business consultant from Boca Raton, Florida.

She and her husband had sued for false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious 
prosecution over a July 2006 altercation at Philadelphia International Airport.

Pellegrino on Wednesday said she was reviewing the decision. A lawyer who 
helped with her appeal did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

According to court papers, Pellegrino had been randomly selected for additional 
screening at the Philadelphia airport before boarding a US Airways flight to 
Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Pellegrino, then 57, objected to the invasiveness of the search, but conditions 
deteriorated and she was later jailed for about 18 hours, the papers show. 
Criminal charges were filed, and Pellegrino was acquitted at a March 2008 trial.

Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro dissented from Wednesday’s decision.

“By analogizing TSA searches to routine administrative inspections, my 
colleagues preclude victims of TSA abuses from obtaining any meaningful remedy 
for a variety of intentional tort claims,” he wrote.

Torts are civil wrongs that can result in damages.

A spokesman for U.S. Attorney William McSwain in Philadelphia, whose office 
represented TSA officials, had no immediate comment.

The appeals court ruled 11 months after throwing out a First Amendment claim by 
an architect, Roger Vanderklok, who said he was arrested in retaliation for 
asking to file a complaint against an ill-tempered TSA supervisor.

The case is Pellegrino et al v U.S. Transportation Security Administration et 
al, 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 15-3047.
Infowarrior mailing list

Reply via email to