Christopher Paolella Argues Sovereign Immunity Case in U.S. Supreme Court

Christopher J. Paolella, a founding partner at Reich & Paolella LLP, argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on February 19, 2013, on behalf of Kim Millbrook in Millbrook v. United States, a case involving sovereign immunity that has been closely followed by major media, including an editorial in the New York Times and a long segment on National Public Radio.

Millbrook, a federal prisoner in Lewisburg, Pa., who alleges that he was abused by prison guards, filed a civil suit seeking damages from the United States. The lower courts dismissed the lawsuit, holding that the federal government had not waived sovereign immunity.

Paolella, with his firm Reich & Paolella, took the matter on a pro bono basis, arguing that the Federal Tort Claims Act had waived sovereign immunity in this case. The Court will issue a decision before the end of its current term in June.

The prisoner represented himself pro se in the lower courts, and his petition to the Supreme Court was handwritten. It is extremely rare for the Supreme Court to grant such petitions. In another unusual procedural turn, the federal government – which was the defendant in the case and initially opposed review by the Supreme Court – filed briefs in support of Paolella’s position.

“It’s an issue of extreme importance for the people who are affected by it,” in particular inmates in federal prisons, explained Paolella in the New York Law Journal. The Court’s questioning focused on whether the government’s waiver of sovereign immunity extended to all wrongful conduct by federal law enforcement officers acting within the scope of their employment, or whether it was limited to actions taken in a “law enforcement capacity.” According to the National Law Journal’s Supreme Court Correspondent Tony Mauro, Paolella “field[ed] complex questions of statutory interpretation with ease.” Click here to read a transcript of the oral argument, and here for audio of the argument.

Paolella, a Harvard Law School graduate, is an experienced litigator whose practice focuses on appeals and critical motions. He has represented clients before the United States Supreme Court, the federal courts of appeals, and federal and state trial courts.

Reich & Paolella is a New York-based law firm that devotes its practice exclusively to litigation and advocacy, focusing on complex commercial litigation, appeals and critical motions, and white collar defense and investigations. The firm also has an active Supreme Court practice.

Previous media coverage:

New York Law Journal, “Litigator Juggles Pro Bono Representation of Inmate With Needs of Start-Up Practice,” by Christine Simmons, February 20, 2013.

National Law Journal, “Appellate Lawyer of the Week: Christopher Paolella,” by Tony Mauro, February 20, 2013.

New York Times, “Editorial: Assault, Battery, and Government Liability,” February 18, 2013.

National Public Radio, “Prisoner’s Handwritten Petition Prompts Justices To Weigh Government Immunity,” by Nina Totenberg, February 19, 2013.

03/19/2013 | Appeals & Critical Motions: Commercial Litigation: Supreme Court: White Collar Defense & Investigations