Reich & Paolella Secures Unanimous Supreme Court Decision in Favor of Prisoner in Sovereign Immunity Case

In a 9-0 decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of petitioner Kim Millbrook in Millbrook  v. United States, a landmark case involving sovereign immunity.

Christopher J. Paolella of Reich & Paolella LLP represented Millbrook, a federal prisoner in Lewisburg, Pa., who alleges that he was abused by prison guards. Millbrook 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, who took the case pro bono, argued that the Federal Tort Claims Act had waived sovereign immunity.

The Supreme Court agreed and unanimously reversed the lower court’s decision. According to the opinion, delivered by Justice Clarence Thomas, “The law enforcement proviso extends to law enforcement officers’ acts or omissions that arise within the scope of their employment, regardless of whether the officers are engaged in investigative or law enforcement activity, or are executing a
search, seizing evidence, or making an arrest.”

The case drew national attention because Millbrook, who represented himself in the lower courts, handwrote his petition to the high court. It is extremely rare for the Supreme Court to hear such cases.

“The Supreme Court read the law as written, and we are pleased they agreed unanimously,” said Paolella.

The issue was whether the sovereign immunity of the United States should be waived “for the intentional torts of prison guards when they are acting within the scope of their employment but are not exercising authority to ‘execute searches, to seize evidence, or to make arrests for violations of Federal law.’ ”

Paolella, a founding partner at Reich & Paolella LLP, was appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court to brief and argue the petitioner’s claims. Paolella had served as a law clerk to Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., both on the Supreme Court and on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.  His representation of Millbrook was previously the subject of profiles in the New York Law Journal and the National Law Journal.

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 has an active Supreme Court practice.

Previous media coverage:

New York Law Journal, “Small-Firm Litigator Wins Case at U.S. Supreme Court,” by Christine Simmons, March 28, 2013.

NPR, “High Court Rules U.S. Government Can Be Sued Over Actions Of Prison Guards,” by Ailsa Chang, March 27, 2013.

Washington Post, “Supreme Court says federal government can be sued over prison guards’ actions,” by Associated Press, March 27, 2013.

The Week, “How one prisoner’s handwritten petition won him a Supreme Court case,” by Jon Terbush, March 27, 2013.

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.

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.

U.S. Supreme Court Appoints Christopher Paolella to Argue Sovereign Immunity Case

Christopher J. Paolella, a founding partner at Reich & Paolella LLP, has been appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court to brief and argue the petitioner’s claims in Millbrook v. United States. The case, which concerns the scope of the United States’ liability under the Federal Tort Claims Act, is scheduled for oral argument on February 19, 2013.  Paolella, who served as a law clerk to Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., both on the Supreme Court and on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, will argue on behalf of Kim Millbrook, a federal prisoner in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Millbrook filed a civil suit against the United States to recover for abuse he allegedly suffered at the hands of prison guards. Paolella is handling the matter pro bono.

The case has garnered attention from the New York Times and other national media due to the important legal issues at stake and the unusual nature of Millbrook’s appeal. 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 a petition.

The primary issue the Court granted certiorari on is “whether 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1346(b) and 2680(h) waive the sovereign immunity of the United States for the intentional torts of prison guards when they are acting within the scope of their employment but are not exercising authority to ‘execute searches, to seize evidence, or to make arrests for violations of Federal law.'” The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit previously ruled that Millbrook’s claim was not covered by any of the exceptions to sovereign immunity under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The Supreme Court will reevaluate the circumstances under which the U.S. can be sued for money damages for intentional torts committed by federal prison guards and other federal law enforcement officials. To read Paolella’s opening brief, click here.

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.

Previous media coverage:

New York Times, “Time, Pen and Paper, and Now the Ear of the Supreme Court,” by Adam Liptak, October 6, 2012.

ABA Journal, “Ex-Alito Clerk Will Represent ‘Frequent Filer’ Inmate Who Won Cert With Handwritten Appeal,” by Debra Cassens Weiss, October 18, 2012.

National Law Journal, “Court hiring more specialists for amicus arguments,” by Tony Mauro, November 1, 2012 (subscription required).

SCOTUSblog, “The government switches position,” by Lyle Denniston, December 3, 2012.