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.

Reich & Paolella files U.S. Supreme Court amicus brief on Alien Tort Statute

Reich & Paolella today filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on the Alien Tort Statute. The brief, submitted in support of respondent Royal Dutch Petroleum, urges the Court to limit jurisdiction under the Statute to lawsuits brought by aliens against U.S. citizens, and to exclude cases where an alien sues another alien.

The case, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., No. 10-1491, involves a lawsuit brought in U.S. federal court by Nigerian citizens against a Dutch company that is alleged to have aided and abetted human rights abuses in Nigeria by the local government. The Supreme Court originally granted certiorari to consider the question of whether corporations could be liable under the Alien Tort Statute. However, after oral argument, the Court took the rare step of asking the parties for additional briefing and argument on the question of whether the Statute applies at all to wrongs which occur overseas. The case will be reargued on October 1, 2012 — the opening day of the Court’s upcoming Term.

The amicus brief argues that the Statute, passed by the First Congress in 1789, was originally intended to permit aliens to sue U.S. citizens who caused them harm — and thus satisfy the United States’ duty under the law of nations to redress harms caused to foreigners by its citizens. Had the law not provided this kind of redress, the young nation could have faced military and other reprisals from other countries. But the law was not intended to open the U.S. courts to claims between foreign citizens, whose actions the United States had no responsiblity to redress. The brief argues that the Statute did not turn U.S. courts into global policemen, empowered to hear alien-versus-alien claims arising across the world. Rather, “[t]he key limitation on ATS jurisdiction was . . . that the action had to be against a U.S. citizen.”

The brief was authored by Reich & Paolella founding partners Christopher J. Paolella and J. David Reich, in conjunction with law professors Anthony J. Bellia Jr. and Bradford R. Clark.  Paolella, who specializes in appellate and Supreme Court practice, has authored amicus briefs in cases including McDonald v. Chicago (concerning whether the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms applies against the states) and Miller v. Alabama (concerning the constitutionality of imposing life imprisonment without parole on a juvenile offender). He previously served as a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. Reich is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney with more than two decades of litigation experience, representing clients in trials, appeals, and arbitrations.

Professors Bellia and Clark are the authors of The Alien Tort Statute and the Law of Nations, 78 U. Chi. L. Rev. 445 (2011), a seminal article on the original understanding of the Statute. Their comprehensive research has been cited by the parties in Kiobel and by courts construing the Statute. Bellia is a Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame and Clark is the William Cranch Professor of Law at The George Washington University Law School.

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 investigation.

Click here to read the brief.