A McDermott Will & Emery appellate team won a critical victory for Nadine Pellegrino before the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit sitting en banc. In a 9-4 opinion, the full Third Circuit held that the United States has waived sovereign immunity for certain intentional torts committed by Transportation Security Officers.
In 2006, after a harrowing ordeal with the TSA, Ms. Pellegrino was arrested, jailed, cited for 10 criminal violations, including aggravated assault on law enforcement officials, and prosecuted for eight. She successfully defended against those charges and thereafter brought suit alleging that certain Transportation Security Officers engaged in intentional misconduct. Ms. Pellegrino pursued her claims pro se in the district court and on appeal.
During her appeal’s pendency, the Third Circuit appointed partner Paul M. Thompson to file an amicus curiae brief supporting Ms. Pellegrino and to argue the case. In July 2018, a divided Third Circuit panel concluded that the United States had not waived sovereign immunity for intentional torts committed by Transportation Security Officers.
Thereafter, Ms. Pellegrino retained McDermott to continue the effort. The McDermott team successfully petitioned the full Third Circuit to rehear the case en banc, and Paul argued before the full Court in February 2019.
On August 30, 2019, the en banc Third Circuit reversed in part, holding that the United States has waived sovereign immunity for certain intentional torts committed by Transportation Security Officers.
The case is a resounding victory for Ms. Pellegrino and for others who fall victim to those rare instances in which Transportation Security Officers use their powers in an intentionally abusive manner.
“We are thrilled with the Third Circuit’s decision in this matter. This victory is a tribute to the determination and hard work of Ms. Pellegrino,” Paul said. “We appreciate the important service of the TSA in protecting us all every day at our nation’s airports, but in those rare instances when Transportation Security officers engage in intentional misconduct, it is important that the victims of that misconduct get their day in court.”
The McDermott team included Paul M. Thompson, Matthew L. Knowles, Alexander J. Kritikos, Sarah P. Hogarth, and Le Chen.
The case is Pellegrino v. Transportation Security Administration, case number 15-3047 in the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
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