TSA Agents Can Now Grope Travelers Without Fear Of Pesky Lawsuits

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners have gained the upper glove when it comes to being sued by travelers subjected to assaults, false arrests or other abuses, thanks to a Wednesday ruling by a federal appeals court.

In a 2-1 decision, the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled that TSA screeners are not "investigative or law enforcement officers," which shields them from liability under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). 

While the judges said they were "sympathetic" to concerns that their decision would leave victims of TSA gropings with "very limited legal redress," the panel ultimately concluded that screeners and security personnel are not covered by the law.

“For most people, TSA screenings are an unavoidable feature of flying, and they may involve thorough searches of not only the belongings of passengers but also their physical persons — searches that are even more rigorous and intimate for individuals who happen to be selected for physical pat-downs,” wrote Circuit Judge Cheryl Ann Krause in her decision.

The Wednesday ruling came as a major defeat for Nadine Pellegrino - a Boca Raton business consultant who sued the TSA for false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution over a July 2006 incident at the Philadelphia International Airport. 

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 screening, but conditions deteriorated and she was eventually jailed for about 18 hours and criminally charged, the papers show. She was acquitted at a March 2008 trial. -Reuters

Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro was the lone dissenter on the panel, who faulted the majority judges for preventing victims of TSA abuses from recoveries "by analogizing TSA searches to routine administrative inspections."

The court did note, however, that the head of the TSA - the Under Secretary of Transportation for Security does have the authority to designate TSA employees as "law enforcement officer[s] under 49 U.S.C. 114(p)(1).

The same court threw out a First Amendment claim against the TSA last August, after Roger Vanderklok said he was arrested in retaliation for a request to file a complaint against a surly TSA supervisor. 

Come fly the friendly skies!

See the ruling here: