Kosak v. United States
465 U.S. 848 (1984)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Kosak v. United States, 465 U.S. 848 (1984)

Kosak v. United States

No. 82-618

Argued November 7, 1983

Decided March 21, 1984

465 U.S. 848

Syllabus

Petitioner's art collection was seized by customs officials when he was suspected of smuggling the collection into the country. Subsequently, petitioner was acquitted of the smuggling charge, and the objects of art were returned to him upon his petition for relief from civil forfeiture. He then filed an administrative complaint seeking compensation for alleged damage to the property occurring while it was in the Customs Service's custody. When the Service denied relief, petitioner filed suit in Federal District Court under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), seeking damages for the alleged injury to his property. The District Court granted the Government's motion for dismissal of the complaint or summary judgment on the ground that the claim was barred by 28 U.S.C. § 2680(c), which exempts from the coverage of the FTCA "[a]ny claims arising in respect of . . . the detention of any goods or merchandise by any officer of customs." The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Section 2680(c) precludes recovery against the United States for the alleged injury to petitioner's property. Pp. 465 U. S. 851-861.

(a) The fairest interpretation of § 2680(c)'s language "arising in respect of " is that such language means any claim "arising out of" the detention of goods, including a claim resulting from negligent handling or storage of the detained property, and is not limited to claims for damage caused by the detention itself. That § 2680(b) expressly bars actions "arising out of the loss, miscarriage, or negligent transmission" of mail does not undercut this reading of § 2680(c)'s language, but merely suggests that Congress intended § 2680(b) to be less encompassing than § 2680(c). Pp. 465 U. S. 851-855.

(b) The legislative history of § 2680(c) supports the above interpretation. Moreover, the interpretation accords with Congress' general purposes, in creating exceptions to the FTCA, of ensuring that "certain governmental activities" not be disrupted by the threat of damages suits, of avoiding exposure of the United States to liability for excessive or fraudulent claims, and of not extending coverage of the Act to suits for which adequate remedies were already available. Pp. 465 U. S. 855-861.

679 F.2d 306, affirmed.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion,post, p. 465 U. S. 862.

Page 465 U. S. 849

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