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Court says government can be sued over guards’ actions

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday that the federal government can be sued for abuse claims against prison guards.

The high court ruled for Kim Lee Millbrook, a prisoner at the federal prison in Lewisburg, Pa., who had accused prison guards of sexually assaulting him in May 2010. Prison officials said Millbrook’s allegation was unsubstantiated.

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Millbrook sued the federal government for negligence and assault and battery, but lower courts threw out the lawsuit. Millbrook then appealed to the Supreme Court, writing his petition in longhand.

The court accepted his appeal and appointed him a lawyer. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court Wednesday that his lawsuit can move forward.

The Federal Torts Claim Act waives the United States’ immunity against lawsuits for civil wrongs intentionally caused by federal representatives, including federal law enforcement officers.

But the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit said immunity is waived only when the law enforcement officer is executing a search, seizing evidence, or making an arrest.

Thomas said those terms describe what federal law enforcement officers can do, not what they can be sued for.

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