Torts II, Pages 690–695

Deuser v. Vecera

United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, 1998

Facts:

Decedent Deuser was attended a fair in St. Louis held on the grounds of a national park. Deuser began sexually assaulting women, causing defendant rangers to warn him and keep an eye on him. After observing him urinate in public, defendants arrested him and brought him to St. Louis police. The police were overwhelmed by fairgoers and so told defendants. Defendants decided to just release him away from the fair and brought Deuser to a parking lot about a mile from the fair and released him without money or transport and while he was severely intoxicated. Deuser then wandered onto an interstate and was killed by a motorist. Deuser's survivors sued the United States for the negligent acts of the park rangers.

Procedural History:

Trial court dismissed claim.

Issue:

Can the government be sued for the park rangers' negligence in performing their duties?

Rule:

The discretionary function exception says that the government is still immune where it otherwise waived sovereign immunity if the action was a discretionary function.

Explanation:

A discretionary function is one that involves an element of judgment or choice.

Reasoning:

  • Decisions of whether to arrest someone or not must be within the discretion and judgment of the officers. Defendants were then acting in a discretionary function reserved to their judgment.

  • LexisNexis IconWestLaw LogoGoogle Scholar LogoPage 693–694

    To be protected, the rangers' conduct must be "grounded in the social, economic, or political goals" of the Handbook's discretionary enforcement guidelines. Because those published guidelines are clear and give officers wide discretion in making enforcement decisions during the Fair, the rangers at the outset enjoy the presumption that their conduct in releasing Deuser meets the second part of the test . . . . Appellants have alleged no facts to rebut that presumption

Holding:

No, the rangers were acting in a discretionary function and are exempted from the Federal Tort Claim Act's waiver of sovereign immunity. Affirmed.

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