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LOGUE ET AL. v. UNITED STATES

decided: June 11, 1973.

LOGUE ET AL
v.
UNITED STATES



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT.

Rehnquist, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. Stewart and Marshall, JJ., filed a separate statement.

Author: Rehnquist

[ 412 U.S. Page 522]

 MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

Reagan Logue, a federal prisoner confined in a county jail pending trial, fashioned a noose from a bandage covering a laceration on his left arm and hanged himself. His mother and adoptive father sued the United States for damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U. S. C. § 1346 (b),*fn1 claiming that negligence on the part of Government agents and employees proximately caused the death of their son. The District Court determined that Logue's death was the result of negligence for which the United States was liable, and awarded damages. 334 F.Supp. 322 (SD Tex. 1971).

[ 412 U.S. Page 523]

     The Court of Appeals reversed this judgment, 459 F.2d 408 (1972), rehearing en banc denied, 463 F.2d 1340 (1972). We granted certiorari in order to consider the application to this case of the Act's exclusion of employees of a "contractor with the United States." 28 U. S. C. § 2671.

On May 22, 1968, Reagan Logue was arrested by Deputy United States Marshal Del Bowers on a bench warrant charging Logue with conspiracy to smuggle 229 pounds of marihuana into the United States. After a hearing, he was taken to the Nueces County jail in Corpus Christi, Texas, to await trial. This jail is one of some 800 institutions operated by state and local governments that contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to provide for the safekeeping, care, and subsistence of federal prisoners.*fn2

[ 412 U.S. Page 524]

     On the day after his initial incarceration Logue attempted to commit suicide by slashing veins in his left arm. He was immediately taken to a hospital emergency room for treatment of the laceration. While the wound turned out to be relatively minor, Logue was admitted to the hospital's psychiatric floor because of the attending doctor's observation that he was actively hallucinating and out of touch with reality. The psychiatrist who later took charge of the case, recognizing Logue's suicidal tendencies, recommended to federal officials that he be committed to a medical facility for rehabilitation.*fn3

On the following day, May 24, the District Court ordered that Logue be transferred to a federal medical facility pursuant to 18 U. S. C. § 4244. While awaiting the processing of papers and other steps preparatory to the actual transfer, however, federal officials made arrangements to transfer Logue back to the Nueces County jail.*fn4 Before the transfer, Bowers informed the chief jailer of Logue's suicidal tendencies and requested that he prepare for Logue a special cell removed of all dangerous objects that might be used in another suicide attempt. Such a cell was prepared by the jail authorities, and Logue was placed in it. Bowers made no specific arrangements for constant surveillance of Logue once he

[ 412 U.S. Page 525]

     was confined, and the jail employees made only periodic checks when they were on that floor for some other reason. The day after his return to the jail, Logue removed the Kerlix bandage that had been applied to the laceration on his left arm and hanged himself.

The District Court found that there had been a contract between the Government and Nueces County whereby the latter undertook to house federal prisoners in the county jail at Corpus Christi. That court nonetheless found that the United States was liable for the negligence of the employees of the Nueces County sheriff as well as for the negligence of its own employee. The court found the former to have been negligent because their surveillance of Logue was "inadequate," and it found Bowers to have been negligent in failing to make "specific arrangements . . . for constant surveillance of the prisoner."

The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the District Court, stating in its opinion that:

"We interpret [18 U. S. C. § 4002] as fixing the status of the Nueces County jail as that of a 'contractor.' Title 28 U. S. C., Sec. 2671 . . . . This insulates the United States from liability under the FTCA for the negligent acts or omissions of the jail's employees. We find no support in the record for holding that Deputy Marshal Bowers had any power or authority to control any of the internal functions of the Nueces County jail. ...


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