Tort Suits Against Federal Contractors: An Overview of the Legal Issues
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS WASHINGTON DC CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE
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Pending litigation and judicial decisions in recent tort suits filed by U.S. civilian and military personnel, other U.S. persons, and other parties against federal contractors have prompted congressional and public interest. Many of these suits allege that contractors were negligent or committed fraud or intentional torts e.g., false imprisonment, infliction of emotional distress in the course of providing services in support of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. There has been particular interest in cases that have been dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, or because a federal court does not have power over the parties or subject matter. Personal jurisdiction over the defendant appears to be a particular issue in cases where the injury occurred while the contractor and U.S. persons worked for the government abroad. For example, courts recently disagreed as to whether they could exercise specific jurisdiction over contractors who allegedly exposed members of the National Guard to toxic chemicals at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant in Iraq. Similarly, courts recently held that they cannot, absent additional contacts between the contractor and the forum state, exercise general jurisdiction over a contractor in any state from which the government administers the contract. The courts subject matter jurisdiction can also be challenged or defeated. Some contractors have asserted that claims against them are nonjusticiable under the political question doctrine because resolution of these claims would require the court to decide issues that the Constitution has committed to another branch of government or that there are no judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving. To date, courts have reached differing conclusions as to whether the political question doctrine bars suits against federal contractors, although their decisions can, in part, be explained by differences in contract terms and performance.
- Government and Political Science
- Sociology and Law
- Personnel Management and Labor Relations