January 14 Oral Arguments: Tort Immunity and Copyright Litigation Costs

On Monday, January 15th, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases involving statutory interpretation. Thacker v. Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) raises the question of whether the TVA is immune from tort liability as a government entity. Gary Thacker and a friend were fishing on the Tennessee River. At the same time, the TVA was attempting to raise a downed power line that was above the part of the river Thacker and his friend was located. An electrical component hit Thacker, severely injuring him, and his friend, killing him instantly.

Thacker attempted to sue TVA, alleging negligence. The TVA Act, which created the TVA,  provides that TVA is a corporate entity that can be sued. However, the district court dismissed Thacker’s suit on the basis of governmental discretionary function immunity. The issue in the case involves whether that immunity is available to the TVA. A discretionary function immunity provision is codified in the the Federal Tort Claims Act of 1946 (FTCA), which allows individuals to sue the federal government for tort liability. But the TVA is not covered by the FTCA. As a result, the issue before the Court involves when and whether to infer such an immunity into the TVA Act. You can read more about the question on Jurist, and the Federalist Society has posted a helpful video explanation.

The second case the court heard, Rimini Street, Inc. v. Oracle USA, Inc., involves the scope of costs that can be awarded to a plaintiff under the Copyright Act. The Court might read the statute to authorize the same relatively narrow set of costs that are taxable in most litigation or a broader set of costs that would “come closer to compensating a party for all of its litigation costs.” You can read more at The National Law Journal.

This post was written by ISCOTUS Fellow Breana Brill, Chicago-Kent Class of 2020, edited by Matthew Webber, ISCOTUS Editorial Coordinator, Chicago-Kent Class of 2019, and overseen by ISCOTUS Co-Director Carolyn Shapiro.


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