Stencel Aero Engineering Corp. v. United States

431 U.S. 666 (1977)

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Stencel Aero Engineering Corp. v. United States

United States Supreme Court
431 U.S. 666 (1977)

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Facts

Captain John Donham (plaintiff), a member of the armed forces, was injured when his aircraft malfunctioned. Stencel Aero Engineering Corp. (Stencel) (defendant), an ordnance supplier, manufactured the malfunctioning aircraft component based on specifications provided by the United States government (defendant). Donham received compensation under the Veterans’ Benefits Act (VBA), a no-fault compensation program for injured service members. Nevertheless, Donham sued the government and Stencel for negligence under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The FTCA waived the federal government’s immunity and permitted an individual injured by a federal-government actor to sue the government in certain cases, applying the law of the state where the injury occurred. Stencel filed a crossclaim against the government, claiming that Stencel should be indemnified by the government because the faulty component was made to the government’s specifications and was maintained by the government. The government filed a summary-judgment motion, arguing that Donham’s claim and Stencel’s crossclaim were barred by Feres v. United States. In Feres, the Supreme Court held that a service member injured in the line of duty because of a government official’s negligence cannot recover against the government under the FTCA. Stencel argued that the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Yellow Cab Co. allowed a private party to implead the government for indemnity under the FTCA if the original plaintiff was injured by the government. The district court dismissed Stencel’s and Donham’s claims against the government because they were barred by Feres. The appellate court affirmed, and Stencel appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Burger, C.J.)

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