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United States v. Olson

United States Supreme Court
546 U.S. 43 (2005)


Facts

Olson (plaintiff), a mine worker, and another mine worker (and spouse) brought suit against the United States (defendant) claiming that the negligence of a federal mine inspector contributed to a severe mine accident in which the mine workers suffered injuries. The federal district court dismissed the lawsuit upon finding that Arizona law would not necessarily find a private person liable in tort given the same facts. Olson appealed, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. The reversal was based on the court’s holding that where “unique governmental functions” are at issue, the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) waives sovereign immunity for the federal government if “a state or municipal entity would be [subject to liability] under the law…where the activity occurred.” The court held federal mine inspections to be one such “unique governmental function” because it has no private sector equivalent. Finally, the court held the United States liable in tort because Arizona law would make “state or municipal entities” liable under the circumstances. The United States Supreme Court considered the case.

Rule of Law

The rule of law is the black letter law upon which the court rested its decision.

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Issue

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Holding and Reasoning (Breyer, J.)

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  • A "yes" or "no" answer to the question framed in the issue section;
  • A summary of the majority or plurality opinion, using the CREAC method; and
  • The procedural disposition (e.g. reversed and remanded, affirmed, etc.).

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