Shot Down–On the Job and in Court

Federal injury cases usually involve a slip, fall or other mundane injuries. This federal employee was shot. His attempts to get more money under the Federal Tort Claims Act fall short though.

When we think of Federal Employees Compensation Act cases, we tend to think of a slip and fall or other such mundane injury on the job. A recent court case addressed a FECA claim by a CIA agent who suffered multiple gunshot wounds on the job. (Spinelli v. Goss, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, U.S.C.A.D.C. No. 05-5270, 5/5/06)

While assigned overseas, Spinelli was shot several times, treated at an Army hospital and then shipped home for treatment in the States. Following his recovery, he transferred to a different overseas locale still working for the CIA. Some three years later Mr. Spinelli returned to the U.S. where he was diagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). On the advice of his psychologist, Spinelli retired from the CIA. (Opinion, p. 2)

The government honored his FECA claim for the initial gunshot injuries. When diagnosed with PTSD, the government also expanded his FECA coverage to include treatment for this condition.

However, Spinelli filed a claim against the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act (28 U.S.C. section 2672) in an attempt to gain even more compensation.

The CIA denied the claim and Spinelli sued, seeking damages for the psychological injury stemming from his shooting as well as for what he characterized as negligent treatment by the government of his psychological disorder that served to aggravate his problems. (pp. 2-3)

The government moved to dismiss his tort claim since FECA was the exclusive remedy for on the job injuries, as well as his Rehabilitation Act claim since he had failed to exhaust his administrative remedy.

The district court denied the government’s motion but permitted an immediate appeal of its decision. (Id.)

The D.C. Circuit held that the district court should have dismissed both of Spinelli’s claims and sent the case back with orders to do so. In well-established law that once the matter is deemed by the Secretary of Labor to be covered by FECA, any tort claim is preempted and the court has no jurisdiction to entertain it. As for Spinelli’s Rehabilitation Act claim, since he never filed an administrative claim, the appeals court ruled that it too should have been dismissed. (Id. pp. 4-6)

About the Author

Susan McGuire Smith spent most of her federal legal career with NASA, serving as Chief Counsel at Marshall Space Flight Center for 14 years. Her expertise is in government contracts, ethics, and personnel law.