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Proposed Rule

Certification and Decertification in Connection With Certain Suits Based Upon Acts or Omissions of Federal Employees and Other Persons

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AGENCY:

Department of Justice.

ACTION:

Proposed rule.

SUMMARY:

In cases where employees of the Federal Government are sued for money damages based on alleged torts, if the Attorney General certifies that the employees (and certain non-employees) were acting within the scope of their office or employment at the time of the incident out of which the suit arose, the suit would be deemed an action against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act. This proposed rule conforms Department regulations on this subject to the provisions of the Federal Employees Liability Reform and Tort Compensation Act that expanded the tort protections for Federal employees (and certain non-employees).

DATES:

Submit comments on or before December 23, 2002.

ADDRESSES:

Address all comments concerning this proposed rule to Jeffrey Axelrad, Director, Torts Branch, Civil Division, U.S. Department of Justice, P.O. Box 888, Benjamin Franklin Station, Washington, DC 20044.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Jeffrey Axelrad, Director, Torts Branch, Civil Division, U.S. Department of Justice, P.O. Box 888, Benjamin Franklin Station, Washington, DC 20044.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

In 1961 Congress passed the Federal Drivers Act, Public Law 87-258, 75 Stat. 539, which immunized Federal employees from liability for money damages based on torts involving the operation of motor vehicles within the scope of their employment. In the event that a Federal employee was sued in such a case, the statute authorized the Attorney General to issue a certification that the employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment at the time of the incident out of which the suit arose, and the suit thereafter would be deemed a tort action against the United States pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. 1346(b), 2671-2680.

In ensuing years, Congress enacted a number of similar certification statutes to protect medical and legal personnel employed by certain Federal agencies from tort liability for professional malpractice arising within the scope of their employment. E.g., 10 U.S.C. 1054 (Department of Defense legal personnel); 10 U.S.C. 1089 (Department of Defense medical personnel); 22 U.S.C. 2509(j) (Peace Corps medical personnel); 22 U.S.C. 2702 (Department of State medical personnel); 38 U.S.C. 7316 (Department of Veterans Affairs medical personnel); 42 U.S.C. 233 (Public Health Service medical personnel); 42 U.S.C. 2458a (National Aeronautics and Space Administration medical personnel).

Most recently, the Federal Employees Liability Reform and Tort Compensation Act, 28 U.S.C. 2679(b)-(e), became law. This certification statute, which replaced the less comprehensive Federal Drivers Act, extended immunity from liability for money damages to Federal employees for all common law torts committed within the scope of their employment.

A number of certification statutes also have been enacted to protect certain non-employees from tort liability arising out of certain Federal programs. As part of the National Swine Flu Immunization Program of 1976, Public Law 94-380, 90 Stat. 1113, Congress authorized the Attorney General to issue certifications in suits brought against certain agencies, organizations, and individuals that participated in the manufacture, distribution, and administration of the swine flu vaccine. Similar authority has been conferred on the Attorney General with respect to certain suits against fiduciaries of the Federal Retirement Thrift Savings Fund (5 U.S.C. 8477(e)(4)); atomic weapons testing contractors (42 U.S.C. 2212); and certain individuals enrolled as volunteers in National Volunteer Programs (42 U.S.C. 5055(f)).

Finally, several statutes, without expressly providing for certification, confer Federal employee status on certain persons who would not otherwise be encompassed within the Federal Tort Claims Act's definition of an “employee of the government” as that term is defined by 28 U.S.C. 2671. E.g., 5 U.S.C. 3102 (persons employed to assist handicapped federal employees in performing duties); 5 U.S.C. 3111 (unpaid student volunteers); 7 U.S.C. 2272 (volunteers to Department of Agriculture); 10 U.S.C. 1588 (volunteers to Armed Services); 16 U.S.C. 18i (volunteers to National Park Service); 16 U.S.C. 558c (volunteers to Forest Service); 22 U.S.C. 2504 (Peace Corps volunteers); 29 U.S.C. 2897 (Job Corps enrollees); 33 U.S.C. 569c (volunteers to Army Corps of Engineers); 42 U.S.C. 3788 (volunteers to Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance, National Institute of Justice Assistance, and Bureau of Justice Statistics).

Part 15 has not been revised since the enactment of the Federal Employees Liability Reform and Tort Compensation Act. The regulations were initially promulgated after passage of the Federal Drivers Act, 26 FR 11420 (1961), and revised as additional certification statutes were enacted. See 40 FR 4910 (1975); 42 FR 15409 (1977); 44 FR 9379 (1979); 49 FR 44995 (1984). As last revised, Part 15 comprises three sections (15.1, 15.2, and 15.3) and an appendix. Each section in turn is subdivided into three subsections that govern suits subject to: (1) The Federal Drivers Act and the malpractice certification statutes; (2) the swine flu statute; and (3) the atomic weapons testing statute.

This proposed rule revises Part 15 to conform it to the provisions of the Federal Employees Liability Reform and Tort Compensation Act, and to delete references to specific certification statutes. Section 15.1 is new and sets forth definitions of the terms “appropriate Federal agency,” “Federal employee,” and “covered person.” Sections 15.2, 15.3, and 15.4 cover the same subjects that were covered by the prior versions of sections 15.1, 15.2, and 15.3, respectively, except that rather than the former tripartite subdivision, each section is subdivided into two paragraphs, one of which governs suits against Federal employees, and the other which governs suits against covered persons. Under the proposed rule, the procedures governing actions against Federal employees continue to apply in actions against estates of Federal employees. The appendix is removed.

Executive Order 12866

This regulation has been drafted and reviewed in accordance with Executive Order 12866, “Regulatory Planning and Review.” The Department of Justice has determined that this rule is a “significant regulatory action” under Executive Order 12866, section 3(f), Regulatory Planning and Review, and Start Printed Page 64845accordingly this rule has been reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget.

Clarity of the Regulations

The Attorney General invites comments on how to make these proposed regulations easier to understand. Send any comments that concern how the Department could make these proposed regulations easier to understand to the person listed in the ADDRESSES section of the preamble.

Executive Order 13132

This regulation will not have substantial direct effects on the States, on the relationship between the national government and the States, or on the distribution of power and responsibilities among the various levels of government. Therefore, in accordance with Executive Order 13132, it is determined that this rule does not have sufficient federalism implications to warrant the preparation of a Federalism Assessment.

Regulatory Flexibility Act

The Attorney General, in accordance with the Regulatory Flexibility Act (5 U.S.C. 605(b)), has reviewed this regulation and by approving it certifies that this regulation will not have a significant economic impact upon a substantial number of small entities for the following reasons: This rule pertains to Federal employees and certain non-employees against whom civil actions are filed under circumstances in which the remedy against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act has been made exclusive of the remedy against such Federal employees and non-employees. The regulation requires Federal employees in those circumstances promptly to deliver the process and pleadings in such actions to their employing Federal agency, and the agency to send a report concerning the matter to the appropriate United States Attorney and the responsible Branch Director of the Torts Branch, Civil Division, Department of Justice. The regulation further requires covered non-employees in those circumstances promptly to deliver the process and pleadings in such actions to the appropriate Federal agency, and the agency to send a report concerning the matter to the appropriate United States Attorney and the responsible Branch Director of the Torts Branch, Civil Division, Department of Justice. The rule's economic impact is minimal.

Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995

This rule will not result in the expenditure by State, local, and tribal governments, in the aggregate, or by the private sector, of $100,000,000 or more in any one year, and it will not significantly or uniquely affect small governments. Therefore, no actions were deemed necessary under the provisions of the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995.

Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996

This rule is not a major rule as defined by Section 251 of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996. 5 U.S.C. 804. This rule will not result in an annual effect on the economy of $100,000,000 or more; a major increase in costs or prices; or significant adverse effects on competition, employment, investment, productivity, innovation, or on the ability of the United States-based companies to compete with foreign-based companies in domestic and export markets.

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List of Subjects in 28 CFR Part 15

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For the reasons stated in the preamble, the Department of Justice proposes to amend 28 CFR part 15 as follows:

1. Part 15 is revised to read as follows:

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PART 15—CERTIFICATION AND DECERTIFICATION IN CONNECTION WITH CERTAIN SUITS BASED UPON ACTS OR OMISSIONS OF FEDERAL EMPLOYEES AND OTHER PERSONS

15.1
General provisions.
15.2
Expeditious delivery of process and pleadings.
15.3
Agency report.
15.4
Removal and defense of suits.
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Authority: 5 U.S.C. 301, 8477(e)(4); 10 U.S.C. 1054, 1089; 22 U.S.C. 2702; 28 U.S.C. 509, 510, and 2679; 38 U.S.C. 7316; 42 U.S.C. 233, 2212, 2458a, and 5055(f); and the National Swine Flu Immunization Program of 1976, Pub. L. 84-380, 90 Stat. 1113 (1976).

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General provisions.

(a) This part contains the regulations of the Department of Justice governing the application for and the issuance of statutory certifications and decertifications in connection with certain suits based upon the acts or omissions of Federal employees and certain other persons as to whom the remedy provided by the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. 1346(b) and 2672, is exclusive of any other civil action or proceeding for money damages by reason of the same subject matter against such Federal employees and other persons.

(b) As used in this part:

(1) Appropriate Federal agency means the Federal agency most closely associated with the program out of which the claim or suit arose. When it cannot be ascertained which Federal agency is the most closely associated with the program out of which the claim or suit arose, the responsible Director of the Torts Branch, Civil Division, Department of Justice, shall be consulted and will thereafter designate the appropriate Federal agency.

(2) Federal employee means “employee of the government” as that term is defined by 28 U.S.C. 2671.

(3) Covered person means any person other than a Federal employee or the estate of a Federal employee as to whom Congress has provided by statute that the remedy provided by 28 U.S.C. 1346(b) and 2672 is exclusive of any other civil action or proceeding for money damages by reason of the same subject matter against such person.

Expeditious delivery of process and pleadings.

(a) Any Federal employee against whom a civil action or proceeding is brought for money damages for loss or damage to property, or personal injury or death, on account of any act or omission in the scope of the employee's office or employment with the Federal Government, shall promptly deliver all process and pleadings served on the employee, or an attested true copy thereof, to the employee's immediate superior or to whomever is designated by the head of the employee's department or agency to receive such papers. In addition, if prior to the employee's receipt of such process or pleadings, the employee receives information regarding the commencement of such a civil action or proceeding, he shall immediately so advise his superior or the designee. If the action is brought against the employee's estate this procedure shall apply to the employee's personal representative. The superior or designee shall provide the United States Attorney for the district embracing the place where the action or proceeding is brought and the responsible Branch Director of the Torts Branch, Civil Division, Department of Justice, information concerning the commencement of such action or proceeding, and copies of all process and pleadings.

(b) Any covered person against whom a civil action or proceeding is brought Start Printed Page 64846for money damages for loss or damage to property, or personal injury or death, on account of any act or omission, under circumstances in which Congress has provided by statute that the remedy provided by the Federal Tort Claims Act is the exclusive remedy, shall promptly deliver to the appropriate Federal agency all process and pleadings served on the covered person, or an attested true copy thereof. In addition, if prior to the covered person's receipt of such process or pleadings, the covered person receives information regarding the commencement of such a civil action or proceeding, he shall immediately so advise the appropriate Federal agency. The appropriate Federal agency shall provide to the United States Attorney for the district embracing the place where the action or proceeding is brought, and to the responsible Branch Director of the Torts Branch, Civil Division, Department of Justice, information concerning the commencement of such action or proceeding, and copies of all process and pleadings.

Agency report.

(a) The Federal employee's employing Federal agency shall submit to the United States Attorney for the district embracing the place where the civil action or proceeding is brought a report that fully addresses whether the employee was acting within the scope of his office or employment with the Federal Government at the time of the incident out of which the suit arose. The employing Federal agency shall send a copy of the report to the responsible Branch Director of the Torts Branch, Civil Division, Department of Justice.

(b) The appropriate Federal agency shall submit to the United States Attorney for the district embracing the place where the civil action or proceeding is brought a report that fully addresses whether the person was acting as a covered person at the time of the incident out of which the suit arose. The appropriate Federal agency shall send a copy of the report to the responsible Branch Director of the Torts Branch, Civil Division, Department of Justice.

(c) A report under this section shall be submitted at the earliest possible date, or within such time as shall be determined upon request by the United States Attorney or the responsible Branch Director of the Torts Branch.

Removal and defense of suits.

(a) The United States Attorney for the district where the civil action or proceeding is brought, or any Director of the Torts Branch, Civil Division, Department of Justice, is authorized to make the statutory certification that the Federal employee was acting within the scope of his office or employment with the Federal Government at the time of the incident out of which the suit arose.

(b) The United States Attorney for the district where the civil action or proceeding is brought, or any Director of the Torts Branch, Civil Division, Department of Justice, is authorized to make the statutory certification that the person was acting as a covered person at the time of the incident out of which the suit arose under circumstances in which Congress has provided by statute that the remedy provided by the Federal Tort Claims Act is the exclusive remedy.

(c) A certification under this section may be withdrawn if a further evaluation of the relevant facts or the consideration of new or additional evidence calls for such action. The making, withholding, or withdrawing of certifications, and the removal and defense of, or refusal to remove or defend, such civil actions or proceedings shall be subject to the instructions and supervision of the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Division or his designee.

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Dated: October 16, 2002.

John Ashcroft,

Attorney General.

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[FR Doc. 02-26832 Filed 10-21-02; 8:45 am]

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