Justice Department Enters Legal Mess Over Kobe Bryant's Death

Kobe Bryant — Getty — H 2020
Harry How/Getty Images

What's the overlap between an alleged Donald Trump rape and Kobe Bryant's death?

To those answering the Federal Tort Claims Act, congratulations, you may work for United States Attorney General William Barr.

This week, the Justice Department is in court seeking to substitute the United States as the defendant in a defamation lawsuit brought by writer E. Jean Carroll over the way that Donald Trump has denied sexually assaulting her in the 1990s. The DOJ seeks to exploit the FTCA, which provides the exclusive remedy when employees of the country acting within the scope of their jobs commit torts. What makes the DOJ's move so notable is the unusual argument that when the nation's leader addresses "matters related to his fitness for office," that's an official act.

But that's not the only notable invocation of the FTCA this week.

Although this hasn't gotten much attention, the United States also wants to substitute itself (albeit briefly) as a defendant in the legal dispute over Kobe Bryant's death. How so?

As most know, the NBA superstar died this past January in a helicopter crash. The following month, his widow Vanessa Bryant brought a wrongful death suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court against the helicopter operator.

Then, in August, that helicopter company filed a cross-complaint against FAA Air Traffic Controllers Kyle Larsen and Matthew Conley for their alleged negligence in denying a flight following during the fateful day. Given how FAA flight traffic controllers work for the federal government, that gives the Justice Department the opportunity to intervene.

And so it did, removing the case to federal court only to argue on Monday that the Central District of California lacks jurisdiction. And because the FTCA forbids claims for declaratory relief, the Justice Department seeks full or partial dismissal of a suit demanding indemnification. Here's the dismissal motion.

All in day's work for 28 U.S.C. § 2679 in the Trump Administration.