(Reuters) Jonathan Stempel August 30 2019 18:04 A federal appeals court on Friday handed a victory to travelers who object to invasive screenings at U.S. airport security checkpoints saying screeners are not absolutely immune from lawsuits accusing them of abusive conduct. In a 9-4 decision the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia said Transportation Security Administration screeners were investigative or law enforcement officers for purposes of searching passengers waiving the governments usual immunity from lawsuits. Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro said the intimate physical nature of airport screenings brought them within the ambit of law enforcement allowing travelers to pursue some civil claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act for intentional wrongdoing. He downplayed concern that the decision would open the floodgates to litigation saying that in 2015 fewer than 200 people out of more than 700 million screened filed complaints that might trigger the waiver. The overwhelming majority of perform their jobs professionally despite far more grumbling than appreciation he wrote. Their professionalism is commensurate with the seriousness of their role in keeping our skies safe. Fridays decision reversed a July 2018 ruling by a three-judge 3rd Circuit panel. It is a victory for Nadine Pellegrino a business consultant from Boca Raton Florida who with her husband sued for false arrest false imprisonment and malicious prosecution over a July 2006 incident at Philadelphia International Airport. Pellegrino then 57 had objected to the invasiveness of a random screening prior to her scheduled boarding of a US Airways flight to Fort Lauderdale Florida and was accused of striking a TSA officer. She was eventually jailed for about 18 hours and charged with assault making terroristic threats and other crimes which she denied. Pellegrino was acquitted at a March 2008 trial.
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