WASHINGTON Jan 27 The U.S. Supreme Court on
Monday threw out a $1.4 million defamation verdict that a former
airline pilot won against his employer.
The nine justices ruled on a 6-3 vote that Wisconsin
Airlines Corp, a subsidiary of Harbor Diversified Inc,
was immune from a defamation claim after employees reported a
disgruntled colleague, pilot William Hoeper, to federal
authorities as a possible security risk.
In December 2004 Hoeper was pulled from a flight on which he
was a passenger by the U.S. Transportation Security
Administration after colleagues said he was in a mentally
unstable state and could be carrying a gun. Earlier that day,
Hoeper lost his temper during his fourth attempt at a training
test he had to pass to keep his job.
The high court agreed with the airline that it was immune
from the claims under a law passed after the Sept. 11, 2001,
attacks that encouraged airlines to share security concerns.
The 2001 Aviation and Transportation Security Act, known as
ATSA, granted the airlines immunity from possible defamation
suits as long as such reports were not intentionally false or
"(W)e conclude that even if a jury were to find the
historical facts in the manner most favorable to Hoeper, Air
Wisconsin is entitled to ATSA immunity as a matter of law,"
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote on behalf of the court.
In a March 2012 ruling, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld
the jury verdict in favor of Hoeper, saying it did not need to
decide whether the comments in question were false before
deciding whether the airline was immune.
The three dissenting justices agreed on Monday with the
other six justices that the Colorado court was wrong on that
point. But the dissenters said the court should have sent the
case back for a lower court to determine whether the statement
was false and whether immunity applied.
The case is Air Wisconsin v. Hoeper, U.S. Supreme Court,