The U.S. government is not responsible for the actions of a federal officer who — depending on which version of events you believe — either pulled a gun on another driver or tried to help a motorist he believed was having a medical issue.
In an opinion last week, U.S. District Judge Steven C. Seeger wrote that the result of the litigation stemming from the incident is the same, no matter which version is true.
In both scenarios, officer Joseph Jablonski of U.S. Customs and Border Protection was acting outside the scope of his employment, Seeger ruled.
That means the U.S. government is not liable for any tort Jablonski may have committed.
Seeger granted summary judgment in favor of the government in a lawsuit Jon Walli Ramzan brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
Ramzan filed the suit following his February 2010 encounter with Jablonski in Carol Stream, a DuPage County suburb west of Chicago.
Both Ramzan and Jablonski agree the officer turned on his government vehicle’s emergency lights and pulled Ramzan over.
Aside from that fact, the difference in the men’s accounts of the incident “is night and day,” according to Seeger.
Despite that difference, he wrote, the government adopted Ramzan’s version of events.
Ramzan was driving when he stopped at a yellow light — a warning that the traffic signal was changing from green to red.
Jablonski, in his marked CBP vehicle, honked his horn at Ramzan.
At the next light, Jablonski got out of his vehicle and pounded on the driver’s side window of Ramzan’s vehicle.
Jablonski screamed at Ramzan for stopping at the yellow light and ordered him to pull over into a parking lot.
Ramzan kept driving because he believed Jablonski was just “some security guy.”
But Ramzan pulled into a parking lot after Jablonksi caught up with him and turned on his vehicle’s emergency lights.
Jablonski got out of his vehicle and walked toward Ramzan’s vehicle while screaming. Ramzan alleges the officer drew his gun.
Two Carol Stream police officers in the parking lot witnessed the encounter.
They saw Jablonski pull Ramzan over and approach his vehicle.
But they said they did not see Jablonski holding a firearm. Jablonski himself denied pulling a gun on Ramzan.
The officers asked Jablonski why he had stopped Ramzan.
“He gave an explanation that is a common denominator of all-too-many traffic-related run-ins: Ramzan had ‘flipped him off,’” Seeger wrote.
A few weeks later, he wrote, Jablonski told an internal affairs investigator that Ramzan was acting “abnormally” and he thought the man might need medical attention.
However, no one at the scene called for medical help, and the police reports do not say anything about a driver with a medical problem, Seeger wrote.
In April 2013, CBP reprimanded Jablonski for using his position for purposes other than official ones.
For his part, Ramzan pursued a claim against the agency under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
Ramzan sued in February 2017 after exhausting his administrative remedies.
In his opinion last Thursday, Seeger wrote Illinois law determines whether Jablonski was acting within the scope of his employment.
Illinois follows the definition of “scope of employment” set out in the Restatement (Second) of Agency (1958), Seeger wrote.
Quoting Section 228, he wrote an employee’s conduct must be the kind he or she is employed to perform and must occur “substantially within the authorized time and space limits.”
The employee’s conduct also must be entirely or partly motivated by a desire to serve the employer, Seeger wrote, citing Section 228.
Quoting Taboas v. Mlynczak, 149 F.3d 576 (7th Cir. 1998), he wrote conduct stemming from “malice, bad faith or self-interested motivation” does not necessarily fall outside the scope of employment if it is also intended to advance the employer’s goals.
Ramzan’s case falters on the first requirement, Seeger wrote.
Ramzan’s version of events, he wrote, does not describe someone acting within the scope of his employment.
“Ramzan doesn’t claim that Jablonski was carrying out his duties as a CBP official by conducting a search that got carried away,” Seeger wrote. “And he doesn’t claim that traffic stops were part of Jablonski’s line of work.”
CBP also does not claim that traffic stops were included in Jablonski’s duties, Seeger wrote.
The agency, he wrote, is responsible for protecting the nation’s ports of entry and detecting terrorists, smugglers and traffickers.
“It does not provide roadside assistance,” Seeger wrote. “The CBP is not AAA.”
The case is Jon Walli Ramzan v. United States, No. 17 C 1361.
Ramzan’s attorney, Michael E. Rediger of the Law Office of Michael E. Rediger, could not be reached for comment.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn A. Kelly.
Spokesman Joseph Fitzpatrick of the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment.