Opinion analysis: When the federal government acts as a commercial enterprise, the courthouse doors open wider

In Thacker v. Tennessee Valley Authority, the federal government asked for broad policy immunity to shield choices by the Tennessee Valley Authority about the safety measures the TVA employed when stringing a power line across a river. In today’s decision, the Supreme Court unanimously refused to infer limits on the statutory authorization for suit against the TVA and emphasized the rather ordinary commercial nature of the TVA’s activity. The court reversed the dismissal by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit of a tort suit brought by a recreational fisherman who was injured (and his passenger killed) when his boat struck a fallen power line that TVA employees were pulling up from the water. Highlighting the TVA’s activities in generating and transmitting electric power as one of the nation’s largest power utilities, the Supreme Court ruled that the simple and unqualified statute allowing this government corporation to sue and be sued should…

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