BROWNBACK et al. v. KING
Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Sixth Circuit
No. 19–546. Argued November 9, 2020—Decided February 25, 2021
The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) allows a plaintiff to bring certain state-law tort claims against the United States for torts committed by federal employees acting within the scope of their employment, provided that the plaintiff alleges six statutory elements of an actionable claim. See 28 U. S. C. §1346(b). Another provision, known as the judgment bar, provides that “[t]he judgment in an action under section 1346(b)” shall bar “any action by the claimant” involving the same subject matter against the federal employee whose act gave rise to the claim. §2676. Respondent James King sued the United States under the FTCA after a violent encounter with Todd Allen and Douglas Brownback, members of a federal task force. He also sued the officers individually under the implied cause of action recognized by Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U. S. 388. The District Court dismissed his FTCA claims, holding that the Government was immune because the officers were entitled to qualified immunity under Michigan law, or in the alternative, that King failed to state a valid claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The court also dismissed King’s Bivens claims, ruling that the officers were entitled to federal qualified immunity. King appealed only the dismissal of his Bivens claims. The Sixth Circuit found that the District Court’s dismissal of King’s FTCA claims did not trigger the judgment bar to block his Bivens claims.
Held: The District Court’s order was a judgment on the merits of the FTCA claims that can trigger the judgment bar. Pp. 5–10.
(a) Similar to common-law claim preclusion, the judgment bar requires a final judgment “ ‘on the merits,’ ” Semtek Int’l Inc. v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 531 U. S. 497, 502. Here, the District Court’s summary judgment ruling dismissing King’s FTCA claims hinged on a quintessential merits decision: whether the undisputed facts established all the elements of King’s FTCA claims. See Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 546 U. S. 500, 510–511. The court’s alternative Rule 12(b)(6) holding also passed on the substance of King’s FTCA claims, as a 12(b)(6) ruling concerns the merits. Id., at 506–507. Pp. 5–7.
(b) In passing on King’s FTCA claims, the District Court also determined that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over those claims. In most cases, a plaintiff’s failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) does not deprive a federal court of subject-matter jurisdiction. See Steel Co. v. Citizens for Better Environment, 523 U. S. 83, 89. Here, however, in the unique context of the FTCA, all elements of a meritorious claim are also jurisdictional. Thus, even though a plaintiff need not prove a §1346(b)(1) jurisdictional element for a court to maintain subject-matter jurisdiction over his claim, see FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U. S. 471, 477, because King’s FTCA claims failed to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court also was deprived of subject-matter jurisdiction. Generally, a court may not issue a ruling on the merits when it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, see Steel Co., 523 U. S., at 101–102, but where, as here, pleading a claim and pleading jurisdiction entirely overlap, a ruling that the court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction may simultaneously be a judgment on the merits that can trigger the judgment bar. Pp. 7–9.
917 F. 3d. 409, reversed.
Thomas, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. Sotomayor, J., filed a concurring opinion.