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US Supreme Court Rules In Air Carrier Reporting Of Pilot To TSA

January 30, 2014 - US Supreme Court ruled on Monday that Air Wisconsin’s report to the TSA regarding William Hoeper who was a pilot with the company was not materially false and reversed a $1.2 million jury award. 

Back in 2004, Hoeper was a pilot for Air Wisconsin Airlines, at the time the company was updating its fleet of aircraft to larger and modern aircraft. Hoeper was required to be checked out in the company’s new aircraft in order to keep his job. Hoeper under went flight simulation training. 

During his training he failed three attempts to gain certification. Air Wisconsin agreed to give him a fourth and final chance. During his fourth attempt Hoeper became angry, raised his voice and tossed his headset using profanity, accused the instructor of “railroading the situation” and then walked out. Hoeper was booked on a flight as a passenger at the test location to return back home in Denver. 

Hoeper’s flight instructor contacted a company manager and informed him of Hoeper’s behavior. Because Hoeper was a Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO), permitted “to carry a firearm while engaged in providing air transportation the company had concerns that Hoeper may maybe caring his gun and may pose a threat on his flight returning home. As a result Air Wisconsin contacted the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) of the situation. 


The manager who had received the initial report from Hoeper’s instructor made the call to the TSA. During that call, he made two statements: first, that Hoeper “was an FFDO who may be armed” and that the airline was “concerned about his mental stability and the whereabouts of his firearm” and second, that an “unstable pilot in the FFDO program was terminated today.” 

TSA boarded Hoeper’s flight and removed him from the plan. TSA searched Hoeper, and questioned him about the location of his gun. Hoeper eventually boarded a later flight to Denver, and Air Wisconsin fired him the next day. 

Hoeper filed a lawsuit against the carrier for defamation of character in Colorado state court. Air Wisconsin requested a summary judgment and a directed verdict, relying on the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA), which grants airlines and their employees immunity against civil liability for reporting suspicious behavior, except where such disclosure is “made with actual knowledge that the disclosure was false, inaccurate, or misleading” or “made with reckless disregard as to the truth or falsity of that disclosure.



Hoeper had alleged that the information provided to TSA by the carrier was false and inaccurate. The trial court denied the motions and submitted the ATSA immunity question to a jury in which the jury found for Hoeper on the defamation claim and ordered Air Wisconsin to pay both compensatory and punitive damages. 

Air Wisconsin appealed to the State Supreme Court, however, the court affirmed the lower court ruling and held that Air Wisconsin was not entitled to immunity because its statements to the TSA which the court viewed Air Wisconsin reporting to TSA was reckless and a disregard of truth. 

Air Wisconsin appealed the case before the US Supreme Court. The court in essence applied a standard to TSA and not Air Wisconsin in that the court felt TSA would have wanted to investigate whether Hoeper was armed and upset, regardless of the precise words used in the initial report to TSA and that the statements were not materially false (US Supreme Court ruling Wisconsin v. William Hoeper). (see Supreme Court To Hear Case On Air Wisconsin Reporting Pilot As A Security Threat)
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