A long-time Air Wisconsin pilot got mad when he seemed on the verge of botching a fourth — and final — chance to pass a test of his skill at flying an aircraft that he’d never piloted before. The pilot accused the person who gave him the test of “railroading the situation”. Another Air Wisconsin employee told the Transportation Security Administration that the pilot could have a pistol and had shown “mental instability” before boarding a flight back home. The TSA ordered the jet to return to the gate and arrested the pilot. He sued for defamation — and won.

The Supreme Court today reversed. It held that the Aviation and Transportation Security Act gave the Air Wisconsin people immunity from any claim that arose from telling the TSA about a security concern — unless they had given the TSA “materially false” information. The Court went on to hold, by 6-3 margin, that the airline folks hadn’t said anything “materially false” about the pilot. Air Wisconsin Airlines Corp. v. Hoeper, No. 12-315 (U.S. Jan 27, 2014) (http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/12-315_j5fl.pdf).

The three dissenters agreed that the “materially false” element applied but disagreed that the evidence showed an absence of materially false information as a matter of law. The jury should decide that question, they concluded.

Airline Agent Who Defamed Pilot Has Immunity, Supreme Court Holds