CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.
We granted certiorari in these two cases to determine whether the United States may be held liable under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U. S. C. § 2671 et seq., for the negligence of the Federal Aviation Administration in certificating certain aircraft for use in commercial aviation.
A. No. 82-1349
On July 11, 1973, a commercial jet aircraft owned by respondent S.A. Empresa De Viacao Aerea Rio Grandense (Varig Airlines) was flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris when
The aircraft involved in this accident was a Boeing 707, a product of the Boeing Co. In 1958 the Civil Aeronautics Agency, a predecessor of the FAA, had issued a type certificate
After the accident respondent Varig Airlines brought an action against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act seeking damages for the destroyed aircraft. The families and personal representatives of many of the passengers, also respondents here, brought a separate suit under the Act pressing claims for wrongful death. The two actions were consolidated in the United States District Court for the Central District of California.
Respondents asserted that the fire originated in the towel disposal area located below the sink unit in one of the lavatories and alleged that the towel disposal area was not capable
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed. 692 F.2d 1205 (1982). The Court of Appeals reasoned that a private person inspecting and certificating aircraft for airworthiness would be liable for negligent inspection under the California "Good Samaritan" rule, see Restatement (Second) of Torts §§ 323 and 324A (1965), and concluded that the United States should be judged by the same rule. 692 F. 2d, at 1207-1208. The Court of Appeals rejected the Government's argument that respondents' actions were barred by 28 U. S. C. § 2680(h), which provides that the United States is not subject to liability for any claim
B. No. 82-1350
On October 8, 1968, a DeHavilland Dove aircraft owned by respondent John Dowdle and used in the operation of an air taxi service caught fire in midair, crashed, and burned near Las Vegas, Nev. The pilot, copilot, and two passengers were killed. The cause of the crash was an in-flight fire in the forward baggage compartment of the aircraft.
The DeHavilland Dove airplane was manufactured in the United Kingdom in 1951 and then purchased by Air Wisconsin, another air taxi operator. In 1965 Air Wisconsin contracted with Aerodyne Engineering Corp. to install a gasoline-burning cabin heater in the airplane. Aerodyne applied for, and was granted, a supplemental type certificate
In the aftermath of the crash, respondent Dowdle filed this action for property damage against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Respondent insurance companies also filed suit under the Act, seeking reimbursement for moneys paid for liability coverage on behalf of Dowdle. The United States District Court for the Southern District of California found that the crash resulted from defects in the installation of the gasoline line leading to the cabin heater. The District Court concluded that the installation did not comply with the applicable FAA regulations and held that the Government was negligent in certifying an installation that did not comply with those safety requirements. Accordingly, the District Court entered judgment for respondents.
On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded for the District Court to consider whether the California courts would impose a duty of due care upon the Government by applying the "Good Samaritan" doctrine of §§ 323 and 324A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts. 614 F.2d 188 (1979). The Court of Appeals also requested the District Court to determine whether, under the facts of this case, the California courts would find such a duty breached if a private person had issued the supplemental type certificate in question here. On remand, the District Court again entered judgment for respondents, finding that the California "Good Samaritan" rule would apply in this case and would give rise to liability on these facts.
On the Government's second appeal, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the District Court. 692 F.2d 1209 (1982). In so holding, the Court of Appeals followed reasoning nearly identical to that employed in its decision in No. 82-1349, decided the same day.
In the Federal Aviation Act of 1958, 49 U. S. C. § 1421(a) (1),
Congress also established a multistep certification process to monitor the aviation industry's compliance with the requirements developed by the Secretary. Acting as the
The first stage of the FAA compliance review is type certification. A manufacturer wishing to introduce a new type of aircraft must first obtain FAA approval of the plane's basic design in the form of a type certificate. After receiving an application for a type certificate, the Secretary must "make, or require the applicant to make, such tests during manufacture and upon completion as the Secretary . . . deems reasonably necessary in the interest of safety. . . ." 49 U. S. C. § 1423(a)(2). By regulation, the FAA has made the applicant itself responsible for conducting all inspections and tests necessary to determine that the aircraft comports with FAA airworthiness requirements. 14 CFR §§ 21.33, 21.35 (1983). The applicant submits to the FAA the designs, drawings, test reports, and computations necessary to show that the aircraft sought to be certificated satisfies FAA regulations. §§ 21.17(a)(1), 21.21(a)(b).
Production may not begin, however, until a production certificate authorizing the manufacture of duplicates of the prototype is issued. 49 U. S. C. § 1423(b). To obtain a production certificate, the manufacturer must prove to the FAA that it has established and can maintain a quality control system to assure that each aircraft will meet the design provisions of the type certificate. 14 CFR §§ 21.139, 21.143 (1983). When it is satisfied that duplicate aircraft will conform to the approved type design, the FAA issues a production certificate, and the manufacturer may begin mass production of the approved aircraft.
Before any aircraft may be placed into service, however, its owner must obtain from the FAA an airworthiness certificate, which denotes that the particular aircraft in question conforms to the type certificate and is in condition for safe operation. 49 U. S. C. § 1423(c). It is unlawful for any person to operate an aircraft in air commerce without a valid airworthiness certificate. § 1430(a).
An additional certificate is required when an aircraft is altered by the introduction of a major change in its type design. 14 CFR § 21.113 (1983). To obtain this supplemental type certificate, the applicant must show the FAA that the altered aircraft meets all applicable airworthiness requirements. § 21.115(a). The applicant is responsible for conducting the inspections and tests necessary to demonstrate that each change in the type design complies with the regulations. §§ 21.115(b), 21.33(b). The methods used by FAA
With fewer than 400 engineers, the FAA obviously cannot complete this elaborate compliance review process alone. Accordingly, 49 U. S. C. § 1355 authorizes the Secretary to delegate certain inspection and certification responsibilities to properly qualified private persons. By regulation, the Secretary has provided for the appointment of private individuals to serve as designated engineering representatives to assist in the FAA certification process. 14 CFR § 183.29 (1984). These representatives are typically employees of aircraft manufacturers who possess detailed knowledge of an aircraft's design based upon their day-to-day involvement in its development. See generally Improving Aircraft Safety 29-30. The representatives act as surrogates of the FAA in examining, inspecting, and testing aircraft for purposes of certification. 14 CFR § 183.1 (1984). In determining whether an aircraft complies with FAA regulations, they are guided by the same requirements, instructions, and procedures as FAA employees. FAA Order 8110.4, p. 151; CAA Manual of Procedure §. 70(b). FAA employees may briefly review the reports and other data submitted by representatives before certificating a subject aircraft. Improving Aircraft Safety 31-32; FAA Order 8110.4, p. 159; CAA Manual of Procedure § .77.
The Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U. S. C. § 1346(b), authorizes suits against the United States for damages.
The Act further provides that the United States shall be liable with respect to tort claims "in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances." § 2674.
The Act did not waive the sovereign immunity of the United States in all respects, however; Congress was careful to except from the Act's broad waiver of immunity several important classes of tort claims. Of particular relevance here, 28 U. S. C. § 2680(a) provides that the Act shall not apply to
The discretionary function exception, embodied in the second clause of § 2680(a), marks the boundary between Congress' willingness to impose tort liability upon the United States and its desire to protect certain governmental activities from exposure to suit by private individuals.
Although the Court has previously analyzed the legislative history of § 2680(a), see Dalehite v. United States, 346 U.S. 15, 26-30 (1953), we briefly review its highlights for a proper understanding of the application of the discretionary function exception to this case. During the years of debate and discussion
The legislative materials of the 77th Congress illustrate most clearly Congress' purpose in fashioning the discretionary function exception. A Government spokesman appearing before the House Committee on the Judiciary described the discretionary function exception as a "highly important exception:"
It was believed that claims of the kind embraced by the discretionary function exception would have been exempted from the waiver of sovereign immunity by judicial construction; nevertheless, the specific exception was added to make clear that the Act was not to be extended into the realm of the validity of legislation or discretionary administrative action. Id., at 29; id., at 37, Memorandum, with Appendixes, Federal Tort Claims Act (explanatory of Comm. Print of H. R. 5373, 1942). It was considered unnecessary to except by name such agencies as the Federal Trade Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission, as had earlier bills, because the language of the discretionary function exception would "exemp[t] from the act claims against Federal agencies growing out of their regulatory activities." Id., at 8 (emphasis added).
The nature and scope of § 2680(a) were carefully examined in Dalehite v. United States, supra. Dalehite involved vast claims for damages against the United States arising out of a disastrous explosion of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which had been produced and distributed under the direction of the United States for export to devastated areas occupied by the Allied Armed Forces after World War II. Numerous acts of
The Court concluded that these allegedly negligent acts were governmental duties protected by the discretionary function exception and held the action barred by § 2680(a). Describing the discretion protected by § 2680(a) as "the discretion of the executive or the administrator to act according to one's judgment of the best course," id., at 34, the Court stated:
Respondents here insist that the view of § 2680(a) expressed in Dalehite has been eroded, if not overruled, by subsequent cases construing the Act, particularly Indian Towing Co. v. United States, 350 U.S. 61 (1955), and Eastern Air Lines, Inc. v. Union Trust Co., 95 U. S. App. D. C. 189, 221 F.2d 62, summarily aff'd sub nom. United States v. Union Trust Co., 350 U.S. 907 (1955). While the Court's reading of the Act admittedly has not followed a straight line, we do not accept the supposition that Dalehite no longer represents
Indian Towing Co. v. United States, supra, involved a claim under the Act for damages to cargo aboard a vessel that ran aground, allegedly owing to the failure of the light in a lighthouse operated by the Coast Guard. The plaintiffs contended that the Coast Guard had been negligent in inspecting, maintaining, and repairing the light. Significantly, the Government conceded that the discretionary function exception was not implicated in Indian Towing, arguing instead that the Act contained an implied exception from liability for "uniquely governmental functions." Id., at 64. The Court rejected the Government's assertion, reasoning that it would "push the courts into the `non-governmental'-`governmental' quagmire that has long plagued the law of municipal corporations." Id., at 65.
In Eastern Air Lines, Inc. v. Union Trust Co., supra, two aircraft collided in midair while both were attempting to land at Washington National Airport. The survivors of the crash victims sued the United States under the Act, asserting the negligence of air traffic controllers as the cause of the collision. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit permitted the suit against the Government. In its petition for certiorari, the Government urged the adoption of a "governmental function exclusion" from liability under the Act and pointed to § 2680(a) as textual support for such an exclusion. Pet. for Cert. in United States v. Union Trust Co., O. T. 1955, No. 296, p. 18. The Government stated further that § 2680(a) was "but one aspect of the broader exclusion from the statute of claims based upon the performance of acts of a uniquely governmental nature." Id., at 37. This Court summarily affirmed, citing Indian Towing Co. v. United States, supra. 350 U.S. 907 (1955). Given the thrust of the arguments presented in the petition for certiorari and the pointed citation to Indian Towing, the summary disposition in Union Trust Co. cannot be taken as a
As in Dalehite, it is unnecessary — and indeed impossible — to define with precision every contour of the discretionary function exception. From the legislative and judicial materials, however, it is possible to isolate several factors useful in determining when the acts of a Government employee are protected from liability by § 2680(a). First, it is the nature of the conduct, rather than the status of the actor, that governs whether the discretionary function exception applies in a given case. As the Court pointed out in Dalehite, the exception covers "[n]ot only agencies of government . . . but all employees exercising discretion." 346 U. S., at 33. Thus, the basic inquiry concerning the application of the discretionary function exception is whether the challenged acts of a Government employee — whatever his or her rank — are of the nature and quality that Congress intended to shield from tort liability.
Second, whatever else the discretionary function exception may include, it plainly was intended to encompass the discretionary acts of the Government acting in its role as a regulator
We now consider whether the discretionary function exception immunizes from tort liability the FAA certification process involved in these cases. Respondents in No. 82-1349 argue that the CAA was negligent in issuing a type certificate for the Boeing 707 aircraft in 1958 because the lavatory trash receptacle did not satisfy applicable safety regulations. Similarly, respondents in No. 82-1350 claim negligence in the FAA's issuance of a supplemental type certificate in 1965 for the DeHavilland Dove aircraft; they assert that the installation of the fuel line leading to the cabin heater violated FAA airworthiness standards. From the records in these cases there is no indication that either the Boeing 707 trash receptacle or the DeHavilland Dove cabin heater was actually inspected or reviewed by an FAA inspector or representative.
The Government, on the other hand, urges that the basic responsibility for satisfying FAA air safety standards rests with the manufacturer, not with the FAA. The role of the FAA, the Government says, is merely to police the conduct of private individuals by monitoring their compliance with FAA regulations. According to the Government, the FAA accomplishes its monitoring function by means of a "spot-check" program designed to encourage manufacturers and operators to comply fully with minimum safety requirements. Such regulatory activity, the Government argues, is the sort of governmental conduct protected by the discretionary function exception to the Act.
As noted supra, at 804, the Secretary of Transportation has the duty to promote safety in air transportation by promulgating reasonable rules and regulations governing the inspection, servicing, and overhaul of civil aircraft. 49 U. S. C. § 1421(a)(3)(A). In her discretion, the Secretary may also prescribe
Thus, Congress specifically empowered the Secretary to establish and implement a mechanism for enforcing compliance with minimum safety standards according to her "judgment of the best course." Dalehite v. United States, 346 U. S., at 34.
In the exercise of this discretion, the FAA, as the Secretary's designee, has devised a system of compliance review that involves certification of aircraft design and manufacture at several stages of production. See supra, at 804-806. The FAA certification process is founded upon a relatively simple notion: the duty to ensure that an aircraft conforms to FAA safety regulations lies with the manufacturer and operator, while the FAA retains the responsibility for policing compliance.
The operation of this "spot-check" system is outlined in detail in the handbooks and manuals developed by the CAA and FAA for the use of their employees. For example, the CAA Manual of Procedure for type certification in effect at the time of the certification of the Boeing 707 provided:
See also FAA Order 8110.4, pp. 39-40.
As to the engineering review of an application for a type certificate, the CAA materials note that only a "relatively small number of engineers" are available to evaluate for compliance with air safety regulations the data submitted by applicants. Accordingly, the Manual states:
See also FAA Order 8110.4, p. 60.
Respondents' contention that the FAA was negligent in failing to inspect certain elements of aircraft design before certificating the Boeing 707 and DeHavilland Dove necessarily challenges two aspects of the certification procedure: the FAA's decision to implement the "spot-check" system of compliance review, and the application of that "spot-check" system to the particular aircraft involved in these cases. In our view, both components of respondents' claim are barred by the discretionary function exception to the Act.
The FAA's implementation of a mechanism for compliance review is plainly discretionary activity of the "nature and quality" protected by § 2680(a). When an agency determines the extent to which it will supervise the safety procedures of private individuals, it is exercising discretionary regulatory
It follows that the acts of FAA employees in executing the "spot-check" program in accordance with agency directives are protected by the discretionary function exception as well. See Dalehite v. United States, 346 U. S., at 36. The FAA employees who conducted compliance reviews of the aircraft involved in this case were specifically empowered to make policy judgments regarding the degree of confidence that might reasonably be placed in a given manufacturer, the need to maximize compliance with FAA regulations, and the efficient allocation of agency resources. In administering the "spot-check" program, these FAA engineers and inspectors necessarily took certain calculated risks, but those risks were encountered for the advancement of a governmental purpose and pursuant to the specific grant of authority in the regulations and operating manuals. Under such circumstances, the FAA's alleged negligence in failing to check certain specific items in the course of certificating a particular aircraft falls squarely within the discretionary function exception of § 2680(a).
In rendering the United States amenable to some suits in tort, Congress could not have intended to impose liability for the regulatory enforcement activities of the FAA challenged in this case. The FAA has a statutory duty to promote safety in air transportation, not to insure it. We hold that these actions against the FAA for its alleged negligence in certificating aircraft for use in commercial aviation are barred by the discretionary function exception of the Federal Tort Claims Act. Accordingly, the judgments of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit are reversed.
It is so ordered.
"Any claim based upon an act or omission of an employee of the Government, exercising due care, in the execution of a statute or regulation, whether or not such statute or regulation be valid, or based upon the exercise or performance or the failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function or duty on the part of a federal agency or an employee of the Government, whether or not the discretion involved be abused."
As originally enacted, the Federal Aviation Act vested in the Federal Aviation Agency all regulatory authority over aviation safety. See Pub. L. 85-726, § 101, 72 Stat. 737. This agency was later renamed the Federal Aviation Administration and placed in the Department of Transportation. Pub. L. 89-670, §§ 3(e), 6(c)(1), 80 Stat. 932, 938. All the functions, powers, and duties of the Federal Aviation Agency were then transferred to the Secretary of Transportation. § 6(c)(1), 80 Stat. 938.
The Government also argues that the Court of Appeals erred in applying California's "Good Samaritan" doctrine to the FAA certification process. See supra, at 801, 803. But the application of the "Good Samaritan" doctrine is at bottom a question of state law, and we generally accord great deference to the interpretation and application of state law by the Courts of Appeals. See, e. g., Pacific Gas & Elec. Co. v. State Energy Resources Conservation & Dev. Comm'n, 461 U.S. 190, 214 (1983); Runyon v. McCrary, 427 U.S. 160, 181-182 (1976) (quoting Bishop v. Wood, 426 U.S. 341, 346, and n. 10 (1976)). We thus decline the Government's invitation to undertake our own examination of this state-law issue.