Alan Gross, the American contractor freed after five years of detention in Cuba, is taking a lawsuit against the federal government to the U.S. Supreme Court. Gross wants the high court to review whether the government can be held responsible for injuries he and his wife claimed they suffered while he was detained in Cuba.
In a petition filed with the high court on Feb. 12, Gross and his wife Judith argued that a federal appeals court in Washington was wrong to find that the federal government was immune against all of the Gross’ claims, including economic losses in the United States and Judith Gross’ emotional distress. The appeals court found that those injuries stemmed from Gross’ incarceration in Cuba, triggering immunity for the feds.
“The decisions of the lower courts will have profound negative consequences for all U.S. residents who travel abroad, no matter how briefly, including those who travel for work,” Gross’ lawyers argued in the petition. “The decisions would mean that a U.S. resident who travels abroad for one day and suffers some injury during that limited time would have no redress for any subsequent harm occurring solely in the United States, even if that domestic injury dwarfs the foreign injuries.”
Gross was working as a U.S. Agency for International Development subcontractor in Cuba when he was detained by authorities there in 2009. In 2011, he was convicted of attempting to subvert the Cuban government and sentenced to 15 years in prison. While Gross was still incarcerated, he and his wife, who was in the United States, sued the federal government and the contractor who hired him, arguing they were negligent in failing to alert Gross to the riskiness of his work and in preparing him for those risks.
Gross reached a confidential settlement with the contractor, Developer Alternatives Inc. A federal district judge dismissed the case against the U.S. government in May 2013 and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed that decision in November—one month before Gross was released.
Gross’ lawyers at Gilbert LLP declined on Friday to discuss their petition to the Supreme Court.
On appeal to the high court, Gross and his wife are also arguing that the lower courts created an unconstitutional distinction between plaintiffs suing the federal government for injuries that took place solely in the United States and those who suffered some or all of their injuries abroad.
The government’s response is due March 16.
Editor’s Note: Alan Gross already received $3.2 million from a 2014 lawsuit.