Smith v. United States, 507 U.S. 197, 14 (1993)

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Stevens, J., dissenting

the Court poses, but then ignores. And as I read our cases, the answer is clear: Exceptions to the " 'sweeping' " waiver of sovereign immunity in the FTCA should be, and have been, "narrowly construed." United States v. Nordic Village, Inc., 503 U. S. 30, 34 (1992) (quoting United States v. Yellow Cab Co., 340 U. S. 543, 547 (1951)).10 Accordingly, given a choice between two acceptable interpretations of the term "country"—it may designate either a sovereign nation or an expanse of land—it is our duty to adopt the former.

Even without that rule of construction, we should favor the interpretation of the term that the Court has previously endorsed. Referring specifically to the term as used in the FTCA, we stated: "We know of no more accurate phrase in common English usage than 'foreign country' to denote territory subject to the sovereignty of another nation." United States v. Spelar, 338 U. S. 217, 219 (1949). That interpretation is consistent with a statutory scheme that imposes tort liability on the Government "in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances," see n. 6, supra. As we explained in Spelar: "[T]hough Congress was ready to lay aside a great portion of the sovereign's ancient and unquestioned immunity from suit, it was unwilling to subject the United States to liabilities depending upon the laws of a foreign power." 338 U. S., at 221. Thus, the narrow interpretation of the term "for-10 See also Block v. Neal, 460 U. S. 289, 298 (1983), and United States v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 338 U. S. 366, 383 (1949). As we stated in the latter: "In argument before a number of District Courts and Courts of Appeals, the Government relied upon the doctrine that statutes waiving sovereign immunity must be strictly construed. We think that the congressional attitude in passing the Tort Claims Act is more accurately reflected by Judge Cardozo's statement . . . : 'The exemption of the sovereign from suit involves hardship enough where consent has been withheld. We are not to add to its rigor by refinement of construction where consent has been announced.' " Ibid. (quoting Anderson v. Hayes Construction Co., 243 N. Y. 140, 147, 153 N. E. 28, 29-30 (1926)).

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