I fight civil rights cases, which necessitates asking the government (courts) to tell the government (executive) that they can’t do something. It’s always an uphill battle, and not every case gets justice for those who encounter government abuse. But this decision left me equal parts depressed and angry.

Rohan Ramsingh is a disabled veteran. In addition to physical injuries incurred during his service to our country, he has PTSD that would be triggered by certain parts of TSA’s pat down procedure. His PTSD is documented and treated by the VA.

When he went through a TSA checkpoint just before the pandemic and TSA asked him to undergo a pat-down, he respectfully advised them of his medical limitations. Instead of finding an alternate method of screening (as is frequently done for casts or otherwise medically-inaccessible areas of the body) or simply saying, “We can’t clear you today, sorry,” they called police to try to force him to submit, and when police declined to play that role, they ejected him from the checkpoint and sent him a fine for $2,050.

I represented Mr. Ramsingh in “TSA court,” wherein the agency acts as judge, jury, and executioner, expecting success would be unlikely at that level, which produced gems such as this one:

“TSA did not dispute Respondent’s claims to STOSs Pagan and McClelland that he suffers from a condition preventing him from lifting both arms and PTSD, and it does not dispute Respondent’s VA medical documentation, in Exhibit A. … However, as discussed in Ruskai, supra, an individual’s bona fide medical condition does not invalidate the requirement to complete screening.”

In other words, TSA can ask you to do something you medically cannot or should not do, and you must comply or face a fine. TSA court was “nice enough” to reduce that fine to $680.

“As expected, no problem,” I thought, as I prepared the petition for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to review the case, fully expecting them to set the TSA straight that no, they cannot force someone to injure themselves at the checkpoint. Wrong I was. In 22 pages of opinion, all they managed to say regarding whether TSA may force a traveler to obey despite a medical condition is this:

When Ramsingh explained his discomfort with a pat-down, TSA offered to conduct the search in a more private area. While the accommodations provided did not fully meet Ramsingh’s medical needs, the TSA officers made a good-faith effort to respect his particular conditions while also performing their security and public-safety duties.

Triggering a PTSD episode is not “discomfort,” and a “good-faith effort” that fails to accommodate a disability should not result in the person with the disability being fined. It also follows that physical injuries will be similarly treated. You’ve got a wound that’s sensitive to the touch? You better let TSA touch it or face a fine!

I am outraged by the decision of the Court of Appeals, and we will be continuing this fight. If any disabilities or veteran’s rights groups, or mental health advocacy groups, would be wiling to assist by helping to explain to the court the seriousness of mental health episodes, please be in touch.

Ramsingh v. TSA – Opinion (.pdf)