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NAIDU v. U.S.

April 6, 2000

DENISE NAIDU, PLAINTIFF,
V.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wolin, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff, Denise Naidu, filed suit to recover damages for injuries allegedly suffered when she slipped and fell while descending a staircase at a building within Fort Hancock, a National Historic Landmark. This case is now before the Court on defendants motion to dismiss. defendant, the United States, moves to dismiss, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal holes of Civil Procedure, for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, in the alternative, defendant moves for summary judgment, pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff opposes the motion. The Court has considered this matter, on the papers, pursuant to Rule 78 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons stated below, the (unit will dismiss the Complaint, in its entirety, for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was injured at Building 18 of Fort Hancock, located at the Sandy Hook Unit of the Gateway National Recreational Area, in Highlands, New Jersey. Plaintiff sustained her injuries as she fell down the last two stairs of the main stairway at Building 18. Plaintiff claims that she fell because (1) the stairs were coated with a slippery surface; (2) she was misled by the handrail bannister which terminated at the second step, not at the bottom step; and (3) the lighting was inadequate. Plaintiff admitted, however, that while descending the stairs, she was holding a "large" computer box which obstructed her view (if her feet. In addition, plaintiff testified in her deposition that she placed no hand on the handrail but, instead, used it as a visual marker. She also admitted she fell because "[she] thought [she] was all the way down and there was one step to go."

Fort Hancock

Fort Hancock, named for General Winfield Scott Hancock, has been an important historic and military site throughout American history.*fn1 (Kirsch exhs. 4-5).*fn2 At the time of the Revolutionary War, Sandy Hook (which encompasses Fort Hancock) was occupied by British and Loyalist Troops. (Id.) Dining the War of 1812, the United States Army built a temporary fort and, in 1859, construction began on a permanent masonry fort. (Id.) For close to a hundred years, Fort Hancock served as an active coastal defense fortification designed and armed to defend New York Harbor and the vicinity from sea and air attacks. (Id.) The Army occupied the fort in both World War I and II, when its population rose to 18,000. (Id.) While the military was active at the fort, Building 18 (the location of' plaintiffs accident) served as the officer's quarters for military personnel. (Baerlin Decl. ¶ 7).

Building 18 (the "Officer's Quarters") and the other buildings on "Officer's Row" not only possess historic significance, they also reflect the architectural mood of the times. Of note, the buildings on Officer's Row, which have been described as "the most impressive" buildings at the Fort, were constructed in the Colonial Revival architectural style. (Kirsch exh. 5). This architectural style constituted a rejection of the Victorian style and a rebirth of the Georgian and Federal designs which typified the Revolutionary War era. (Id.)

Due to its historical significance, Fort Hancock. inclusive of the Officer's Quarters, was designated as a National Historic Landmark. Sec National Historic Preservation Act, 16 U.S.C. § 470-470x-6; Baerlin Decl. ¶ 6. of significance to this motion, the Officer's Quarters' staircase and handrail banister which plaintiff claims defendant negligently maintained-are part of the original construction of the quarters and have been determined to be a "character defining" feature of this historic site. (Baerlin Decl. ¶ 9).

In 1974, the Fort Hancock was deactivated and transferred to the National Park Service ("NPS") of the Department of' the Interior. As part of its statutory mission and mandate, the NPS must "conserve historic objects [and] provide for them in such a manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." 16 U.S.C. § 1; Baerlin Decl. ¶ 3.

In 1989, the NPS authorized the American Littoral Society (the "ALS"), a nonprofit organization devoted to the study and conservation of aquatic life, full use of the Officer's Quarters. In April 1997, plaintiff, then an employee of the ALS, sustained her injuries on the stairs of the Officer's Quarters during the course of her employment.

Plaintiffs Claim

Plaintiff brings a one-count complaint against defendant, sounding in negligence, under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2671-80. According to plaintiff, defendant was negligent because (1) the stairs of the Officer's Quarters were coated with a slippery surface; (2) the handrail banister terminated at the second step-not the bottom step; and (3) the lighting was inadequate.

Defendant now moves to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.*fn3 Defendant contends that the acts alleged in the plaintiffs complaint fall within the discretionary function exception to the FTCA. See 28 U.S.C. ยง 2680 ...


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