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TOBIN v. U.S.

October 18, 2001

MATTHEW TOBIN, PLAINTIFF
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stanley S. Brotman, United States District Court

 
OPINION ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS FOR LACK OF SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION
Presently before the Court is Defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion shall be GRANTED.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

This case involves the application of the Feres doctrine to the Federal Tort Claims Act. Plaintiff, a member of the Armed Services, alleges negligence against the United States in connection with a motor vehicle accident.

As the Fort Knox training neared completion, the cadets prepared for the drive back to West Point. To prepare the cadets for this trip, the Army conducted a safety briefing in which it instructed the cadets to drive carefully and travel in pairs to avoid fatigue (the "buddy system") (Def.'s Reply Mem. in Supp. of Mot. Dismiss Ex. 3 (Statement of Captain Ashe, U.S.A.).) At the briefing, the Army stressed the importance of the buddy system, and even instructed the cadets that if both drivers were tired they should pull over and get a hotel room, for which the Army would later reimburse them. (Id.) This safety briefing was given on Friday, August 7th, and the cadets were due back in West Point by Sunday, August 9th. (Id.)
In keeping with the buddy system, Plaintiff and Cadet Wrenn drove together in Cadet Wrenn's car. On August 8, 1998 at approximately 6:30 A.M., Cadet Wrenn allegedly fell asleep at the wheel and lost control of her car while en route to West Point. (Pl.'s Br. in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. Dismiss at 2.) Both she and Plaintiff sustained serious injuries in the resulting crash. (Id.)
On July 20, 2000, Plaintiff brought suit against Cadet Wrenn in the New Jersey Superior Court, Law Division. Thereafter, Cadet Wrenn removed this case to federal court and filed an Answer to Plaintiff's Complaint. Subsequently, the United States Attorney successfully moved to substitute the United States of America as the sole Defendant pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2679(b), 1441, and 1442. Now, the United States Attorney moves for dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1).
II. DISCUSSION

Defendant advances two arguments in support of its motion to dismiss. First, it argues that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction since the Feres doctrine bars Plaintiff's claim. Second, it contends that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because Plaintiff has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, as required by 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a). Because the Feres doctrine bars Plaintiff's claim, the Court will grant Defendant's motion to dismiss.

Standard for Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1)

Upon a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), a court must determine if it has the subject matter jurisdiction — i.e., the authority — to consider the attacked claim. See Coll. Savings Bank v. Fla. Prepaid Postsecondorary Educ. Expense Bd., 948 F. Supp. 400, 406 (D.N.J. 1996). Because "`federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction,'" their power to adjudicate is limited to "`only those cases within the bounds of Article III and the United States Constitution and Congressional enactments stemming therefrom.'" Id. (quoting Walsh v. McGee, 899 F. Supp. 1232, 1236 (S.D.N.Y. 1995)). Indeed, the question of subject matter jurisdiction is of such great consequence that it is a "`question the court is bound to ask and answer for itself, even when not otherwise suggested.'" Id. at 406 (quoting Mansfield, Coldwater & Lake Michigan Ry. v. Swan, 111 U.S. 379, 382 (1884)). In resolving this question, "the person asserting jurisdiction bears the burden of showing that the case is properly before the court at all stages of the litigation." Fed. Realty Inv. Trust v. Juniper Props. Group, Civil Action No. 99-3389, 2000 WL 45996, at *3 (E.D.Pa. Jan. 21, 2000) (citing Packard v. Provident Nat'l Bank, 994 F.2d 1039, 1045 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 964, 114 S.Ct. 440 (1993)).
In deciding a motion under Rule 12(b)(1), the court must first determine if it attacks the complaint on its face or on its facts. Carpet Group Int'l v. Oriental Rug Imp. Ass'n, 227 F.3d 62, 69 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977)). If the motion disputes the complaint on its face, then the court must consider the complaint as true, and disposition of the motion becomes a purely legal determination. Mortensen, 549 F.2d at 891. On the other hand, if the motion concerns the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in fact, then "no presumptive truthfulness attaches to plaintiff's allegations, and the existence of disputed material facts will not preclude the trial court from evaluating for itself the merits of jurisdictional claims." Id. As such, the court is not confined to the face of the pleadings when deciding whether subject matter exists on certain facts, and may thus consider affidavits and other relevant evidence outside of the pleadings. Berardi v. Swanson Mem'l Lodge No. 48 of Fraternal Order of Police, 920 F.2d 198, 200 (3d Cir. 1990).
In this case, Defendant's Motion attacks the Plaintiff's Complaint on its facts, contending that the Feres doctrine precludes this Court's subject matter jurisdiction because Plaintiff's injury occurred during the course of Plaintiff's military service. Accordingly, this Court may consider evidence outside of the ...

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