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Meehan v. Taylor

United States District Court, Third Circuit

August 26, 2013

JOSEPH MEEHAN, Plaintiff,
v.
ERIC TAYLOR, CHRIS FOSCHINI; KENNETH SWEETEN; MELANIE JULIE; CAMDEN COUNTY CORRECTIONAL FACILITY; STATE OF NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS; THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA; CAMDEN COUNTY; JOHN DOES I-V; and JANE DOES I-V, Defendants.

OPINION

ROBERT B. KUGLER, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court upon the United States of America's ("Defendant") motion to dismiss Joseph Meehan's ("Plaintiff") Amended Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction (Doc. No. 47). See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant Defendant's motion. It will dismiss Plaintiff's FTCA claim without prejudice and will dismiss all other counts in Plaintiff's Complaint with prejudice.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff brought suit against the United States Marshals Service ("USMS") on July 2, 2012. His Amended Complaint alleges that on February 17, 2011, unnamed USMS agents, in the course of arresting Plaintiff, kicked his crutches out from his arms and stomped on his previously injured left foot. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 17-20. He sought relief on numerous grounds: Counts I and II assert claims directly under the New Jersey Constitution and the United States Constitution, respectively; Counts III-VI are common law claims for negligence, negligent supervision, and recklessness/gross negligence; Counts VII and VIII advance claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985; and, finally, Count IX alleges a cause of action under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"). Am. Compl. ¶¶ 43-74.

Because the procedural history of this case figures prominently in the legal issues presented in Defendant's motion, it is necessary to recount it here in some detail. On February 17, 2011, Plaintiff sustained his alleged injuries, thereby marking the accrual of his cause of action. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 17-20. On August 25, 2011 Plaintiff submitted an administrative claim to the USMS, which provided the agency with written notice of his alleged injury, but did not include a so-called "sum certain" in damages. Def.'s Br. in Support of Mot. to Dismiss, Exh. 1. The USMS responded on September 9, 2011 with a letter to Plaintiff's counsel informing him that the administrative claim was deficient for failure to state a sum certain as required under the FTCA. Id., Exh. 2. On January 5, 2012, in an apparent effort to cure the defect, Plaintiff's attorney sent a letter to the USMS enclosing records of medical treatment Plaintiff received at Camden County Correctional Facility in response to the injures he allegedly suffered from the USMS officers. Id., Exh. 3. Notably, the letter did not indicate a sum certain, nor did the accompanying records quantify any of Plaintiff's medical expenses. Id . On February 28, 2012, citing the fact that Plaintiff had failed to provide a sum certain, the USMS issued a final denial notice of his administrative claim. Id., Exh. 4. After receiving the notice of denial, Plaintiff filed suit against the USMS in federal district court on July 2, 2012. See Def's Br. in Support of Mot. to Dismiss. On December 20, 2012, Plaintiff amended his complaint to substitute the United States as a defendant instead of the USMS. Id . That same day, he also submitted an "Amended Administrative Tort Claim" to the USMS. Id . This Amended Claim was identical to his original one, except that it finally did include a sum certain of $500, 000 in damages. Pl.'s Opp. Br., Exh. B. In response, Defendant filed the instant motion to dismiss Plaintiff's claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1).

In its moving papers, Defendant advances two principal arguments in support of dismissing Plaintiff's FTCA claims.[1] First, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's failure to comply with the FTCA's jurisdictional requirements, including pleading a "sum certain" in damages, set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 2675 (2006) prohibits the Court from exercising subject matter jurisdiction over his FTCA claim. Def.'s Br. in Support of Mot. to Dismiss 9-13. Second, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's untimely attempt to submit an amended administrative tort claim to the USMS cannot cure the jurisdictional defects of his initial claim. Def.'s Reply Br. 1-14.

Plaintiff sets forth two arguments in response. First, he asserts that his claim was timely amended within the two year statute of limitations required under the FTCA and that this amended claim filed with the USMS on December 20, 2012 effectively "cures" the defects of his original administrative claim. Pl's Opp. Br. 2-4. In the alternative, Plaintiff argues that even if his amended claim cannot relate back to the first administrative claim, his original claim nonetheless satisfies the sum certain requirement because the medical records he sent to the USMS on January 5, 2012 "allowed the federal agency to place a reasonable estimate on the claim's potential value." Id. at 4-6.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule 12(b)(1) can take the form of either a facial or a factual attack on the Court's subject matter jurisdiction over a particular claim. A factual attack arises where, as here, the defendant has filed an answer to the plaintiff's complaint. See Mortensen v. First Fed. Saving and Loan Assoc. , 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977). Unlike a facial challenge to subject matter jurisdiction, which concerns mere "pleading deficienc[ies], " a factual attack "concerns the actual failure of [a plaintiff's] claims to comport [factually] with the jurisdictional prerequisites.'" CNA v. United States , 535 F.3d 132, 139 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting United States ex rel. Atkinson v. Pa. Shipbuilding Co. , 473 F.3d 506, 514 (3d Cir.2007)) (modifications in original). Thus, the Court may consider materials and exhibits outside of the complaint to determine whether it has subject matter jurisdiction over the action before it. CNA , 535 F.3d at 139; Mortensen , 549 F.2d at 891. As a consequence, the plaintiff's allegations enjoy no presumption of truthfulness, and he bears the burden of establishing jurisdiction. CNA , 535 F.3d at 139; Mortensen , 549 F.2d at 891.

III. DISCUSSION

It is a bedrock principle of our system of government that "[t]he United States, as sovereign, is immune from suit save as it consents to be sued....'" United States v. Mitchell , 445 U.S. 535, 538 (1980) (quoting United States v. Sherwood , 312 U.S. 584, 586 (1941)). Congress gave such consent in 1946 when it passed the FTCA. The Act provides a limited waiver of the United States' sovereign immunity by allowing for the award of money damages against the United States for injury or loss of property caused by the negligent or wrongful acts or omissions of federal officers acting in their official capacity. See generally, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b), 2401(b), 2671-2680 (2006); United States v. Deutsch , 67 F.3d 1080, 1091 (3d Cir. 1995).

In order for a district court to exercise subject matter jurisdiction over a suit brought under the FTCA, the party asserting the claim must comport with the Act's strict procedural requirements. White-Squire v. U.S. Postal Serv. , 592 F.3d 453, 457-58 (3d Cir. 2010); Roma v. United States , 344 F.3d 352, 362 (3d Cir. 2003); Tucker v. U.S. Postal Serv. , 676 F.2d 954, 959 (3d Cir. 1982). Among other things, before filing suit, a claimant must completely exhaust his administrative remedies. McNeil v. United States , 508 U.S. 106, 112 (1993) ("The most natural reading of the statute indicates that Congress intended to require complete exhaustion of Executive remedies before invocation of the judicial process."). In this case, exhaustion of remedies involves properly presenting an administrative claim to the relevant federal agency; a claimant may not then institute suit in federal court until he receives a final denial of his administrative claim. Id. at 111 (interpreting 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b)). If suit is brought against the United States prior to final agency denial of an FTCA claim, the suit must be dismissed as prematurely filed. Id. at 113.

In addition, a claimant must comply with the FTCA's clear timing limitations both for filing an administrative claim with the appropriate agency and for filing an FTCA suit in federal court if agency attempts to settle his claim prove unsuccessful. See 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b). A claim must be presented to the appropriate agency within two years of the accrual of the claimant's cause of action. See 28 U.S.C. §2675(a); White-Squire , 592 F.3d at 457. The agency then has a six-month period within which to settle or deny the claim. See 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a). If the agency denies the claim, a claimant then has six months from receiving notice of final denial to bring suit in federal court. 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b). Failure to comply with either the two-year window to submit an ...


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