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Shahbazian v. United States Postal Service

United States District Court, Third Circuit

September 6, 2013

MIKE SHAHBAZIAN, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE Defendant.

OPINION

KEVIN McNULTY, District Judge.

The plaintiff, Mike Shahbazian, brings this action pro se against the United States Postal Service ("USPS"). Shahbazian requests damages in the amount of $300.00 for the value of a lost package that he mailed via USPS. This matter comes before the Court on the motion of the defendant, USPS, to dismiss the complaint under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). I decide it without oral argument. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b). For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion to dismiss is GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

On June 27, 2012, Shahbazian first filed this tort action in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Essex County, Docket No. ESX-SC-2067-12. Docket No. 1-2 at 1. He sues "for the replacement of [a] lost package" that he had mailed four weeks before. He demands damages in the amount of $300.00, the replacement value of the lost property. Id.

The case was removed from the Superior Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1), 1442(a)(1), and 2679.[1] On April 26, 2013, the USPS moved to dismiss the claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule 12(b)(1). Magistrate Judge Arleo subsequently suspended discovery pending a decision on the motion to dismiss.

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

The Defendant's motion to dismiss is brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). Rule 12(b)(1) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if the plaintiff fails to establish that the Court has jurisdiction over the claims. For purposes of a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, as opposed to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, "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." Carpet Group Int'l v. Oriental Rug Importers Ass'n, Inc., 227 F.3d 62, 69 (3d Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks omitted).

This Court "must read a pro se plaintiff's factual allegations liberally and must apply a less stringent pleading standard" than if the plaintiff were represented by counsel. Schwartz v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 2007 WL 291465, at *3 (D.N.J. Oct. 4, 2007) (citing Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972)). Nevertheless, the plaintiff ultimately bears the burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction. See Schwartz, 2007 WL 291465, at *3.

III. DISCUSSION

The Complaint asserts a cause of action in tort to recover $300.00, the value of a package that Plaintiff alleges was lost in the mail as a result of the negligence of USPS. Defendant moves to dismiss the complaint in its entirety. For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss is granted.

"The United States, as sovereign, is immune from suit save as it consents to be sued..., and the terms of its consent to be sued in any court define that court's jurisdiction to entertain the suit." United States v. Mitchell, 445 U.S. 535, 538 (1980) (citation omitted). Therefore, courts are deprived of subject matter jurisdiction over actions against the United States unless a statute expressly waives its sovereign immunity to suit. See United States v. Bein, 214 F.3d 408, 412 (3d Cir. 2000). Further, when the federal government does consent to suit by statute, "the terms of its waiver of sovereign immunity define the extent of the court's jurisdiction." United States v. Mottaz, 476 U.S. 834, 841 (1986). Waivers of immunity must be "unequivocally expressed" and "construed strictly in favor of the sovereign." United States v. Nordic Vill. Inc., 503 U.S. 30, 33-34 (1992) (citations omitted).

Shahbazian's claim is governed by the Federal Torts Claim Act ("FTCA"). The FTCA constitutes an explicit, but limited, waiver of sovereign immunity for certain actions against the United States in a federal district court. It provides that:

the district courts... shall have exclusive jurisdiction of civil actions on claims against the United States, for money damages, accruing on and after January 1, 1945, for injury or loss of property... caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment, under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred.

28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1). The FTCA, however, includes provisions limiting the scope of its waiver of sovereign immunity. These limiting principles provide the grounds on which Plaintiff's claim must be ...


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