United States District Court, D. New Jersey
WILLIAM J. MARTINI, District Judge.
In these actions, Plaintiffs allege that they were injured in an automobile accident caused by the negligent driving of a United States Postal Service worker. This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). Because Plaintiffs failed to present Defendants with an administrative claim identifying a "sum certain" of damages, the Court must dismiss the Complaints for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED.
These actions arise out of an alleged automobile accident that occurred on October 12, 2011. Plaintiff Deborah Denboske and Cristina Ponce (collectively, "Plaintiffs") were in a motor vehicle own by Denboske, with Denboske driving and Ponce in the passenger seat. (Complt. at ¶1). The Complaint alleges that while Plaintiffs were in their vehicle, Defendant Vinodkuma J. Jasani was operating a United States Postal Service motor vehicle in the course of his employment with Defendant United States Postal Service (hereinafter, "USPS"). Id. at ¶3. While Plaintiffs were stopped at a traffic light, Jasani allegedly rearended their vehicle, causing Plaintiffs to suffer injuries. Id. at ¶4-5.
Following the accident, and pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (hereinafter, "the FTCA"), Denboske filed two separate Standard Form 95s (hereinafter, "SF-95s") with the USPS, whereas Ponce filed one. All SF-95s - including the ones Plaintiffs submitted - contain the following language:
A CLAIM SHALL BE DEEMED TO HAVE BEEN PRESENTED WHEN A FEDERAL AGENCY RECEIVES.... A STANDARD FORM 95 OR OTHER WRITTEN NOTIFICATION OF AN INCIDENT, ACCOMPANIED BY A CLAIM FOR MONEY DAMAGES IN A SUM CERTAIN FOR INJURY... TO HAVE OCCURRED BY REASON OF THE INCIDENT... Failure to specify a sum certain will render your claim invalid....
Denboske filed her first SF-95 on February 18, 2012. It listed "$500 - deductible" as the sum certain amount of property damage she suffered as a result of the accident. It did not set out a sum certain for damages related to personal injury. (MTD, Ex. 1). On March 20, 2012, Roberta Price - Tort Claim Examiner/Adjudicator for USPS - addressed a letter to Denboske stating that USPS approved the $500 claim Denboske listed in her first SF-95. The letter enclosed a check and included the following language:
"Acceptance of the enclosed check operates as a complete release and bars recovery of any additional or further claims against the United States Postal Services and against the government employee(s) whose act(s) or omission(s) gave rise to the claim by reason of the same subject matter."
Denboske cashed the $500 check on July 9, 2012. Subsequently, Plaintiffs each filed SF-95s with USPS on October 11, 2013. Id. at ¶8. Plaintiffs' October 11, 2013 SF-95s listed out property damage to Denboske's vehicle in the amount of $2, 451.03, but stated that the amount in personal injury damages and total damages were "to be determined." (Opp., Ex. A, I). Attached to both SF-95s were workers' compensation claim petitions, a report from a physician documenting the extent of Plaintiffs' injuries for workers' compensation purposes, and billing and treatment records pertaining to Plaintiffs' injuries. See Id.
In a December 19, 2013 letter, Price informed Ponce that her office had no authority to consider her October 11, 2013 claim because it did not set forth a "sum certain" amount for injuries and losses sustained in the accident. (MTD, Ex. 7.) In a June 4, 2014 letter, Price informed Denboske that USPS had denied her October 11, 2013 claim because Denboske released all claims arising out of the accident when she cashed her $500 check on July 9, 2012. (MTD, Ex. 5).
Plaintiffs filed the instant actions on June 19, 2014. In Count One of their Complaints, they allege that Jasani, in the course of his employment with USPS, operated his vehicle negligently, causing Plaintiffs injury. Count One seeks to hold defendants liable "for damages, including but not limited to pain, suffering and disability, loss of earning capacity, emotional distress and/or medical bills, all of which are anticipated to continue into the future as well as, interest and costs of suit." (Complt. at 4). Count Two is a loss of consortium claim by Plaintiffs' spouses. Defendants now move to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.
II. 12(b)(1) Motion to Dismiss
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) provides for the dismissal of a complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(1). There are two types of challenges to subject-matter jurisdiction: (1) facial attacks, which challenge the allegations of the complaint on their face; and (2) factual attacks, which challenge the existence of subject-matter jurisdiction, quite apart from any pleadings. Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977). In reviewing a factual attack, as is the case here, the court may consider evidence outside the pleadings, and no presumptive truthfulness attaches to the plaintiff's allegations. Gould Electronics Inc. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 176 (3d Cir. 2000) ( citing Gotha v. United States, 115 F.3d 176, 178-79 (3d Cir. 1997)).
Defendants set forth two primary arguments as to why the Court lacks subjectmatter jurisdiction in this case. First, Defendants contend that Denboske released all future claims against the United States arising out of the accident when she cashed the $500 check on July 9, 2012. Denboske counters that by cashing the $500 check, she released only claims relating to property damage, not personal injury. The Court need not reach that issue because it agrees with Defendants' second argument: the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction ...