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Sconiers v. United States

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

July 24, 2018

STACI SCONIERS, Appellant
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA[1]

          Submitted Under Third Circuit L.A.R. 34.1(a) June 18, 2018

          APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY (D.C. Civ. Action No. 2-17-cv-01835) District Judge: Honorable William J. Martini

          Randall Bass Freeman & Bass, P.C. 24 Commerce Street, Suite 726 Newark, NJ, 07102 Counsel for Appellant

          Craig Carpenito Kruti D. Dharia Office of United States Attorney 970 Broad Street Newark, N.J., 07102 Counsel for Appellee

          Before: GREENAWAY, JR., RESTREPO, and BIBAS, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          GREENAWAY, JR., Circuit Judge.

         Staci Sconiers asks us to reinstate her tort claim against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b), 2671-80 (2012), because she presented her claim to the United States Postal Service (USPS) within two years, as required by 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b). We decline to do so because we hold that the FTCA additionally requires claimants to file their claims within six months of an agency's written denial, which Sconiers failed to do. We will affirm the District Court.[2]

         I. FACTS

         This case arises from a car accident that occurred on January 6, 2016, in Newark, New Jersey, between a car driven by Sconiers and a vehicle owned by USPS. About two weeks after the accident, Sconiers submitted an administrative tort claim form to USPS seeking damages for injuries that she claimed she suffered in the accident.

         Approximately seven months later, by letter dated July 14, 2016, and addressed to Sconiers's counsel, USPS denied her claim. The letter, citing the FTCA-i.e., 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b) and the relevant regulation-informed Sconiers that if she was "dissatisfied with the Postal Service's final denial," she "may file suit in a United States District Court no later than six (6) months after the date the Postal Service mails the notice of that final action." App. 19. Sconiers, however, filed her complaint before the District Court eight months later-or two months after the limitations period that USPS alleges that the FTCA requires-and named as defendants, inter alia, USPS and Stephan D. Johnson, who was the driver of the USPS truck.

         The United States moved before the District Court to be substituted in place of USPS and Johnson, as well as for summary judgment. It contended that Sconiers's failure to file her lawsuit within six months of the mailing of the denial of her administrative claim rendered her lawsuit untimely. Sconiers did not contest the substitution of the United States, but urged the District Court to equitably toll the statute of limitations.

         The District Court found that Sconiers's complaint was filed beyond the FTCA's six-month statute of limitations and determined that she had not identified any extraordinary circumstance that justified equitable tolling of the deadline. Accordingly, it granted the Government's motions. This appeal followed.

          II. DISCUSSION[3]

         "As a sovereign, the United States is immune from suit unless it consents to be sued." White-Squire v. U.S. Postal Serv., 592 F.3d 453, 456 (3d Cir. 2010). The FTCA is "a limited waiver of the sovereign immunity of the United States," Miller v. Phila. Geriatric ...


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