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Hayes v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

February 5, 2018

MICHELE I. HAYES
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

         SECTION I

          ORDER AND REASONS

          LANCE M. AFRICK, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is a motion[1] filed by the City of New Orleans (“the City”) to dismiss the negligence claim asserted against it by plaintiff Michele Hayes (“Hayes”) on the basis of prescription. Hayes opposes[2] the motion. For the following reasons, the Court will grant the motion and dismiss the claim.

         I.

         On July 4, 2014, Hayes “was walking along the sidewalk in the 1200 block of Girod Street close to Loyola Avenue adjacent to the United State[s] Postal Service, Main Post Office in the City of New Orleans.”[3] According to Hayes, the sidewalk was “uneven, ” and as a result she tripped and fell to the ground.[4] Hayes alleges that she suffered injuries from the fall.[5]

         After this trip-and-fall incident, Hayes “filed claims for personal injury” with both the U.S. Postal Service and the City.[6] In a letter dated December 30, 2014, the City informed Hayes that it “respectfully den[ied] any responsibility for [her damages].”[7] The letter stated that “[t]he Risk Management Unit has completed its investigation and review of your claim, ” and had concluded that “the accident was not caused by any liability on the part of the City.”[8] Specifically, the City explained in the letter that “[a] search of the Assessor's property database identified that the owner is responsible for the property located at [the] 1200 block of Girod Street” and that “[a] certified letter was sent out to the owner to notify the owner (‘United States of America') of the property abutting this sidewalk defect.”[9]

         When explaining its effort to notify the abutting property's owner of the issue with the sidewalk, the City referenced the Charter of the City of New Orleans (“City Charter”).[10] Hayes alleges that “[t]he [City Charter] on its face shifts maintenance, repair, and tort liability from the municipality to the abutting property owner for sidewalk areas that are not at intersections.”[11] Hayes further alleges that “[t]he sidewalk on which [she] fell was not at an intersection.”[12]

         According to Hayes, the information provided to her by the City in the letter led her to believe that the City was not liable for her injury, but rather “that the only party liable for the sidewalk adjacent to the property in the 1200 block of Girod Street where [she] fell was the United States of America.”[13] Hayes thereafter continued to pursue an administrative claim against the United States, but did not further pursue a claim against the City.

         After the United States denied her administrative claim, [14] Hayes filed this case against the United States on April 24, 2017.[15] On December 7, 2017, she amended her complaint to add the City as a defendant.[16]

         The City now moves to dismiss Hayes' one and only claim against it-a negligence claim arising under Louisiana law-on the ground of prescription.

         II.

         Under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a district court may dismiss a complaint, or any part of it, where a plaintiff has not set forth well-pleaded factual allegations that would entitle him to relief. See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); Cuvillier v. Taylor, 503 F.3d 397, 401 (5th Cir. 2007). A plaintiff's factual allegations must “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. In other words, a complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570)).

         A facially plausible claim is one where “the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. If the well-pleaded factual allegations “do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, ” then “the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Id. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)) (alteration in original).

         On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a court limits its review “to the complaint, any documents attached to the complaint, and any documents attached to the motion to dismiss that are central to the claim and referenced by the complaint.” Lone Star Fund V (U.S.), L.P. v. Barclays Bank PLC, 594 F.3d 383, 387 (5th Cir. 2010); see also Spivey v. Robertson, 197 F.3d 772, 774 (5th Cir. 1999). In assessing the complaint, the Court must accept all well-pleaded factual allegations as true and liberally construe all such allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Spivey, 197 F.3d at 774; Lowrey v. Tex. A&M Univ. Sys., 117 F.3d 242, 247 (5th Cir. 1997).

         Where “the complaint on its face show[s] a bar to relief, ” then dismissal is the appropriate course. Cutrer v. McMillan, 308 Fed. App'x. 819, 820 (5th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). For example, “[a] statute of limitations may support dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) where it is evident from the plaintiff's pleadings that the action is barred and the pleadings fail to raise some basis for tolling or the like.” Jones v. Alcoa, Inc., 339 F.3d 359, 366 (5th Cir. 2003); see Anderson v. City of New Orleans, No. 03-3010, 2004 WL 1396325, at *3 (E.D. La. June 18, 2004) (Duval, J.) (“A complaint is subject to dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if the prescriptive period has run.”).

         III.

         A.

         When a federal court exercises either diversity or supplemental jurisdiction to adjudicate state law claims, state substantive law and federal procedural law apply to those claims. See Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938). A state's substantive law includes prescriptive statutes and their exceptions. See Beavers v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 566 F.3d 436, 439 (5th Cir. 2009) (citing Guaranty Trust Co. v. York, 326 U.S. 99, 111-12 (1945)).

         Hayes' negligence claim against the City arises under Louisiana law. Thus, Louisiana substantive law controls the claim.

         B.

         i.

         The City contends that Hayes' negligence claim against it is prescribed.[17]Hayes concedes that she filed this claim outside the applicable prescriptive period.[18]

         Under Louisiana law, “a negligence claim is delictual and prescribes [ ] one year” from the date of the injury. Copeland v. Wasserstein, Perella & Co., 278 F.3d 472, 478 (5th Cir. 2002); see also La. Civ. C. art. 3492. Courts strictly construe prescription statutes in favor of maintaining claims. Terrebonne Par. Sch. Bd. v. Columbia Gulf Transmission Co., 290 F.3d 303, 320 (5th Cir. 2002). To ...


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