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Smith v. United States

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

October 11, 2019

BERNICE SMITH
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, ET AL.

          RULING AND ORDER

          JOHN W. deGRAVELLES JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         This matter comes before the Court on the United States of America's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 4) filed by the United States (“Defendant” or “United States”). Plaintiff Bernice Smith opposes the motion. (Doc. 9.) Oral argument is not necessary. The Court has carefully considered the law, facts in the record, and arguments and submissions of the parties and is prepared to rule. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion is granted, and Plaintiff's claim against the United States is dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

         I. Relevant Factual Background

         The following factual background touches on the allegations of the operative complaint, but the Court primarily focuses on the exhibits submitted and cited to by Defendant.[1]

         Plaintiff brings this lawsuit pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2671 et seq., alleging damages arising out of a motor vehicle accident. (Doc. 1 at 1, 2.) On April 23, 2017, Plaintiff was driving a 2011 Chevrolet Equinox east on Government Street in East Baton Rouge Parish, in the right travel lane. (Id. at 2.) Purportedly, at approximately the same time, Bruce Hillman was driving a 2016 Kenworth 18-wheeler, also traveling east on Government Street, in the left travel lane. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges, “Suddenly and without warning, Bruce Hillman began making a right turn onto Acadia Street and struck [her] while turning.” (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that, at the time of the accident, Hillman was an employee of the United States within the meaning and intent of the FTC A, and that at all pertinent times, Hillman was employed by the United States Postal Service (“USPS”). (Id. at 3.) Additionally, Plaintiff contends Hillman was in the course and scope of his employment with the United States at the time of the accident, making the United States vicariously liable for the damages caused by Hillman. (Id. at 4.)

         On April 23, 2018, Plaintiff presented an administrative tort claim pursuant to the FTCA on a Standard Form 95 (“SF-95”) to the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) regarding the motor vehicle collision which occurred on April 23, 2017. (Pl. Ex. A, Doc. 1-8.) In section one of the SF-95, Plaintiff listed the U.S. DOJ as the appropriate federal agency to whom her claim was directed.

1 Submit To Appropriate Federal Agency:
Torts Branch - Civil Divison U.S. Dept of Justice Washington, DC 20530

(Pl. Ex. A, Doc. 1-8.)

         Subsequently, on February 5, 2019, the DOJ returned Plaintiffs claim with a letter stating that if Plaintiff should determine that the DOJ is the “appropriate agency” and the employer of the involved driver, Plaintiff could then resubmit her claim to them.[2] (Pl. Ex. B, Doc 1-9.) On April 23, 2019, Plaintiff submitted her claim for the second time to the DOJ regarding the April 23, 2017 accident. (Pl. Ex. E, Doc. 9-5.) On May 1, 2019, the DOJ again returned Plaintiff's claim with a letter advising Plaintiff to resubmit a valid claim should she determine that the DOJ is the “appropriate agency.”[3] (Pl. Ex. G, Doc 9-7.)

         As a result, Plaintiff brought this action on April 23, 2019, alleging negligence against Defendant United States. (Doc. 1.) The United States now moves to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

         II. Rule 12(b)(1) Standard

Concerning the standard for Rule 12(b)(1) motions, the Fifth Circuit has explained:
Motions filed under Rule 12(b)(1) . . . allow a party to challenge the subject matter jurisdiction of the district court to hear a case. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). Lack of subject matter jurisdiction may be found in any one of three instances: (1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's ...

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