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Hall v. Administrative Office of the United States Courts

August 3, 2007

LEVENSTON HALL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES COURTS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the Court on defendants' motion to dismiss. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will dismiss this action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

I. BACKGROUND

Defendant Melissa Suniga was the Senior United States Probation Officer who prepared plaintiff's presentence investigation report ("PSR") in September 1998. Compl. ¶¶ 4-5 & Ex. A (Presentence Investigation Report, Docket No. W-98-CR-006, United States District Court for the Western District of Texas). "[A] copy of the PSR was made available to [plaintiff's] criminal defense counsel on October 8, 1998." Defendants' Memorandum in Support of Motion to Dismiss ("Defs.' Mot."), Declaration of Melissa Suniga ("Suniga Decl.") ¶ 3. Plaintiff "filed numerous objections to the PSR on October 12, 1998" through defense counsel, id. ¶ 4, yet defendants "wrongfully refused to correct the PSR prior to sentencing." Compl. ¶ 9. At the November 4, 1998 sentencing hearing, the presiding judge heard the parties' arguments, overruled all of plaintiff's objections, and adopted the PSR's findings. Suniga Decl. ¶ 5.

According to plaintiff, due to Ms. Suniga's negligence, the PSR attributed to plaintiff the actions of another individual using the same name, Ben Hall. Compl. ¶¶ 7, 13. For this reason, plaintiff allegedly "was sentenced to a term of 235 months of imprisonment with respect to a crime that would have fallen within the Sentencing Guideline Range of 36 months or less without reference to the activities of the other individual." Id. ¶ 10. Plaintiff "repeated his request to [Ms.] Suniga, that she correct the PSR by deleting all references to activities of the other individual using the name 'Ben Hall' on October 17, 2005." Compl. ¶ 13. Again, Ms. Suniga allegedly "refused to correct the PSR." Id. ¶ 16.

Plaintiff filed an administrative claim against the United States Probation Department, Administrative Office of the United States Courts. Compl., Ex. B (Claim for Damage, Injury or Death). He alleged that Ms. Suniga's negligent actions on October 17, 2005 "caused tortious damages by virtue of prolonged wrongful imprisonment" because the PSR "mistakenly identifies him as the individual involved in a series of drug sales and direct interaction with the chief investigating police officer, while that officer has twice testified under oath that [plaintiff] is not the individual described in the reports (though he has the same name)." Id. (emphasis in original). The Administrative Office of the United States Courts denied plaintiff's request on April 13, 2006. Id., Ex. C (letter from J.L. Chastain, Assistant General Counsel).

In this action, filed pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), see 28 U.S.C. § 2671 et seq., plaintiff demands damages of $50 million as compensation for the injuries he has suffered, "including loss of liberty, lost wages and emotional distress," Compl. ¶ 12, as a result of his lengthy imprisonment.

II. DISCUSSION

A. The United States Is the Proper Party Defendant

Only the United States can be a defendant to a claim under the FTCA. 28 U.S.C. § 2679(a); Cox v. Sec'y of Labor, 739 F. Supp. 28, 29 (D.D.C. 1990). For this reason, defendants move to substitute the United States as the sole federal defendant in this action. See Defs.' Mot. at 3. Plaintiff consents to this substitution. Plaintiff's Response to Motion to Dismiss ("Pl.'s Opp'n") ¶ 2. Defendants' request will be granted, and the United States will be substituted as the sole party defendant in this action.

B. Plaintiff's FTCA Claim Was Not Filed Timely

"Absent a waiver, sovereign immunity shields the Federal Government and its agencies from suit." Fed. Deposit Ins. Corp. v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475 (1994); see United States v. Mitchell, 445 U.S. 535, 538 (1980); United States v. Testan, 424 U.S. 392, 399 (1976). Generally, the FTCA operates as a limited waiver of sovereign immunity, rendering the United States amenable to suit for certain, but not all, tort claims. See, e.g., Richards v. United States, 369 U.S. 1, 6 (1962). A condition of this waiver of sovereign immunity is the timely presentation of a claim to the appropriate federal government agency. See United States v. Kubrick, 444 U.S. 111, 117 (1979). The FTCA in relevant part provides:

A tort claim against the United States shall be forever barred unless it is presented in writing to the appropriate Federal agency within two years after such claim accrues or unless action is begun within six months after the date of mailing, by certified or registered mail, of notice of final denial of the claim by the agency to which it was presented.

28 U.S.C. § 2401(b) (emphasis added). Thus, the filing of such a claim with the agency is a mandatory prerequisite to filing a lawsuit against the United States, and without it, the Court lacks jurisdiction to entertain a tort claim against the United States.*fn1 Jackson v. United States, 730 F.2d 808, 809 (D.C. Cir. 1984); Stokes v. United States Postal Serv., 937 F. Supp. 11, 14 (D.D.C. 1996). An FTCA claim accrues once the injured party knows both the fact of his injury and its cause. See Kubrick, 444 U.S. at 122; Sexton v. United States, 832 F.2d 629, 633 (D.C. Cir. 1987); see also Loughlin v. United States, 230 F. Supp. 2d 26, 39 ...


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