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Eric Espinosa v. United States of America

February 22, 2011

ERIC ESPINOSA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Re Document No.: 6

MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the court on the defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction The plaintiff brings his suit pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1) et seq., alleging that he was injured when an active duty Army sergeant on official Army business negligently caused a traffic accident. Because the plaintiff failed to file an administrative complaint within two years of the accrual of his claim as required by the FTCA and because, as a result, the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the court grants the defendant's motion to dismiss.

II. FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

At approximately 10:30 a.m. on December 20, 2006, the plaintiff, a D.C. Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") officer, was a passenger in an MPD vehicle that was stopped on a south-bound exit ramp on Interstate 295. Am. Compl. ¶ 7. According to the plaintiff, Sergeant Jamarko Walker, an active duty Army soldier operating a government-owned van on official Army business, negligently struck a nearby vehicle causing it to strike the plaintiff's vehicle. Id.

¶ 7. The plaintiff asserts that he sustained a serious spine injury as a result of the accident and has been unable to return to the MPD as a result. Id. ¶¶ 3, 7.

The plaintiff retained counsel in or about October 2007, but realized on November 10, 2009 that his attorney had never filed a claim on his behalf before an administrative or judicial body. Pl.'s Opp'n at 3. He immediately retained new counsel and submitted a claim for damages to the United States Army on December 2, 2009,*fn1 which the Army denied as untimely in letters dated December 4, 2009 and January 13, 2010. See Pl.'s Opp'n, Exs. 1, 2. On December 18, 2009, the plaintiff commenced an FTCA action against Secretary of the Army John McHugh and Walker, alleging negligence on Walker's part. See generally Compl. The plaintiff filed an amended complaint on February 23, 2010. See generally Am. Compl. On May 5, 2010, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia filed a Westfall Certification with the court, substituting the United States for defendants McHugh and Walker. Def.'s Mot., Exs. A-B; see also 28 U.S.C. § 2679(d)(1) ("Westfall Act") (providing that "upon certification by the Attorney General that the defendant employee was acting within the scope of his office or employment at the time of the incident out of which the claim arose, any civil action or proceeding . . . shall be deemed an action against the United States . . . and the United States shall be substituted as the party defendant").

The defendant has moved to dismiss the amended complaint, arguing that the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because the plaintiff failed to file an administrative claim within two years of the accrual of his claim. Def.'s Mot. at 6. The plaintiff opposes the motion, arguing that the court should equitably toll the FTCA's two-year limitations period because he was unsure if Walker was acting within the scope of his military employment at the time of the accident. Pl.'s Opp'n at 3. The court now turns now to the applicable legal standards and the parties' arguments.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for a Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1)

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and the law presumes that "a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994); see also Gen. Motors Corp. v. Envtl. Prot. Agency, 363 F.3d 442, 448 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (noting that "[a]s a court of limited jurisdiction, we begin, and end, with an examination of our jurisdiction").

Because "subject-matter jurisdiction is an 'Art[icle] III as well as a statutory requirement[,] no action of the parties can confer subject-matter jurisdiction upon a federal court.'" Akinseye v. District of Columbia, 339 F.3d 970, 971 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (quoting Ins. Corp. of Ir., Ltd. v. Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinee, 456 U.S. 694, 702 (1982)). On a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that the court has subject matter jurisdiction. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992).

Because subject matter jurisdiction focuses on the court's power to hear the claim, however, the court must give the plaintiff's factual allegations closer scrutiny when resolving a Rule 12(b)(1) motion than would be required for a Rule 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim. See Macharia v. United States, 334 F.3d 61, 64, 69 (D.C. Cir. 2003); Grand Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185 F. Supp. 2d 9, 13 (D.D.C. 2001). Thus, the court is not limited to the allegations contained in the complaint. Hohri v. United States, 782 F.2d 227, 241 (D.C. Cir. 1986), vacated on other grounds, 482 U.S. 64 (1987). Instead, "where necessary, the court may consider the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record, or the complaint supplemented by ...


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