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Nations v. United States

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 15, 2015

MARILYN NATIONS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES, [1] Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

TANYA S. CHUTKAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff is the ex-wife of former U.S. Army solider Mario Alexander Aguiar Carneiro ("Carneiro"), who physically and mentally abused her during their marriage. She brings negligence claims against the United States pursuant to the waiver of sovereign immunity in the FTCA, alleging that the Army was negligent in its response to his abuse. The Government has moved to dismiss on a number of grounds, of which the Court addresses only one. For the reasons set forth below, the Courts GRANTS the Government's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and dismisses the case with prejudice.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff and Carneiro met and were married in Brazil in 2006. (Compl. ¶ 6). Plaintiff sponsored Carneiro for American citizenship, which he received in 2008, after having joined the Army in 2007. (Id. ¶¶ 7-9). Plaintiff returned to Brazil in September 2008. (Id. ¶ 10). During Carneiro's visit to Brazil in July 2009 he "violently assaulted" Plaintiff, an assault which she reported to Brazilian police. (Id. ¶¶ 12-15). Plaintiff also notified two Army officers by telephone of the assault. (Id. ¶ 16). Carneiro learned of the report, found out that he would be dishonorably discharged, and blamed Plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 17-18). Over the next approximately two years Plaintiff notified the Army and provided evidence that Carneiro had threatened and harassed her, and had violated a No-Contact Order numerous times. (Id. ¶¶ 19-31). The Army did not charge Carneiro with any wrongdoing ( id. ¶ 21) but discharged him in June 2011. (Id. ¶ 33). At all relevant times, Plaintiff resided in Brazil.

Plaintiff submitted a claim for negligence to the Army in December 2012, alleging that the Army had failed to investigate reports of Carneiro's assaults and threats, failed to enforce No Contact Orders, had destroyed evidence submitted by Plaintiff, and had placed Plaintiff's life in danger by failing to maintain the confidentiality of her reports. (Id. ¶ 34). The Army denied the claim on September 24, 2013 (although Plaintiff did not receive the decision until November 25, 2013). (Id. ¶¶ 35-37). This suit followed.

II. ANALYSIS

Plaintiff's suit seeks to bring a negligence claim against the United States pursuant to the waiver of sovereign immunity under the FTCA.[2] (Compl. at 1, 5-6). The FTCA is a limited waiver of the United States' sovereign immunity for certain torts committed by its employees in the scope of their employment. Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, 542 U.S. 692, 700 (2004). One key exception to this waiver is that no immunity is waived as to "any claim arising in a foreign country." 28 U.S.C. § 2680(k). Defendants argue that this exception prohibits Plaintiff's suit here.

The foreign country exception "bars all claims based on any injury suffered in a foreign country, regardless of where the tortious act or omission occurred." Sosa, 542 U.S. at 712. The Supreme Court's pronouncement in Sosa rejected what had been known as the headquarters doctrine, which permitted a claim under the FTCA for "acts or omissions occurring" in the United States "which have their operative effect in another country." Id. at 701. The Supreme Court made clear that it is the place of injury, not conduct, which controls application of the exception. Gross v. Dev. Alts., Inc., 946 F.Supp.2d 120, 124 (D.D.C. 2013) ("Plaintiffs first suggest that, because USAID's negligent direction and oversight occurred in the United States, the foreign-country exception should not apply.... But that line of reasoning is precisely what Sosa rejected."); see also Garcia v. Sebelius, 867 F.Supp.2d 125, 137 (D.D.C. 2012) vacated in part on other grounds, 919 F.Supp.2d 43 (D.D.C. 2013). Here, all of Plaintiff's injuries were suffered while she was in Brazil, bringing this claim unambiguously within the scope of the foreign country exception.[3]

Because Plaintiff's claim is clearly beyond the scope of the waiver of sovereign immunity found in the FTCA, the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over her claim and it must be dismissed, with prejudice. F.D.I.C. v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475 (1994) ("Absent a waiver, sovereign immunity shields the Federal Government and its agencies from suit.... Sovereign immunity is jurisdictional in nature"); Al Janko v. Gates, 831 F.Supp.2d 272, 283-84 (D.D.C. 2011) (dismissing with prejudice claims brought under the FTCA for injuries suffered in Guantanamo Bay).

III. CONCLUSION

Because the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction to hear this case, it is dismissed with prejudice. A corresponding order will issue separately.


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