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Hinton v. Combined Systems, Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 20, 2015

DANIEL HINTON, Plaintiff,
v.
COMBINED SYSTEMS, INC., et al., Defendants/Third-Party Plaintiffs,
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION, Third-Party Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY, District Judge.

Plaintiff Daniel Hinton is an employee of the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") who was injured by the unintentional detonation of flash bangs, a type of explosive device, in a FBI facility. Plaintiff brought this tort action against Combined Systems, Inc., and Combine Tactical Systems, Inc. (collectively, "Combined Systems"), who manufactured the flash bangs and sold them to the FBI. Plaintiff seeks damages on the basis of strict liability and negligence.[1] Combined Systems, in turn, filed a third-party complaint in this action against the FBI, seeking contribution and indemnification with respect to Plaintiff's claims. Before the Court is Third-Party Defendant FBI's [50] Motion to Dismiss Third-Party Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint. Upon consideration of the pleadings, [2] the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court GRANTS Third-Party Defendant's [50] Motion to Dismiss. The Court concludes that the contribution and indemnification claims in Third-Party Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint are not viable under District of Columbia law. Therefore, those claims are outside the limited waiver of sovereign immunity by the United States in the Federal Tort Claims Act, and this Court has no subject matter jurisdiction over those claims. The Court dismisses the First Amended Third-Party Complaint in its entirety.

I. BACKGROUND

For the purposes of the motion before the Court, the Court accepts as true the well-pleaded allegations in Third-Party Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint. The Court does "not accept as true, however, the plaintiff's legal conclusions or inferences that are unsupported by the facts alleged." Ralls Corp. v. Comm. on Foreign Inv. in U.S., 758 F.3d 296, 315 (D.C. Cir. 2014). The Court recites the principal facts pertaining to the issues raised in the pending motion.

Plaintiff Daniel Hinton was working at the FBI on September 13, 2011, as a Special Agent at the Washington Field Office. First Am. Third-Party Compl. ¶ 10. Plaintiff alleges that, on September 13, 2011, he noticed a bag of flash bangs that had been deployed in an earlier SWAT operation. Id. ¶ 11. Plaintiff believed that the flash bangs had been expended because the safety pins had been removed, and Plaintiff attempted to insert ordinary paper clips into the flash bangs in an attempt to create a training device. Id. In doing so, the hammer of one flash bang caused that flash bang to detonate, injuring Plaintiff. Id.

During the relevant time period, Combined Systems designed, manufactured, and sold flash bangs to the FBI pursuant to FBI Contract No. J-FBI-10-071. Id. ¶ 12. The product was intended for use by the Tactical Support Branch of the FBI. Id. When Combined Systems and the FBI entered into the contract for flash bangs, CSI insisted that it provide use and safety training to individuals who would be using the flash bangs in the course of their employment. Id. ¶ 15. The FBI responded that it was sufficiently familiar with the product and would provide its own training. Id. Combined Systems agreed to this arrangement based on the experience of the FBI as a law enforcement agency. Id. Notwithstanding this agreement, Combined Systems provided two training documents to the FBI regarding the use and safety of the flash bangs, including handling and disposal of the flash bangs. Id. ¶ 16.

As a result of this incident, Plaintiff Hinton brought this action against Combined Systems. Combined Systems, in turns, filed a Third Party Complaint against the FBI. In response, the FBI filed a Motion to Dismiss. See ECF No. 34. After the parties briefed the Motion to Dismiss, including briefing on a request from Combined Systems to strike the FBI's reply in support of its Motion to Dismiss or, alternatively, to file a sur-reply, the Court granted Combined Systems' unopposed request to file an Amended Third-Party Complaint. See Minute Order Dated November 10, 2014. The First Amended Third-Party Complaint presents four claims against the FBI: breach of express contract - failure to properly train and supervise (Count I); breach of implied contract - failure to properly train and supervise (Count II); common-law indemnity - failure to properly train and supervise (Count III); and contribution - failure to properly train and supervise (Count IV). The FBI then filed a [50] Motion to Dismiss Third-Party Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint. That motion is now pending before the Court.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a party may move to dismiss a complaint on the grounds that it "fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). "[A] complaint [does not] suffice if it tenders naked assertion[s]' devoid of further factual enhancement.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007)). Rather, a complaint must contain sufficient factual allegations that, if accepted as true, "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court may consider "the facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached as exhibits or incorporated by reference in the complaint, " or "documents upon which the plaintiff's complaint necessarily relies even if the document is produced not by the plaintiff in the complaint but by the defendant in a motion to dismiss." Ward v. District of Columbia Dep't of Youth Rehab. Servs., 768 F.Supp.2d 117, 119 (D.D.C. 2011) (citations omitted).

To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the court has subject matter jurisdiction over its claim. Moms Against Mercury v. FDA, 483 F.3d 824, 828 (D.C. Cir. 2007). In determining whether there is jurisdiction, the Court may "consider the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record, or the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts." Coal. for Underground Expansion v. Mineta, 333 F.3d 193, 198 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (citations omitted). "At the motion to dismiss stage, counseled complaints, as well as pro se complaints, are to be construed with sufficient liberality to afford all possible inferences favorable to the pleader on allegations of fact." Settles v. U.S. Parole Comm'n, 429 F.3d 1098, 1106 (D.C.Cir.2005). "Although a court must accept as true all factual allegations contained in the complaint when reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), " the factual allegations in the complaint "will bear closer scrutiny in resolving a 12(b)(1) motion than in resolving a 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim." Wright v. Foreign Serv. Grievance Bd., 503 F.Supp.2d 163, 170 (D.D.C. 2007) (citations omitted).

III. DISCUSSION

Defendant moves to dismiss Third-Party Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint pursuant to rule 12(b)(1), for lack of jurisdiction, and pursuant to rule 12(b)(6), for failure to state a claim. The FBI argues that the contribution claim fails because of the exclusive remedies of the Federal Employee Compensation Act ("FECA"). With respect to the common-law indemnification claim, the FBI argues that it fails because the FBI owes no duty of indemnification to Combined Systems. With respect to the express and implied breach of contract claims, the FBI argues that they fail because the FBI owes no duty to Combined Systems and because this Court has no jurisdiction over claims that sound in contract. The Court discusses the parties' arguments, in turn, and concludes that the First Amended Third-Party Complaint must be dismissed in its entirety.[3]

A. Counts I and II Are Not Properly Considered Breach of Contract Claims

At first glance, it appears that the First Amended Third-Party Complaint includes two claims for breach of contract: breach of express contract - failure to properly train and supervise (Count I) and breach of implied contract - failure to properly train and supervise (Count II). The FBI argues that this Court does not have jurisdiction over these breach of contract claims. See Third-Party Def.'s Mot. at 10. In response, Third-Party Plaintiff clarifies that these two counts are not independent contract claims. Instead, they clarify that the contract-related allegations in these two counts are additional bases for indemnification claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"). Third-Party Pls.' Opp'n at 6-7. Indeed, while the Amended Complaint is less than fully clear regarding this matter, a closer look at the First Amended Third Party Complaint reveals that Combined Systems only seeks indemnification as a result of the alleged breach of express contract and the alleged breach of implied contract; Combined Systems does not seek, through the Amended Complaint, independent contract-related damages. See First Am. Third-Party Compl. ¶ 29 ("The contractual indemnity from the FBI to which CSI is entitled under the express contract..."); id. ¶ 39 ("In the even that Daniel Hinton recovers any judgment against CSI... CSI is entitled to indemnity from the FBI..."); id. ¶ 43 ("The implied-in-fact contractual indemnity from the FBI to which CSI is entitled..."); id. ¶ 46 ("In the even that Daniel Hinton ...


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