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Smith v. United States

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 29, 2016

Robert Smith, Jr., Plaintiff,
v.
United States of America, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

AMIT P. MEHTA, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

In September 2011, Robert Smith, Sr., died while in the care of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Before his passing, Smith executed paperwork-witnessed by three employees of the Medical Center-that left his personal property and life insurance benefits to his nieces. Smith's son, Plaintiff Robert Smith, Jr., who inherited none of his father's property or assets, now brings this action claiming that the Medical Center's employees were negligent in acting as witnesses to his father's testamentary acts. For the reasons explained below, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is granted.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual History

After a long history of battling various ailments, Robert Smith, Sr. ("Smith"), died at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center (the "Medical Center") in Washington, D.C., on September 13, 2011. Shortly before his death, on August 22, 2011, Smith executed a Last Will and Testament in which he left all of his personal property to his nieces. Pl.'s Mot. to Amend. the Compl., Ex. 3, ECF No. 19-3, at 3-5 [hereinafter Mot. to Amend.]. He also signed other paperwork designating his nieces as the beneficiaries of two life insurance policies and a civil service retirement plan death benefit. Compl., ECF No. 1, at 3-5; Mot. to Amend., Ex. 3 at 7. Smith completed the paperwork while he was a patient at the Medical Center. Mot. to Amend., Ex. 3 at 3-5, 11. All three people who witnessed his testamentary acts-Lea Anderson, Keon Anderson, and Valerie Flowers (collectively the "Medical Center Employees")-were, at the time, employees of the Medical Center. Id.

Smith's son, Plaintiff Robert Smith, Jr., received none of his father's personal property or assets. On April 11, 2013, more than 19 months after his father's death, Plaintiff filed an administrative claim on a Standard Form 95 ("SF-95") with Defendant United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Mot. to Amend., Ex. 3 at 1. In his claim, Plaintiff accused the Medical Center Employees of "conspir[ing] and forg[ing] the signature of Robert Smith on a Last Will and Testament, on Designation of Beneficiaries for insurance benefits, death benefits, and retirement benefits." Id. He further accused the Medical Center Employees of assisting Smith's nieces to steal his father's wallet, keys, credit cards, and other personal property. Id. Plaintiff asserted that the "above described acts constituted fraudulent misrepresentation, conspiracy, collusion, forgery, malfeasance, theft and negligence." Id. After conducting an investigation, the Department of Veterans Affairs rejected Plaintiff's administrative claim on December 10, 2013. Id., Ex. 4, ECF No. 19-4.

B. Procedural History

On June 6, 2014, Plaintiff filed this action naming the Department of Veterans Affairs and the United States Office of Personnel Management ("OPM") as defendants. Compl. ¶ 3. In his Complaint, Plaintiff asserted five claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"). Counts One through Four each alleged that the Medical Center Employees had acted negligently by serving as witnesses to Smith's various testamentary acts. Id. at 2-5. In Count Five, brought only against OPM, Plaintiff claimed that "[OPM] has not responded to the Plaintiff's requests for information and has not paid death benefits to anyone." Id. ¶ 25.

On March 9, 2015, Defendants moved to dismiss the Complaint under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) for, respectively, lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 16, at 1. Under Rule 12(b)(1), Defendants primarily asserted that Plaintiff had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, which is a jurisdictional prerequisite to filing suit under the FTCA. Id. at 8-10. Specifically, Defendants contend that Plaintiff did not exhaust his remedies "because his claim to the Agency presented a wholly different set of facts, allegations, and claims than his Complaint filed in this Court." Id. at 8. Under Rule 12(b)(6), Defendants argued that, because Plaintiff had failed to allege that the Medical Center Employees owed him any duty, he could not maintain his negligence claims. Id. at 13-15.

Instead of filing an opposition to Defendants' motion, Plaintiff moved to amend his Complaint in several ways. See generally Mot. to Amend the Compl., ECF No. 19. First, to shore up his negligence claims, Plaintiff asked to add allegations that (1) the Medical Center Employees "had a duty to follow regulations and customs of the Medical Center which prohibited employees from signing and witnessing documents concerning the personal affairs of [its] patients, " id., Ex. 2, ECF No. 19-2, ¶ 12, and (2) he had "relied upon employees of the Medical Center to follow its regulations and customs, " id. ¶ 12. Second, Plaintiff sought to name the Medical Center as a defendant and to assert against it a claim that it had failed to adequately train its employees as to alleged policies that prohibited them from witnessing acts and signing documents concerning patients' personal affairs. Id. ¶¶ 16-19. Third, Plaintiff wished to include the allegation that he had "exhausted his administrative remedies." Id. ¶ 4. Defendants opposed the Motion to Amend on the ground that Plaintiff's proposed amendments were futile. See generally Defs.' Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. to Amend, ECF No. 21.

III. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

The motions before the court require it to consider standards of review under Rules 12(b)(1), 12(b)(6), and 15(b). ...


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