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Hagan v. United States

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 7, 2016

LARRY HAGAN, et ah, Plaintiffs
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant DANA WILSON, Plaintiff
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY United States District Judge.

         These consolidated cases emerge from alleged medical malpractice by agents of the United States with respect to Plaintiff L.C.H., a minor, that are connected to events in the earliest years of L.C.H.'s life. Plaintiffs L.C.H. and his father Larry Hagan seek damages as result of those events under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA").[1] Before the Court is Defendant's [34] Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment. Defendant now argues that the claims brought by Plaintiffs L.C.H. and Hagan are untimely. The Court concludes that it is not now proper to dismiss the claims based on the statute of limitations at this stage of the proceedings and based on the current record. Upon consideration of the pleadings, [2] the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court DENIES Defendant's [34] Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative for Summary Judgment. With respect to the motion to dismiss, the Court concludes that dismissal is not warranted because it is not clear from the face of the complaint that Plaintiffs have failed to comply with the statute of limitations. With respect to the motion for summary judgment, the Court concludes that the motion is premature because the parties have not yet had an opportunity to take discovery and because it appears that there are disputed facts in the record. For these reasons and for the reasons stated further below, the Motion to Dismiss is DENIED WITH PREJUDICE and the Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Given the issues presented in the motion now before the Court and the Court's resolution of that motion, the Court presents here the statutory and procedural background of this case, reserving presentation of any relevant factual background for the discussion of the individual issues below.

         A. Statutory Background

         The Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA") "waives the United States's sovereign immunity from tort claims and, subject to exceptions, renders the United States liable in tort as if it were a private person." Gross v. United States, 771 F.3d 10, 12 (D.C. Cir. 2014), cert, denied, 135 S.Ct. 1746 (2015). The Act further "provides that a tort claim against the United States 'shall be forever barred' unless it is presented to the 'appropriate Federal agency within two years after such claim accrues' and then brought to federal court 'within six months' after the agency acts on the claim."[3] United States v. KwaiFun Wong, 135 S.Ct. 1625, 1629 (2015) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b)). In Kwai Fun Wong, the Supreme Court clarified that these deadlines were not jurisdictional. Id. Instead, as the Supreme Court explained, "The time limits in the FTCA are just time limits, nothing more." Id. at 1633. Therefore, these time limits are subject to equitable tolling. Id. ("Even though [the time limits] govern litigation against the Government, a court can toll them on equitable grounds.").[4]

         B. Procedural Background

         On July 23, 2010, Plaintiffs L.C.H., by his father and next friend, Larry Hagan, and Hagan himself filed administrative claims with certain departments of the United States Government regarding the medical care that L.C.H. had received. Plaintiffs filed this action on June 6, 2012, after the Government had failed to respond to those claims. Defendant then moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), arguing that the court did not have subject matter jurisdiction because Plaintiffs had not filed a timely administrative claim. Defendant argued that the filing timelines in 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b) were jurisdictional and that Plaintiffs had failed to comply with the jurisdictional prerequisites for this action.

         In resolving that motion, the court concluded that the filing deadlines in section 2401(b) were jurisdictional and granted the motion to dismiss.[5] See Memorandum Opinion, dated Dec. 14, 2012 ("Mem. Opinion"), ECF No. 21, at 6-7. The court noted that it is the burden of the party invoking the court's jurisdiction to establish subject matter jurisdiction and that, under Rule 12(b)(1), the court may consider materials outside the pleadings. Id. at 5; see also Coal, for Underground Expansion v. Mineta, 333 F.3d 193, 198 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (on a motion under Rule 12(b)(1), "where necessary, 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"). After a thorough examination of the record, including an examination of the medical records submitted, the court concluded that the injury underlying the case had occurred in September 2007 and that the claims at issue had, therefore, accrued at that time. Because the court concluded that the statute of limitations in section 2401(b) was jurisdictional, there was no occasion to consider other responses to Defendant's statute of limitations argument, such as equitable tolling. See Mem. Op. at 6-7; see also Kwai Fun Wong, 135 S.Ct. at 1631 (citing John R. Sand & Gravel Co. v. United States, 552 U.S. 130, 133-134 (2008) (equitable factors cannot be considered if statute of limitations is jurisdictional). Therefore, the court concluded that the administrative complaint filed in July, 2010, had not been filed within two years of the accrual of the claims in this case. Based on this analysis, the court dismissed the case for want of subject matter jurisdiction.

         Plaintiffs appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ("D.C. Circuit"). See Hagan v. United States, D.C. Cir. No. 13-5048, Doc. No. 1461959. While the appeal was pending, the United States Supreme Court issued Kwai Fun Wong, discussed above, holding that section 2401(b) is no? jurisdictional and that equitable tolling is available under the FTCA. See Kwai Fun Wong, 135 S.Ct. at 1629, 1633. The parties agreed that the case should be remanded to this Court, although they did not agree on the precise action the D.C. Circuit should take. Upon consideration of the parties' requests, the D.C. Circuit "ORDERED that the district court's order issued December 14, 2012 dismissing the case for lack of jurisdiction, be vacated and the case remanded to the district court for further proceedings consistent with the Supreme Court's opinion in United States v. Kwai Fun Wong, 135 S.Ct. 1625 (2015)." Order dated Sept. 10, 2015, Hagan v. United States, D.C. Cir. No. 13-5048 (formatting in original). The D.C. Circuit did not provide any further instructions regarding the remand to the district court.

         After the case was remanded to this Court, the Court ordered the parties to file a Joint Status Report regarding future proceedings in this consolidated action. Order, dated Dec. 14, 2015, ECF No. 30. At the parties' request, the Court subsequently entered a briefing schedule for Defendant's planned renewed motion to dismiss. Minute Order, dated January 19, 2016; see also Joint Status Report, dated Jan. 14., 2016, ECF No. 33. The Court notes that the parties did not reference any plans to file motions for summary judgment on the current record. Defendant then filed the pending motion according to the approved schedule. As noted above, Defendant moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim and, in the alternative, for summary judgment; the motion is based solely on Defendant's argument that Plaintiffs did not comply with the statute of limitations in section 2401(b). See generally Def.'s Mot. Plaintiffs opposed that motion, arguing that the motion should be denied based on the present record and that, if the Court were to find the present record inadequate to deny the motions, the Court should allow discovery before definitively resolving issues pertaining to the statute of limitations.

         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.' "Ashcrvft 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.

         Summary judgment is appropriate where "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and [that it] ... is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The mere existence of some factual dispute is insufficient on its own to bar summary judgment; the dispute must pertain to a "material" fact. Id. Accordingly, "[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. "Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Nor may summary judgment be avoided based on just any disagreement as to the relevant facts; the dispute ...


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