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Jones v. United States

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 27, 2018

JEFFREY JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TIMOTHY J. KELLY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Jeffrey Jones, a United States Capitol Police (“USCP”) officer, has brought suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b), against the United States for alleged injuries he suffered when a retired officer allegedly approached him from behind and grabbed him around the neck. Before the Court is Defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, ECF No. 14 (“MTD”), and Jones' motion to file a second amended complaint to add his wife as an additional plaintiff, ECF No. 17 (“Mot. to Amend”). For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant Defendant's motion and deny Jones' motion.

         I. Background

         Jones is a police officer assigned to the House Division of the USCP. ECF No. 13 (“Am. Compl.”) ¶¶ 6, 14. According to his amended complaint, on November 30, 2015, retired USCP officer Julian Mitchell was allowed to enter the House Division Operations Office. Id. ¶¶ 7, 15, 20-22. While there, Mitchell was unescorted, despite a requirement that civilians be escorted by USCP personnel at all times. Id. ¶¶ 23-24. In addition, Mitchell “had a reputation for grabbing other personnel by the back of the neck” of which USCP personnel were aware. Id. ¶ 37. After visiting a number of his former coworkers, Mitchell entered an office where Jones was working on a computer. Id. ¶¶ 24-25. At the time, Jones was “on duty, in uniform wearing his bulletproof vest, gun belt and full complement of gear.” Id. ¶ 26. Mitchell approached Jones from behind and, “suddenly and without notice, forcefully grabbed and squeezed the back of [his] neck.” Id. ¶¶ 25, 27. Jones struggled to free himself of Mitchell's grip, the force of which was “severe.” Id. ¶¶ 27-31. When Jones broke free, he immediately felt a painful, burning sensation in his neck. Id. ¶¶ 32-34.

         About a week later, on December 7, 2015, Jones experienced “significant pain, burning, muscle spasms and numbness, ” which prompted him to seek medical treatment. Id. ¶ 39. Two of Jones' doctors attributed his symptoms to “Mr. Mitchell's forceful grabbing and squeezing of Mr. Jones' neck.” Id. ¶¶ 45-46, 56-57. Despite the treatment, Jones continued to suffer from “persistent pain and muscle stiffness.” Id. ¶ 46. As a result, he incurred significant medical expenses and was unable to work for all of 2016. Id. ¶¶ 60-61.

         On July 26, 2017, Jones filed the instant case, bringing claims against Defendant for premises liability and negligence under the FTCA. ECF No. 1. On October 24, Jones moved to file an amended complaint that (1) added a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress and (2) joined Meredith McMahon, his wife, as an additional plaintiff with respect to all three tort claims levied against Defendant. ECF No. 10. The Court granted the motion, but sua sponte dismissed McMahon's claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because she had not satisfied the FTCA's exhaustion requirement. ECF No. 12. On February 7, 2018, Defendant moved to dismiss the remaining claims in Jones' amended complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on the ground they are precluded by the Federal Employees' Compensation Act (“FECA”), 5 U.S.C. § 8101, et seq. See MTD; ECF No. 15 (“Opp.”); ECF No. 16. On May 15, 2018, Jones filed a motion to file a second amended complaint, through which he again seeks to add McMahon as an additional plaintiff with respect to all three tort claims. See Mot. to Amend; ECF No. 18; ECF No. 19.

         II. Motion to Dismiss

         A. Legal Standard

         Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. See Gen. Motors Corp. v. EPA, 363 F.3d 442, 448 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (“As a court of limited jurisdiction, we begin, and end, with an examination of our jurisdiction.”). The law presumes that “a cause lies outside [the Court's] limited jurisdiction” unless the party asserting jurisdiction establishes otherwise. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). On a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1), “plaintiffs bear the burden of establishing jurisdiction.” Knapp Med. Ctr. v. Hargan, 875 F.3d 1125, 1128 (D.C. Cir. 2017). District courts “may in appropriate cases dispose of a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under [Rule] 12(b)(1) on the complaint standing alone.” Herbert v. Natl Acad. of Scis., 974 F.2d 192, 197 (D.C. Cir. 1992). In such cases, courts must “accept[] as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint.” KiSKA Constr. Corp. v. WMATA, 321 F.3d 1151, 1157-58 (D.C. Cir. 2003).

         B. Analysis

         The Court agrees with Defendant that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Jones' remaining claims, and will dismiss them.

         It is well established that “the United States may not be sued without its consent.” Webman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 441 F.3d 1022, 1025 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting United States v. Mitchell, 463 U.S. 206, 212 (1983)). Moreover, the federal government's “‘[sovereign immunity is jurisdictional in nature,' so a claim barred by sovereign immunity lacks subject matter jurisdiction.” Edwards v. United States, 211 F.Supp.3d 234, 236 (D.D.C. 2016) (quoting FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475 (1994)). “The federal government may waive its sovereign immunity by statute, but that waiver ‘must be unequivocally expressed in statutory text.'” Webman, 441 F.3d at 1025 (quoting Lane v. Peña, 518 U.S. 187, 192 (1996)). The FTCA “was designed primarily to remove the sovereign immunity of the United States from suits in tort.” Levin v. United States, 568 U.S. 503, 506 (2013) (quoting Richards v. United States, 369 U.S. 1, 6 (1962)). Thus, “[w]here a plaintiff seeks money damages for torts committed by federal employees in the course of their employment, they must rely on the waiver of sovereign immunity found in the [FTCA].” Davis v. United States, 973 F.Supp.2d 23, 28 (D.D.C. 2014).

         FECA carves out certain suits by federal employees from the FTCA's sovereign-immunity waiver. It provides such employees with an administrative process for seeking compensation for work-related injuries. In exchange, “‘federal employees are statutorily precluded from bringing suits for money damages for injuries sustained during the course of their employment,' and thus they cannot rely on the FTCA to bring work-related tort claims.” Johnson v. Mao, 174 F.Supp.3d 500, 522 n.14 (D.D.C. 2016) (quoting Davis, 973 F.Supp.2d at 28). Indeed, this is made explicit in the text of FECA's exclusivity provision, which states:

The liability of the United States . . . under [FECA] . . . with respect to the injury or death of an employee is exclusive and instead of all other liability of the United States . . . to the employee, . . . ...

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