ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
Before Gibbons, Sloviter and Becker, Circuit Judges.
Mary E. Tucker appeals from an order dismissing with prejudice her complaint against the United States Postal Service. The complaint seeks damages for personal injuries received in a motor vehicle accident on June 8, 1979. The Government moves to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction on the ground that plaintiff had failed to file a properly supported administrative claim. The trial court granted the motion without opinion. We reverse.
Shortly after the June 8, 1979 collision with a vehicle owned by the Postal Service, Mrs. Tucker's attorney wrote to the Postmaster of the Norristown, Pennsylvania Post Office putting the Service on notice that she was claiming damages, and requesting the appropriate claim forms. A standard Form 95 was returned, and by letter dated October 23, 1980 her attorney returned the completed forms. That form contains 21 questions, each of which was answered fully, including the amounts claimed for personal injury and property damage, the description of the accident, the names and addresses of witnesses, and the nature and extent of injury.
According to the instructions printed on the reverse side of Form 95, the government requires copies of medical reports from a claimant's physician detailing her injury, treatment, prognosis and expenses. (Instructions, Section (a)). These reports were not forwarded with the Form.
On November 13, 1980 Gale M. Nester, a Postal Service inspector, wrote to Mrs. Tucker's attorney, acknowledging receipt of the claim form. His letter advised:
Please note that the instructions on the back of Standard Form 95 require itemized bills in support of both injury and damage claims.
The letter did not suggest that the itemized bills were a prerequisite to filing Form 95, or that the Form was in any way defective insofar as Mrs. Tucker's claim was concerned. It did, however, make reference to a possible subrogation claim by New Jersey Mfg. Insurance Company, the insurer of Mrs. Tucker's automobile. The Postal Service investigator noted:
In addition, it is stated on that claim that New Jersey Mfg., Insurance Company paid the claimant $314.69 for automobile damage, and also paid medical bills through April 8, 1980. If this is the case, New Jersey Mfg. Insurance Company should claim the amount they paid, and claimant Mary E. Tucker should claim the balance. Otherwise, the Postal Service will require the insurance company to sign a subrogation receipt (copy enclosed), giving authorization to pay the total amount to the claimant.
Extra claim forms are enclosed. Properly executed forms should be forwarded to this office for processing.
In context, it seems plain that the extra claim forms referred to in the last paragraph of the letter were intended for use by New Jersey Mfg. Insurance Company if it intended to assert a subrogation claim for the property damage and no fault medical payments it had made. The letter makes no suggestion that the Form 95 filed on Mrs. Tucker's behalf is defective.
In support of a motion to dismiss the government filed the affidavit of inspector Nester, which acknowledged receipt of Form 95 on October 29, 1980. The affidavit makes no reference to any defect in the Form, but alleges:
On November 13, 1980 I sent (Mrs. Tucker's attorney) a letter stating that itemized bills must be submitted to support injury and damage claims and pointed out that he failed to do so. I have never received the required support documentations and consequently, never had a chance to effectively evaluate Mrs. Tucker's claim.
Thus the sole basis on which the trial court could have acted in dismissing the complaint as time barred was the failure to forward itemized bills as requested in ...