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Albert v. Abramson's Enterprises Inc.

May 20, 1986

PATRICIA ALBERT, ERROL ALBERT
v.
ABRAMSON'S ENTERPRISES, INC. GOVERNMENT OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS, GOVERNMENT OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS, APPELLANT



Appeal from the District Court of the Virgin Islands (Division of St. Croix) (D.C. No. 84-086)

Author: Mansmann

BEFORE: HUNTER, WEIS and MANSMANN, Circuit Judges.

Opinion OF THE COURT

MANSMANN, Circuit Judge.

The sole issue raised in this appeal is whether the filing of a complaint constitutes the filing of a "claim" within the meaning of the Virgin Islands Tort Claims Act, 33 V.I.C. ยง 3401 et seq. (Equity 1967 & Supp. 1985). Finding that adequate notice was provided by the filing of the complaint, we hold that the statutory requirements were met and, therefore, will affirm the judgment of the district court.

I.

On March 2, 1984, a school bus owned by Abramson's Enterprises, Inc. (Abramson) and driven by an Abramson employee struck and injured Errol Albert in the schoolyard of the Pearl B. Larsen School. The Abramson Company was under contract with the government to provide bus transportation for the school children.

On March 19, 1984, a complaint was filed alleging negligence on behalf of the bus company in the operation of the bus and negligence on behalf of the government for failing properly to supervise the children awaiting to board the bus. A copy of the complaint was served upon the Office of the Governor on March 20, 1984, and the Governor acknowledged in writing the receipt of the complaint on March 21, 1984. A copy of the complaint was also served upon the Office of the Attorney General on March 29, 1984.

In its Answer the government represented that the district court did not possess subject matter jurisdiction, noting that the plaintiff had failed to comply with the filing provisions of the Virgin Islands Tort Claim Act. The district court rejected the government's argument with regard to jurisdiction.

After a non-jury trial, the court found in favor of plaintiff and against both defendants and awarded the amount of $13,739.00, assessing liability at 60% for the government and 40% for Abramson.*fn1

II.

The government argues that because the plaintiff failed to comply with the procedural filing requirements of the Virgin Islands Tort Claim Act, the district court improperly denied its motion to dismiss the case. Specifically, the government contend that the plaintiff's filing of a complaint did not constitute the filing of a proper claim within the meaning of the Tort Claims Act.

This precise issue had not previously been addressed by our court. We turn, then, to the statute itself. In interpreting the provision of any statute, we begin with the language of the statute, for it is presumed that "'the legitimate legislative purpose is expressed by the ordinary meaning of the words used'" Barnes v. Cohen, 749 F.2d 1009, 1013 (3d Cir. 1984), citing Richards v. United States, 369 U.S. 1, 9, 7 L. Ed. 2d 492, 82 S. Ct. 585 (1962). Additionally, we are to look to the entire statute as well as to its object and policy. Ideal Farms, Inc. v. Benson, 288 F.2d 608, 613 (3d Cir. 1961), cert. denied, 372 U.S. 965, 83 S. Ct. 1087, 10 L. Ed. 2d 128 (1963).

Under the provisions of the Tort Claims Act, the Government of the Virgin Islands waives its immunity from tort liability and "consents to have its liability determined in accordance with the same rules of law as applied to actions in the courts of the Virgin Islands against individuals and corporations: Provided, ...


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