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Lancia v. United States

October 4, 2007

HELEN LANCIA AND GARY LANCIA, HER HUSBAND, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), and in the alternative, Rule 12(b)(6). (Doc. 7.) Defendants' motion to dismiss based upon Rule 12(b)(1) will be granted. The Court will dismiss Plaintiffs' claims for failure to meet the requisite statute of limitations pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b).

BACKGROUND

The facts as alleged in Plaintiff's Complaint are as follows.

On or about January 22, 2004, at approximately 2:00 p.m., Plaintiff Helen Lancia was operating a motor vehicle, traveling east on the 1000 Block of West Lackawanna Avenue, Scranton, Lackawanna County. (Compl. ¶ 4,5, Doc. 1.) At that time and place, a United States Postal Worker, operating a U.S. Government Vehicle, pulled out of a parked position on the 1000 Block of West Lackawanna Avenue and struck the side of Plaintiff's vehicle. (Id. ¶ 6.) Plaintiffs claim injuries based upon negligence and lack of consortium (Id.¶ 8-17.)

The Plaintiffs had earlier filed a lawsuit in the Middle District of Pennsylvania alleging negligence and loss of consortium suffered due to a motor vehicle accident with a U.S. Government Vehicle. (United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (Scranton), Civil Docket for Case #3:05-CV-0124, Doc. 1.) The lawsuit was filed on January 18, 2005, over a year before the filing of the Lancias' administrative tort claim in October 2006. (Id.) The Court dismissed this Complaint on July 27, 2006 based upon lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (Id. at Doc. 38.) Plaintiffs then filed an administrative claim with the United States Postal Service on October 23, 2006. (January 22, 2004 Letter Opinion of United States Postal Service Re: Claim 170-04-0147, Doc. 8 Ex. 2.)

On March 21, 2007, Plaintiffs filed a Complaint in the present case. (Doc. 1.) On June 19, 2007, the Defendant United States of America filed the present motion to dismiss the complaint. (Doc. 7.) This motion is fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

LEGAL STANDARD

The Government has moved for dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), or in the alternative Rule 12(b)(6). (Doc. 7.) As an affirmative defense, a statute of limitations defense may be raised in a Rule 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Bethel v. Jendoco Constr. Corp., 570 F.2d 1168, 1174 (3d Cir. 1978). However, since a statute of limitations defense will usually involve factual questions as to when a plaintiff discovered or should have discovered the elements of its cause of action, the defendant will bear a heavy burden in seeking to establish that the claim is barred by a matter of law. Souther Cross Overseas Agencies, Inc. v. Wah Kwong Shipping Group Ltd., 171 F.3d 410, 425 (3d Cir. 1999).

The FTCA represents a limited waiver of the sovereign immunity of the United States, which Congress granted subject to the time limitations contained in 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b). United State v. Kubrick, 444 U.S. 111, 117 (1979). Therefore, since compliance with § 2401(b) is a jurisdictional prerequisite to suit under the FTCA, a defense that the claim is time-barred may also be raised in a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. See Deakyne v. Dep't of the Army Corps of Engineers, 701 F.2d 271, 274 n. 4 (3d Cir. 1983).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) provides for dismissal of an action where the court lacks jurisdiction over the subject matter of that action. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(1).

Unlike dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1) is not a judgment on the merits of a plaintiff's case, but only a determination that the court lacks the authority to hear the case. See Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. And Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977). A defendant may challenge the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in two fashions. Id. Where a defendant attacks the complaint as deficient on its face, the Court must assume that "the allegations contained in the complaint are true." Id. In deciding a Rule 12(b)(1) facial attack, the court may only consider the allegations contained in the complaint and the exhibits attached to the complaint; matters of public record such as court records, letter decisions of government agencies and published reports of administrative bodies; and "undisputably authentic" documents which the plaintiff has identified as a basis of his claims and which the defendant has attached as exhibits to his motion to dismiss. Hunter v. United States, 2000 WL 1880257, at *3 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 15, 2000). See generally Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus. Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196-97 (3d Cir. 1993).

When the motion to dismiss attacks the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in fact, no presumptive truthfulness attaches to the allegation included in the plaintiff's complaint. Carpet Group Int'l v. Oriental Rug Imps. Ass'n, Inc., 227 F.3d 62, 69 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Mortensen, 549 F.2d at 891). If the defendant submits and the court considers evidence that controverts the plaintiff's allegations, the motion must be treated as a factual challenge under Rule 12(b)(1). Gould, 220 F.3d at 178. Thus, the Court may weigh all of the available evidence to satisfy itself that subject matter jurisdiction indeed exists. Mortensen, 549 F.2d at 891. In a factual challenge, the plaintiff must be permitted to respond to the defendant's evidence with evidence supporting jurisdiction. Id. It is important to note also that the existence of disputed material facts will not preclude the Court from evaluating the jurisdictional allegations set forth in the complaint. Gould Elecs., 220 F.3d at 176.

As the Defendants have yet to file an answer, Defendants' motion to dismiss will be treated as a facialattack on subject matter jurisdiction. Accordingly, this Court will consider the allegations contained in the complaint, the official docket of the Lancias' 2005 lawsuit in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, and the letter opinion by the United States Postal Service denying the Lancias' administrative tort claim. The last two of these documents are matters of public record, and thus may properly be considered in a Rule 12(b)(6) motion or a Rule 12(b)(1) facial ...


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