On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey District Court No. 3-08-cv-03486 District Judge: The Honorable Mary L. Cooper.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Smith, Circuit Judge.
Submitted Pursuant to Third Circuit L.A.R. 34.1(a) January 15, 2010
Before: SCIRICA, Chief Judge, BARRY, and SMITH, Circuit Judges
This appeal requires us to determine whether a claimant under the Federal Tort Claims Act, whose damages continue to accrue, must nevertheless submit a claim to the appropriate agency containing a "sum certain" for damages prior to filing suit. Because the sum certain requirement is jurisdictional, we answer this question in the affirmative.
On July 17, 2006, a United States Postal Service ("USPS") vehicle driven by a USPS employee acting within the scope of his employment allegedly collided with a car driven by Plaintiff Monica White-Squire, causing her serious personal injury. On August 15, 2006, White-Squire's attorney sent a letter to the USPS purporting to provide formal notice that White-Squire was pursuing a personal injury claim against it.*fn1 This letter did not include a sum certain claim for damages.
The USPS responded by letter on August 18, 2006, and provided White-Squire's attorney with two copies of the Standard Form 95 claim form. The August 18 letter outlined the administrative presentment requirements under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), including the requirement, written in bold typeface, that "[a] claim must be for a specific amount." The USPS sent White-Squire's attorney a second letter, dated August 22, 2006, explaining that White-Squire's August 15 letter "does not constitute a valid claim." The August 22 letter also directed White-Squire to the statutes and regulations governing the procedures for submitting a claim under the FTCA. The USPS again informed White-Squire that to satisfy the administrative presentment requirements, a claim must be accompanied by "a 'sum certain' amount for injuries or losses alleged to have occurred by reason of the incident."
In a letter to the USPS dated October 6, 2006, WhiteSquire's attorney acknowledged receipt of the August 22, 2006, letter. He also advised the USPS that he would be submitting White-Squire's medical records and a "'sum certain' demand to resolve the claim" once White-Squire was discharged from her doctors' care. White-Squire never submitted a completed Standard Form 95, supporting medical records, or a sum certain demand for damages to the USPS.
On July 14, 2008, White-Squire filed this action in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey against the USPS seeking damages for personal injury arising from the collision. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), the USPS moved to dismiss the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because White-Squire failed to provide the USPS with a sum certain request for damages as required by the FTCA. 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a), (b); 28 C.F.R. § 14.2(a). The District Court granted the USPS's motion and dismissed the case, concluding that White-Squire's failure to submit a sum certain claim deprived it of subject matter jurisdiction. White-Squire timely filed this appeal.*fn2
White-Squire sought to invoke the District Court's subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b). For reasons that we will explain infra, the District Court was correct in concluding that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over White-Squire's claim; however, "it is familiar law that a federal court always has jurisdiction to determine its own jurisdiction." United States v. Ruiz, 536 U.S. 622, 628 (2002) (citation omitted). Appellate jurisdiction is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. When reviewing an order dismissing a claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, we exercise ...