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Ronald Lay and Carol Lay v. United States of America

May 2, 2011

RONALD LAY AND CAROL LAY, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Defendant United States of America's motion to dismiss. (Doc. 6.) Defendant claims that Plaintiffs' complaint should be dismissed either for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction or for failure to state a claim because Plaintiffs failed to follow the procedures of the Federal Tort Claims Act, specifically, providing a 'sum certain' as to damages sought within the applicable two-year limitations period. The Court agrees, and the complaint will be dismissed.

BACKGROUND

The facts alleged in the complaint are as follows.

Plaintiffs are Pennsylvania citizens. At all times relevant to this action, Defendant acted by and through the Transportation Security Administration ("TSA"), a federal agency organized, existing, and operating under and pursuant to the laws of Defendant United States of America. On June 22, 2007, Plaintiff Ronald Lay was checking his baggage at the check-in counter at the Arkansas Regional Airport in Bentonville, Arkansas. After checking-in his baggage, Plaintiff fell over a baggage cart owned by Defendant. The cart had "no straps across the same and was the same color as the floor." Plaintiff was taken to the Emergency room of a local hospital, and, after an x-ray was taken, was told he had fractured his hip and would need surgery.

Plaintiffs' lawyer, Ronald Bumpass, submitted a claim to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security\TSA on September 24, 2007. The letter outlined the incident and Mr. Lay's injuries, stated that Mr. Lay had hip surgery on June 23, 2007, and further stated that, "Mr. Lay's Medical bills are already over $27,000.00, not to mention the money put out for hotels, meals, shuttles, airfare and prescription." Mr. Bumpass then submitted a second letter on December 16, 2009, claiming one-hundred thousand dollars ($100,000.00) as medical bills, out of pocket expenses, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment. On February 4, 2010, the TSA sent Mr. Bumpass a letter denying Plaintiff's claim. After a Request for Reconsideration of Denial of Claim was submitted, the TSA on September 14, 2010 sent Mr. Bumpass a final denial letter. Plaintiffs then filed this complaint on December 23, 2010, bringing claims for negligence (Count I) and loss of consortium (Count II). Defendant then filed a motion to dismiss on March 18, 2011. The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for review.

LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, a plaintiff has not pleaded "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), meaning enough factual allegations "'to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of'" each necessary element, Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); see also Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993) (requiring a complaint to set forth information from which each element of a claim may be inferred). In light of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), the statement need only "'give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "[T]he factual detail in a complaint [must not be] so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant [with] the type of notice of claim which is contemplated by Rule 8." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232; see also Airborne Beepers & Video, Inc. v. AT&T Mobility LLC, 499 F.3d 663, 667 (7th Cir. 2007).

In deciding a motion to dismiss, the Court should consider the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, and matters of public record. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). The Court may also consider "undisputedly authentic" documents when the plaintiff's claims are based on the documents and the defendant has attached copies of the documents to the motion to dismiss. Id. The Court need not assume the plaintiff can prove facts that were not alleged in the complaint, see City of Pittsburgh v. W. Penn Power Co., 147 F.3d 256, 263 & n.13 (3d Cir. 1998), or credit a complaint's "'bald assertions'" or "'legal conclusions,'" Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1429-30 (3d Cir. 1997)). "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009).

When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court's role is limited to determining if a plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of her claims. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). The Court does not consider whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail. See id. A defendant bears the burden of establishing that a plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim. See Gould Elecs. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).

DISCUSSION

I. Plaintiff Ronald Lay's Negligence Claim

Plaintiffs' negligence claim will be dismissed for failing to meet the jurisdictional prerequisites for bringing a suit against the United States in federal court.

As a sovereign, the United States is immune from suit unless it consents to be sued. United States v. Mitchell, 445 U.S. 535, 538 (1980). The Federal Torts Claim Act ("FTCA") operates as a limited waiver of the United States's sovereign immunity. See Roma v. United States, 344 F.3d 352, 362 (3d Cir.2003). "Because the Federal Tort Claims Act constitutes a waiver of sovereign immunity, the Act's established procedures have been strictly construed." Livera v. First Nat'l State Bank of N.J., 879 F.2d 1186, 1194 (3d ...


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