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Antonio Seldon, et al. v. Robert Gibbs

January 23, 2012

ANTONIO SELDON, ET AL.
v.
ROBERT GIBBS, ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLaughlin, J.

MEMORANDUM

This lawsuit arises from a car accident. Plaintiffs Antonio Seldon and Patricia Williams brought a negligence action against defendants Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") and Robert Gibbs in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia. The FBI removed to this Court based on the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), which is the exclusive remedy for negligence actions arising from the acts of the federal government and its employees. 28 U.S.C. § 2679.

Defendant FBI now moves to dismiss with prejudice all claims against it for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction because of the plaintiffs' failure to comply with the jurisdictional requirements of the FTCA. The Court will grant the motion.

I. Factual Background*fn1

The plaintiffs' car collided with that of defendant Robert Gibbs on the evening of September 25, 2009. Gibbs was being pursued by an FBI agent at the time of the accident.*fn2

On February 2, 2011, plaintiffs' counsel mailed two Standard Form 95 ("SF 95") claim forms to the FBI. Where the form requested the amount of the plaintiffs' claim in dollars, the plaintiffs wrote "to be determined." The instructions for the SF 95 warn that failure to specify a sum certain will render claims invalid and may result in forfeiture of rights. Pls.' Opp., Ex. B.

On March 21, 2011, the FBI requested documentation to support the personal injury and property damage claims and alerted the plaintiffs to the missing sum certain figures on their SF 95 claim forms. Pls.' Opp., Ex. C ("We are returning the original SF 95s so you may add the sum certains in blocks 12a, 12b and 12d once you have established them.").

In response, on July 12, 2011, the plaintiffs sent a letter to the FBI (hereinafter the "July 12th Letter") specifying that "Mr. Seldon's total medical bills are $23,063.00 and Patricia Williams' total medical bills are $20,290.00 and Ms. Williams' 2004 Hyundai Sonata was a total loss." Pls.' Opp., Ex. D. The plaintiffs did not provide a more specific figure for the loss of the Hyundai.

The FBI responded by once again requesting that plaintiffs provide sum certain figures on the SF 95. Pls.' Opp., Ex. E. On August 10, 2011, the plaintiffs provided medical records and bills to the FBI.*fn3 Pls.' Opp., Ex. F.

The plaintiffs initiated this action on September 22, 2011, claiming severe injuries, past and future pain and suffering, loss of earning power and capacity, diminution of ability to enjoy life and life's pleasures, future medical expenses, income and wage losses, and property damages. The complaint requested an amount not in excess of $50,000.00 in money damages.

II. Analysis

Unless it consents to be sued, the United States is immune from suit as a sovereign. United States v. Mitchell, 445 U.S. 535, 538 (1980). Although the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA") provides a limited waiver of sovereign immunity for tort claims against the United States and its agencies, its terms and requirements are strictly construed in favor of the sovereign. White-Squire v. U.S. Postal Serv., 592 F.3d 453, 456 (3d Cir. 2010); Livera v. First Nat'l Bank, 879 F.2d 1186, 1194 (3d Cir.), cert. denied 493 U.S. 937 (1989).

One of the FTCA's strict jurisdictional requirements is that an administrative claim specifying a claim for money damages in a sum certain be submitted prior to initiating an FTCA action. White-Squire, 592 F.3d at 457-58; Bialowas v. United States, 443 F.2d 1047, 1048-49 (3d Cir. 1971); 28 U.S.C. § 2675; 28 C.F.R. § 14.2. The purpose of the sum certain requirement is to enable the head of the federal agency to determine whether the claim falls within the jurisdictional limits of his exclusive authority to process, settle, or to properly adjudicate the claim. See Bialowas, 443 F.2d at 1050; see also White-Squire, 592 F.3d at 459 (purpose of requiring administrative presentment is to encourage ...


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