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Gaffney v. United States

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 26, 2015

FLORENCE GAFFNEY, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ROBERT D. MARIANI, District Judge.

I. Introduction

The above-captioned matter arises out of an assault and battery that the Plaintiff, Florence Gaffney, allegedly suffered at the hands of a Social Security Administrative Law Judge, one Sridhar Saini. Plaintiff sued multiple Defendants, including Judge Saini and his employer, the United States Government, under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"). The United States then filed a Motion to Dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny the Motion without prejudice on 12(b)(1) jurisdictional grounds. However, the Court will dismiss the Complaint on the separate ground of failure to state aclaim under Rule 12(b)(6). It will do so with leave to amend so that Plaintiff may submit an amended complaint that alleges with specificity the actions that the United States' agents or employees actually took that give rise to FTCA liability.

II. Factual Background and Procedural History

This action arises out of two incidents at the Social Security Administration office in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

The factual allegations may be simply stated. First, the Plaintiff, Florence Gaffney, alleges that, while she was present at the Scranton Social Security Office on the afternoon of June 30, 2011 for other business, Defendant Administrative Law Judge Sridhar Soini approached her, "reached under her right arm and fondled her right and left breasts" in the presence of asecurity guard. (Compl., Doc. 1, at ¶¶ 18, 20.) Second, Plaintiff alleges that several days later, Judge Soini continued his course of sexually illicit conduct by making "sexual gestures to the Plaintiff... using his tongue and mouth" while standing outside the Social Security office. (Id. at ¶ 21.)

Plaintiff further alleges that "Sridhar Soini[] was an alcoholic and would routinely consume alcohol during work hours, " ( id. at ¶ 22), that he "routinely and regularly displayed inappropriate and/or illicit behavior towards females, " (id. at ¶ 23), and that, at the time that he fondled Plaintiffs breasts, Plaintiff "smelled an odor of alcohol" on his person, (id. at ¶ 19). Finally, Plaintiff alleges-albeit in aconclusory fashion-that "the Defendants, collectively, by and through their agent [ sic ], servants and employees knew or should have known that the Defendant, Sridhar Soini, became intoxicated during work hours and behaved inappropriately and/or illicitly around females" and that "the conduct of the Defendants, Individually, and by and through their agents, servants and/or employees... were careless and negligent." ( ld. at ¶¶ 24-25.)

The United States filed the aforementioned Motion to Dismiss, arguing that as a matter of law it had not waived its sovereign immunity from this particular type of suit under the FTCA. The Court held Oral Argument on the Motion on March 16, 2015.

Plaintiff stated in her brief and reiterated during Oral Argument that her claim against the United States does not rest on the premise that the Government is liable for actions that Judge Soini took within the scope of his employment, as would be the typical ground for an FTCA claim. Rather, Plaintiff states that her claim only "arises from the [United States'] failure to protect [her] from Judge Soini." (See Pl.'s Sr. in Opp. to Mot. to Dismiss, Doc. 16, at 2 n.1.)

Now that the Court has heard Oral Argument, the matter is ripe for resolution.

III. Analysis

a. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

i. Standard of Review

Defendant challenges Plaintiffs Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), which authorizes the Court to dismiss a Complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. (Def.'s Sr. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss, Doc. 14, at 3.)

There are two types of 12(b)(1) motions: "12(b)(1) motions that attack the complaint on its face and 12(b)(1) motions that attack the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in fact, quite apart from any pleadings." Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977). "[A]t issue in a factual 12(b)(1) motion is the trial court's jurisdiction[, ] its very power to hear the case." Id. Thus, in evaluating such factual challenges,

there is substantial authority that the trial court is free to weigh the evidence and satisfy itself as to the existence of its power to hear the case. In short, no presumptive truthfulness attaches to plaintiffs allegations, and the existence of disputed material facts will not preclude the trial court from evaluating for itself the merits of jurisdictional ...

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