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Wiggins v. Bledsoe

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 29, 2019

RONNIE G. WIGGINS, Plaintiff
v.
BRIAN A. BLEDSOE, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          MANNION, JUDGE [1]

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         On July 12, 2011, plaintiff, Ronnie G. Wiggins, formerly an inmate confined in the United States Penitentiary, Lewisburg, (“USP-Lewisburg”), Pennsylvania, filed the above captioned Bivens[3] action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1331, as well as tort action pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. §2671, et seq. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on November 22, 2011. (Doc. 15). On August 31, 2015, plaintiff was allowed to file a second amended complaint (“SAC”). (Doc. 91-1). As such, plaintiff is proceeding on his SAC.

         Plaintiff essentially alleges that prison staff at USP-Lewisburg failed to protect him when he was attacked and stabbed 22 times in July of 2009 by other inmates, and that they failed to intervene during the attack, in violation of his constitutional rights. The remaining individual defendants with respect to plaintiff's constitutional claims under Bivens are Unit Manager John Adami, SIS Lieutenant S.V. Heath, Lieutenant John Fleming, CO Tim Crawford, and CO Michael Hornberger. Plaintiff also alleges that the United States was negligent since it beached its duty to protect him. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that prison officials knew or should have known that he faced an excessive risk to his safety and they negligently breached their duty by failing to take necessary actions to protect him.

         The trial in this case is scheduled to commence on September 17, 2019.

         On July 29, 2019, nine years after plaintiff filed his amended FTCA administrative tort claim, plaintiff filed a motion to increase the ad damnum damages amount in his claim from $750, 000 to $1.5 million. (Doc. 154). The motion has been briefed and exhibits, (Docs. 155-1, 159-1 & 159-2), have been filed. Based on the following, plaintiff's motion will be GRANTED.

         II. DISCUSSION

         As a prerequisite to suit under the FTCA, a claim must first be presented to the federal agency and be denied by the agency, or be deemed to be denied. Specifically, [u]nder the FTCA, any party asserting a claim for money damages arising out of the negligent or wrongful act of a government employee must first file a claim with the administrative agency at issue.” Rodriguez v. Department of the Army, 2018 WL 935429, *3 (D.N.J. Feb. 16, 2018) (citations omitted).

         Section 2675(a) of Title 28, United States Code, provides in pertinent part:

An action shall not be instituted against the United States for money damages for injury or loss of property or personal injury ... unless the claimant shall have first presented the claim to the appropriate Federal agency and his claim shall have been finally denied by the agency in writing and sent by certified or registered mail. The failure of the agency to make final disposition of a claim within six months after it is filed shall, at the option of the claimant any time thereafter, be deemed a final denial of the claim for purposes of this section....

         The plaintiff has the burden of demonstrating that the agency actually received the administrative claim. Lightfoot v. United States, 564 F.3d 625 (3d Cir. 2009). This burden rests with the plaintiff because, in general, the United States enjoys sovereign immunity from suit unless it otherwise consents to be sued. White-Squire v. U.S. Postal Serv., 592 F.3d 453, 456 (3d Cir. 2010). The United States' “consent to be sued must be ‘unequivocally expressed,' and the terms of such consent define the court's subject matter jurisdiction.” Id. The Federal Tort Claims Act constitutes “a limited waiver of the United States's sovereign immunity.” Id. The FTCA provides that the United States shall be liable, to the same extent as a private individual, “for injury or loss of property, or personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment[.]” 28 U.S.C. §1346(b)(1); see also 28 U.S.C. §2674.

         Prior to commencing an FTCA action against the United States in federal court, however, a plaintiff must “first present[ ] the claim to the appropriate Federal agency” and receive a final denial “by the agency in writing and sent by certified or registered mail.” 28 U.S.C. §2675(a). A claim is considered to be presented when the federal agency receives written notification of the alleged tortious incident and the alleged injuries, together with a claim for money damages in a sum certain. 28 C.F.R. §14.2(a). If the receiving federal agency fails to make a final disposition of the claim within six months from the time it is filed, that failure is “deemed a final denial of the claim” for purposes of commencing suit under the FTCA. 28 U.S.C. §2675(a).

         The Third Circuit has held that “[i]n light of the clear, mandatory language of the statute, and [the] strict construction of the limited waiver of sovereign immunity by the United States, ... the requirement that the appropriate federal agency act on a claim before suit can be brought is jurisdictional and cannot be waived.” Roma v. United States, 344 F.3d 352, 362 (3d Cir. 2003) (citing Livera v. First Nat'l Bank of New Jersey, 879 F.2d 1186, 1194 (3d Cir. 1989)).

         In order to sue the United States in District Court and avoid violating the FTCA's express statute of limitations, a tort claim must be “presented in writing to the appropriate Federal agency within two years after such claim accrues....” 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b); see also Bialowas, 443 F.2d at 1049. Section 2401's “time bar is strictly construed.” Livera v. First Nat. State Bank of N.J.,879 F.2d 1186, 1195 (3d Cir. 1989). The claim accrues “when a plaintiff knows of both the existence and the cause of his injury.” Miller v. Phila. Geriatric Center,463 F.3d 266, 272 (3d Cir. 2006). Moreover, a tort claim is “presented” ...


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