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Vinje v. United States

United States District Court, D. North Dakota

June 10, 2016

William Vinje, Plaintiff,
v.
United States of America, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS

          Charles S. Miller, Jr., Magistrate Judge United States District Court

         Before the court is defendant’s “Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction” filed on May 4, 2016 See Docket No. 11. Both parties consented to proceed before a magistrate judge. For the reasons set forth below, defendants’ motion to dismiss is granted.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, William Vinje (“Vinje”) brought this Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) suit against the United States Postal Service (“USPS”) on February 11, 2016. See Docket No. 1. On March 28, 2016, the court entered an Order substituting the United States of America (“United States”) as the proper party defendant. See Docket No. 10. Vinje alleges that on or about February II, 2014, he was involved in a motor vehicle accident in the State of North Dakota while he was in the scope of his employment with the United States Postal Service. See Docket No. 1. Specifically, Vinje alleges that he was rear ended by a Mr. Lucas Johnson. Id. Vinje seeks damages in the amount of $6, 543.05. Id. Vinje asserts that because he was in the scope of his employment during the accident, his employer, the USPS, is liable for the injuries suffered and expenses incurred by him. Id.

         On May 4, 2016, the United States moved for dismissal of this action because Vinje failed to exhaust his administrative remedies under the FTCA before bringing this suit. See Docket No. 11. On May 31, 2016, the court entered an order allowing Vinje until June 3, 2016 to file a brief in response to defendant’s motion. See Docket No. 13. Plaintiff has not filed a response and the time to do so has passed.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Unlike state courts, a federal district court is a court of limited jurisdiction. Before the court will consider the substantive issues raised by the parties, the court must first determine whether it has jurisdiction over an action. “‘Subject matter jurisdiction defines the court’s authority to hear a given type of case.’” Carlsbad Tech., Inc. v. HIF Bio. Inc., 129 S.Ct. 1862, 1866 (2009) (quoting United States v. Morton, 467 U.S. 822, 828 (1984)). It represents “the extent to which a court can rule on the conduct of persons or the status of things.” Carlsbad Tech., 129 S.Ct. at 1866 (quoting Black’s Law Dictionary 870 (8th ed. 2004)).

         The United States seeks dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Docket No.11. Jurisdictional issues, whether they involve questions of law or fact, are for the court to decide. Mentz v. United States, 359 F.Supp.2d 856, 858 (D.N.D. 2005). Because jurisdiction is a threshold question, the district court may consider matters outside the pleadings when subject matter jurisdiction is challenged under Rule 12(b)(1). Green Acres Enters., Inc. v. United States, 418 F.3d 852, 856 (8th Cir. 2005); Mentz, 359 F.Supp.2d at 858 (quoting Harris v. P.A.M. Transport, Inc., 339 F.3d 635, 637 n.4 (8th Cir. 2003) (quoting Osborn, 918 F.2d at 728 n.4)) (citations omitted). A district court has the authority to dismiss an action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on any one of three separate bases: “(1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court’s resolution of disputed facts.” Johnson v. United States, 534 F.3d 958, 962 (8th Cir. 2008) (quoting Williamson v. Tucker, 645 F.2d 404, 413 (5th Cir. 1981)). Because “there is no statutory procedure upon an issue of jurisdiction, the mode of its determination is left to the trial court.” Id. at 964 (quoting Land v. Dollar, 330 U.S. 731, 735 n.4 (1947)).

         In evaluating a 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, “no presumptive truthfulness attaches to the plaintiff’s allegations, and the existence of undisputed material facts will not preclude the trial court from evaluating for itself the merits of jurisdictional claims.” Mentz, 359 F.Supp.2d at 858 (quoting Osborn, 918 F.2d at 730). A court may make credibility determinations and weigh conflicting evidence in resolving a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1). See T.L. ex rel. Ingram v. United States, 443 F.3d 956, 961 (8th Cir. 2006); see also Mentz, 359 F.Supp.2d at 858. The party seeking to establish federal jurisdiction has the burden of proving that jurisdiction does in fact exist, and “this burden may not be shifted to” the other party. Great Rivers Habitat Alliance v. Fed. Emergency Mgmt. Agency, 2010 WL 3168368, 2 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Newhard, Cook & Co. v. Inspired Life Ctrs, 895 F.2d 1226, 1228 (8th Cir. 1990)); Mentz, 359 F.Supp.2d at 858 (citing Osborn v. United States, 918 F.2d 724, 729 (8th Cir. 1990)).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies

         It is well settled that jurisdiction over any suit against the United States requires a clear statement from the government waiving sovereign immunity, together with a claim falling within the terms of the waiver. United States v. White Mountain Apache Tribe, 537 U.S. 465, 472 (2003) (citations omitted); see generally Hinsley v. Standing Rock Child Protective Services, 516 F.3d 668, 671-672 (8th Cir. 2008); Riley v. United States, 486 F.3d 1030, 1032 (8th Cir. 2007). In this case, Vinje brings suit pursuant to the FTCA, which, if applicable, provides the requisite waiver of sovereign immunity and authorizes suit against the United States for damages caused by negligent or wrongful acts committed by its employees within the scope of their employment. 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b). However, the Act provides:

An action shall not be instituted upon a claim against the United States for money damages for ... personal injury ... 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, 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 an 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.

28 U.S.C. § 2675(a). Furthermore, the FTCA requires that an administrative tort claim be submitted to the applicable federal agency within two years after the claim accrues. 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b). The exhaustion of administrative remedies requirement is an absolute prerequisite to maintaining an ...


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