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Walker v. United States

United States District Court, Third Circuit

October 31, 2013

GORDON S. WALKER, SR., Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

CHRISTOPHER J. BURKE, Magistrate Judge.

In this action filed pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2671, et seq., Plaintiff Gordon S. Walker, Sr. ("Plaintiff' or "Walker") brought a negligence suit against Defendant United States of America ("Defendant" or the "Government"). Presently pending before the Court is Defendant's motion to dismiss the Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) ("Motion"). (D.I. 43) For the reasons that follow, the Court recommends that the Motion be GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual and Procedural Background

On September 28, 2009, a car driven by Donna Phelps ("Phelps") rear-ended a car driven by Plaintiff, while Plaintiff's car was stopped at the intersection of South State Street, Roosevelt Avenue and Wyoming Avenue in Dover, Delaware. (D.I. 1 at ¶¶ 8-9; D.I. 46 at 1) At the time of the incident, Phelps was an employee of the United States Postal Service ("USPS"). (D.I. 1 at ¶ 9; D.I. 7 at ¶¶ 9-10; D.I. 47 at 3)

On February 3, 2010, Phelps's insurance carrier denied coverage for Plaintiff's claim against Phelps, noting that "[a]t the time of the loss our insured, Donna Phelps was working for the United States Post Office"; the carrier's letter directed Plaintiff to contact a particular USPS employee to further pursue his claim. (D.I. 46, ex. 3)

On February 26, 2010, Plaintiff's counsel directed a letter to the USPS, indicating that Plaintiff had obtained representation in the matter. ( Id., ex. 4) The February 26, 2010 letter enclosed a copy of a police report regarding the accident and the letter from Phelps's insurance carrier denying coverage, but did not include a demand for money damages. ( Id. )

A reply letter from the USPS, dated March 5, 2010, advised Plaintiff to present a claim on a Standard Form 95 ("SF95") within two years of the incident. ( Id., ex. 5) The USPS letter enclosed a copy of the SF95, as well as instructions that the form "must be filled out completely and submitted with supporting documentation before this paperwork will constitute a valid claim." ( Id. )

Plaintiff did not next correspond with the USPS until April 6, 2011, over a year later, when his counsel directed a letter to the USPS that: (1) related the alleged facts regarding the incident, (2) provided details regarding Plaintiff's medical condition, and (3) demanded a sum of $125, 000 for the injuries that he sustained in the accident. (D.I. 44, ex. 3) The letter was marked as received by the USPS on April 26, 2011. ( Id. )

Additionally, at some point thereafter, Plaintiff's counsel submitted an SF95 to the USPS on Plaintiff's behalf. (D.I. 46 at 2) The USPS received the form on April 26, 2011. (D.I. 46, ex. 6)[1] However, certain boxes on the form were left blank, and thus the form did not contain certain requested information, such as the date of the claim or the signature of the claimant. ( Id. ; D.I. 44, ex. 4) Therefore, on April 26, 2011, the USPS sent Plaintiff a letter indicating that his last correspondence "[could not] be accepted as a valid claim" and advised Plaintiff to "supply all material facts on" an SF95 in order for Plaintiff's "claim to receive proper consideration." (D.I. 44, ex. 4) The letter specified the particular boxes that had been left blank on the prior, incomplete SF95. ( Id. ) It also enclosed a new SF95, along with instructions that the form should be "completed and resubmitted, in its original form, before the [USPS] can take any action to dispose of this claim." ( Id. )

On May 13, 2011, Plaintiff's counsel sent a letter to the USPS by mail, enclosing, inter alia, a now fully completed SF95. (D.I. 44, ex. 5) This form had been signed by Plaintiff, and on it, Plaintiff had listed his "Date of Claim" as April 25, 2011. ( Id., ex. 6) The USPS received this letter and the enclosed SF95 on May 16, 2011. ( Id., exs. 5 & 6) Despite any language to the contrary in its prior correspondence (and despite Plaintiff's assertion that his "Date of Claim" was April 25, 2011), the USPS thereafter considered the date of receipt of Plaintiff's complete, valid claim to be April 26, 2011.[2] ( Id., ex. 7)

On May 19, 2011, the USPS mailed Plaintiff a letter in which it acknowledged April 26, 2011 as the date of claim, stated that the USPS "intend[s] to adjudicate this claim as soon as possible, " and informed Plaintiff that "by Statute, the Postal Service has six months from April 26, 2011 in which to adjudicate your claim." ( Id. )

On September 26, 2011, Plaintiff filed his Complaint in the instant case against both Phelps and the Government. (D.I. 1) Thereafter, on October 20, 2011, the USPS denied Plaintiff's administrative claim, on the ground that it "determined that [] Phelps was not acting within the scope of her employment at the time of the incident." (D.I. 44, ex. 8 at 1) In that letter, the USPS wrote that "any suit filed in regards to this denial must be filed no later than six (6) months from the date of the mailing of this letter, which is the date [October 20, 2011] shown above." ( Id. )

A few months later, on January 13, 2012, the Government filed an Answer in the instant case, and also prepared a stipulation (later granted) to remove Phelps as a defendant. (D.I. 7, 9, 10) In its Answer, the Government now repeatedly acknowledged and admitted that, contrary to the USPS's prior position, Phelps "was operating a vehicle in the scope and course of her employment with the United States Postal Service at the approximate time and place of the events alleged in the Complaint." (D.I. 7 at ¶¶ 9-10) On the same date, the Government filed a separate certification stating the same. (D.I. 8)[3]

This case was later referred to the Court by Chief Judge Gregory M. Sleet on May 7, 2012, for the Court to conduct all proceedings related to dispositive and nondispositive motions up to the pretrial conference. (D.I. 12) On June 27, 2013, the Government filed the instant Motion. (D.I. ...


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