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Campeau v. United States

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

July 21, 2014

STEPHANIE CAMPEAU, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

WILLIAM S. DUFFEY, Jr., District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the United States of America's ("Defendant") Motion to Dismiss the Complaint for lack of jurisdiction [14], and Stephanie Campeau's ("Plaintiff") Motion for Oral Argument [17].

I. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

On August 7, 2010, Brian R. Campeau died at the Atlanta Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center ("VA Medical Center") as a result of complications from electroconvulsive treatment ("ECT"). On July 2, 2012, lawyers for Brian R. Campeau's mother, Maryellen C. Campeau ("Administrator"), filed an administrative claim form ("the Form") on her behalf as the "Administrator of the Estate of Brian R. Campeau." The Form described the time, place, and manner of Brian R. Campeau's death at the VA Medical Center in a comprehensive manner, and stated in a section entitled "personal injury/wrongful death" that negligence by the VA caused Brian Campeau's death. Maryellen C. Campeau, as the mother of the decedent and the Administrator of his estate, and Stephanie L. Campeau, as the widow of Brian R. Campeau, were listed as witnesses in connection with the claim described on the Form. The section entitled "Amount of Claim" stated $5 million as the amount claimed for personal injury, "N/A" was written underneath the wrongful death section, and the total amount of the claim was stated as $5 million. Brewster R. Rawls signed the SF-95 Form, as "attorney for [the] claimant." Attached to the Form were attested authorizations of legal representation signed by the Administrator and Stephanie Campeau, an Order from the Probate Court of Fulton County appointing the Administrator of Brian R. Campeau's estate, and a letter from the attorney for the Administrator and Stephanie Campeau to the Office of Region Counsel at the Department of Veterans Affairs ("VA") requesting confirmation of the employment status of certain health care providers at the VA Medical Center.

On December 10, 2012, the Administrator's attorney submitted an Amended SF-95 Form ("the Amended Form")[1] that was identical in all respects to the Form, except that the $5 million amount claimed on the Amended Form was listed under the section entitled "wrongful death, " and the space for personal injury damages was left blank.

On April 15, 2013, the VA denied the Administrator's personal injury claim on the merits, stating that its investigation "did not find any negligent or wrongful act or omission on the part of a [VA] employee acting within the scope of his or her employment that caused personal injury to, or resulted in the death of Brian Campeau, at [the VA Medical Center] following elective ECT treatment." See Ex. D., attached to Pl.'s Response in Opp. to Mot. to Dismiss at 2.

In the April 15, 2013 letter, the VA also denied the wrongful death claims asserted by the Administrator in the Form and Amended Form stating:

It is also our determination that "Maryellen C. Campeau, as Administrator of the Estate of Brian R. Campeau" is not a proper party claimant to file a wrongful death claim under Georgia law, and therefore, to the extent that the claim dated July 2, 2012 attempted to assert a wrongful death claim (noting that the claim form indicated "Wrongful Death N/A") or the later received claim dated December 10, 2012 asserted a wrongful death claim, denial is also made on the grounds that same were filed by an individual who is not a proper party claimant. Additionally, the wrongful death claim dated December 10, 2012, and received by VA on December 13, 2012, is denied as untimely, and barred by the two year statute of limitations applicable to FTCA claims.

On April 23, 2013, Plaintiff's attorney wrote a letter to the VA, and enclosed a second amended SF-95 Form ("the Second Amended Form"). The letter stated that since the VA did not address the merits of Stephanie Campeau's wrongful death claim, in her capacity as Brian R. Campeau's spouse, "our understanding is there has been no final disposition as to [her] claim as there has not been any final agency action regarding that claim and we have not exercised our option to file suit pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a). For this reason, the claim remains pending and amendable." The Second Amended Form was identical to the Amended Form, except that Stephanie Campeau was listed as the claimant.

On May 17, 2013, the VA acknowledged receipt of the Plaintiff's Second Amended Form, and concluded to treat it as a "new claim." On May 22, 2013, Plaintiff's attorney sent another letter to the VA disputing the VA's characterization of the Second Amended Form as "new, " and stating that the April 23, 2013 submission, should be treated as an amendment to the Form filed on behalf of the Administrator on July 2, 2012.

B. Procedural History

On November 7, 2013, Plaintiff and the Administrator filed a two (2) count Complaint against the Defendant. In it, they alleged that Brian R. Campeau's death was proximately caused by the negligent medical care provided to him at the VA Medical Center. In Count I of the Complaint, the Administrator asserted a survival action on behalf of the estate seeking $1 million in compensation for (i) the extreme pain and suffering suffered by Brian R. Campeau prior to his death, (ii) funeral and burial expenses, and (iii) any other damages caused by the Defendant's alleged negligence. In Count II of the Complaint, Stephanie Campeau asserted a wrongful death claim seeking $4 million in compensation for the "full value" of Brian R. Campeau's life, including pecuniary and intangible losses that proximately resulted from his death, and were caused by the Defendant's alleged negligence.

On January 1, 2014, Defendant moved to dismiss the Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Defendant argues that Plaintiff and the Administrator failed to comply with the jurisdictional time limits prescribed by 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b). Defendant specifically argues that the Administrator's personal injury claim was untimely because the VA denied the personal injury claim on April 15, 2013, and the Administrator failed to file suit, within six months, [2] after the claim was denied on the merits. Section 2401(b) provides that a tort claim against the United States "shall be forever barred" unless the claimant files suit within six months after the date of final ...


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