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Lee v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division

January 18, 2019




         This Federal Tort Claims Act lawsuit comes before the Court on Defendant United States of America's Motion to Dismiss, (doc. 10), and Plaintiffs Jarred and Heather Lee's Request for Oral Argument, (doc. 18).[1] Plaintiffs filed a Response in Opposition to Defendant's Motion, (doc. 15), and Defendant filed a Reply, (doc. 17). This case arises out of a motor vehicle collision between Plaintiff Jarred Micah Lee's vehicle and a military service vehicle on a public highway on the Fort Stewart military reservation. The parties dispute whether the Feres doctrine precludes the Court from exercising jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' claims. Defendant has failed to establish that the collision arose out of or occurred in the course of activity incident to Mr. Lee's military service. Thus, Mr. Lee's claims survive Defendant's Motion. However, Plaintiff Heather Lee failed to timely exhaust her administrative remedies prior to filing this lawsuit, and, therefore, the Court lacks jurisdiction over her claims.

         For these reasons, which the Court explains more fully below, the Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, (doc. 10). The Court DISMISSES all claims of Plaintiff Heather Lee for failure to exhaust and DIRECTS the Clerk of Court to terminate her as a party to this case. The Court also DENIES Plaintiffs' Request for Oral Argument, (doc. 18).[2]


         Plaintiff Jarred Micah Lee (at times “Mr. Lee”), and his wife, Plaintiff Heather Lynn Lee (at times “Mrs. Lee”), filed this action against the United States requesting damages incident to injuries that Mr. Lee sustained in a collision with a military vehicle. (Doc. 1, pp. 1-4.) Mr. Lee is a former Specialist in the United States Army and, at all times relevant to this action, Mr. Lee was on active duty at Fort Stewart Military Reservation (“Fort Stewart”) where he resided with his wife and minor son. (Id.) On the weekend of the accident, Mr. Lee had what is known as a “pass.” (Id. at p. 4.) Passes are “short, non-chargeable, authorized absence[s] from post or place of duty during normal off duty hours.” (Doc. 17-1, p. 1.) Mr. Lee had a “weekend pass” and was not expected to report for duty at Fort Stewart until Monday morning, April 25, 2016. (Doc. 1, p. 4.)

         Mr. Lee utilized his weekend pass on Saturday, April 23, 2016, when he left Fort Stewart in his personal vehicle to have dinner with his son. (Id.) On the drive home, Mr. Lee and his son traveled on Georgia Highway 144 East, a public highway which traverses Fort Stewart. (Id.) As Mr. Lee's vehicle approached the intersection of 144 East and Fort Stewart Road 58B, it collided with a military tractor-trailer driven by an active duty United States Marine. (Id. at pp. 3-4.) Mr. Lee sustained significant injuries in the accident and was subsequently medically discharged from the Army. (Doc. 10-1, pp. 1-2.)

         Plaintiffs filed this action on March 16, 2018, pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346, 2671 et seq. (“FTCA”), alleging negligence, vicarious liability, and loss of consortium. (Doc. 1.) On May 22, 2018, Defendant filed the instant Motion to Dismiss, claiming the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the claims of both Mr. and Mrs. Lee. (Doc. 10.) Defendant contends that any claims asserted by Mrs. Lee must be dismissed because she failed to exhaust her administrative remedies as required under the FTCA. (Doc. 10-1, p. 4.) As to Mr. Lee's claims, Defendant urges that such claims are barred by the Feres doctrine, which is described in detail below. (Id. at p. 6.) In their Response, Plaintiffs address Defendant's arguments regarding Mr. Lee's claims and aver that the case is properly before the Court. (Doc. 15.)


         A court may dismiss a complaint when it lacks subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). Motions pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) take one of two forms: a “facial attack” on subject matter jurisdiction based on the complaint's allegations taken as true or a “factual attack” based on evidentiary matters outside of the pleadings. McElmurray v. Consol. Gov't of Augusta-Richmond Cty., 501 F.3d 1244, 1251 (11th Cir. 2007) (citing Lawrence v. Dunbar, 919 F.2d 1525, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990)). In the “factual attack” context, the court considers whether subject matter jurisdiction tangibly exists in fact, irrespective of the complaint's allegations. Id. When faced with such a challenge to subject matter jurisdiction, a plaintiff has the burden to prove facts which show jurisdiction exists over its claims. OSI, Inc. v. United States, 285 F.3d 947, 951 (11th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted).

         To resolve a factual attack, a court “may consider extrinsic evidence such as testimony and affidavits, ” rather than being constrained to the allegations in the complaint. Morrison v. Amway Corp., 323 F.3d 920, 924 n.5 (11th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). Courts are “free to weigh the facts, ” subject to clearly erroneous review, without viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs. Carmichael v. Kellogg, Brown & Root Servs., Inc., 572 F.3d 1271, 1279 (11th Cir. 2009). In deciding a fact-based motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, a court may dismiss on the basis of (1) “the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record” or (2) “the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts.” Williamson v. Tucker, 645 F.2d 404, 412 (5th Cir. 1981).[3]And while plaintiffs are entitled to a reasonable opportunity for discovery and a hearing on this issue, courts are empowered to decide factual motions on affidavits alone, where appropriate, so long as its factual determinations are identified and explained. Id. at 413-14 (citations omitted); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 43(c) (“[T]he court may hear [a motion] on affidavits or may hear it wholly or partly on oral testimony or depositions.”). Furthermore, courts are to “use their judicial experience and common sense in determining whether” a case meets federal jurisdictional requirements. Roe v. Michelin N. Am., Inc., 613 F.3d 1058, 1062 & n.5 (11th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted).


         I. Dismissal of Plaintiff Mrs. Lee's Claims for Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies

         Defendant contends that any claims brought by Mrs. Lee should be dismissed because she did not exhaust her administrative remedies as required by the FTCA, 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a).[4] (Doc. 10-1, pp. 4-6.) Plaintiffs did not address this argument but did note that the dismissal of Mrs. Lee's claims should not impact any claims brought by Mr. Lee. (Doc. 15-1, p. 3.)

         According to Plaintiffs' Complaint, this action and all claims contained therein were brought pursuant to the FTCA. (Doc. 1, p. 1.) However, a federal court may not exercise jurisdiction over an FTCA suit unless the claimant first files an administrative claim with the appropriate agency within two years from the time the claim accrues. 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a). A tort claim under the FTCA “accrues” at the time of the relevant injury-here, Mr. Lee's accident on April 23, 2016. Cruz v. United States, 522 Fed.Appx. 635, 637 (11th. Cir. 2013). Defendant put forth undisputed evidence showing that, as of May 15, 2018, Mrs. Lee had not filed an administrative claim.[5] (Doc. 10-4.) Because Mrs. Lee did not satisfy the statutory prerequisites for a claim brought under the FTCA, the Court lacks jurisdiction ...

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