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Hendley v. United States

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Valdosta Division

February 22, 2019

MICHAEL HENDLEY, DEMETRIUS SMITH, JR., as administrator for the estate of CRYNDOLYN HANKINS, Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

          ORDER

          HUGH LAWSON, SENIOR JUDGE

         Plaintiffs Michael Hendley and Demetrius Smith, Jr., as the administrator for the estate of Cryndolyn Hankins, filed this lawsuit pursuant to the Federal Torts Claims Act (“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b), 2401, 2671-2680, against Defendant the United States of America[1] to recover damages sustained from a motor vehicle accident in Lowndes County, Georgia. Defendants now move the Court to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims as time-barred. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 10).

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs allege that on or about August 23, 2016, they were traveling along Fry Street in Lowndes County, Georgia. (Doc. 1, ¶ 1). As Plaintiffs' vehicle approached the intersection of Fry Street and East Hill Avenue, Paul Logan Garey, who was traveling along East Hill Avenue, collided with their vehicle. (Id. at ¶¶ 8-9). Plaintiffs contend that the accident occurred as a result of Garey's negligent and unlawful failure to obey a traffic signal. (Id. at ¶ 9). Plaintiffs claim that the accident caused them to suffer bodily injury, property loss, and other damages. (Id. at ¶¶ 10, 12).

         Following the accident, Plaintiffs, through counsel, filed an administrative tort claim with the United States Air Force as required the FTCA. By letter dated March 13, 2017, the Air Force denied Plaintiffs' claims. (Doc. 10-1, p. 1). The letter was properly addressed to Plaintiffs' counsel and was mailed via certified mail, return receipt requested. (Id. at p. 2-3). The letter advised Plaintiffs that, “[i]f they are dissatisfied with this decision, they may file suit in an appropriate United States District Court no later than six months after the date of the mailing of this letter.” (Id. at p. 1). Plaintiffs subsequently filed suit in this Court on November 20, 2017. (Doc. 1).

         II. MOTION TO DISMISS STANDARD

         When reviewing a motion to dismiss, the court shall accept “all well-pleaded facts . . . as true, and the reasonable inferences therefrom are construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Bryant v. Avado Brands, Inc., 187 F.3d 1271, 1273 n.1 (11th Cir. 1999). The court must dismiss the complaint if, “on the basis of a dispositive issue of law, no construction of the factual allegations will support the cause of action.” Marshall Cnty. Bd. of Educ. v. Marshall Cnty. Gas Dist., 992 F.2d 1171, 1174 (11th Cir. 1993) (citing Executive 100, Inc. v. Martin County, 992 F.2d 1536, 1539 (11th Cir. 1991) and Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 682 (1946)). Accordingly, to avoid dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).

         A court “generally may not look beyond the pleadings” to consider extrinsic documents when ruling on a motion to dismiss. United States ex rel. Osheroff v. Humana, Inc., 776 F.3d 805, 811 (11th Cir. 2015). However, “a district court may consider an extrinsic document even on Rule 12(b)(6) review if it is (1) central to the plaintiff's claim and (2) its authenticity is not challenged.” Id. Defendant here attached to its motion to dismiss a copy of the certified letter sent to Plaintiffs notifying them of the denial of their claim. (Doc. 10-1, p. 1). Because the timing of this notice is central to Defendant's argument that Plaintiffs' claims should be barred for failure to file their lawsuit timely, and because Plaintiffs have not otherwise challenged the authenticity of the letter, the Court concludes that it may consider the letter.

         III. ANALYSIS

         It is well-settled that the “United States, as sovereign, is immune from suit save as it consents to be sued.” Mid-South Holding Co. v. United States, 225 F.3d 1201, 1203 (11th Cir. 2000) (quotation marks and citation omitted). “‘The FTCA is a specific, congressional exception' to the United States' sovereign immunity for tort claims, under which the government may ‘be sued by certain parties under certain circumstances for particular tortious acts committed by employees of the government.''' Turner ex rel. Turner v. United States, 514 F.3d 1194, 1200 (11th Cir. 2008) (quoting Suarez v. United States, 22 F.3d 1064, 1065 (11th Cir. 1994)). The waiver “must be scrupulously observed, and not expanded by the courts.” Id. (quotation marks omitted).

         The United States placed a condition on its waiver of sovereign immunity for claims brought under the FTCA by enacting a specific limitations period:

A tort claim against the United States shall be forever barred unless it is presented in writing to the appropriate Federal agency within two years after such claim accrues or unless action is begun within six months after the date of the claim by the agency to which it was presented.

28 U.S.C. § 2401(b). Section 2401(b) “is the balance struck by Congress in the context of tort claims against the Government; and we are not free to construe it so as to defeat the obvious purpose, which is to encourage the prompt presentation of claims.” Phillips v. United States, 260 F.3d 1316, 1318 (11th Cir. 2001) (quoting United States v. Kubrick, 444 U.S. 111, 117 (1979)). Courts construing the FTCA's statute of limitations therefore should not “extend the waiver beyond that which Congress intended.” Id. (quotation marks omitted).

         Plaintiffs' claims against the United States arose on August 23, 2016, the date of the collision, and they timely presented their claims to the proper agency shortly thereafter. However, once the agency issued the final denial letter on March 13, 2017, Plaintiffs failed to abide by the requirement that they file any lawsuit within six months. Instead, ...


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