STEWART v. UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE
MEMORANDUM OPINION regarding 9 Order granting Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. Signed by Judge James E. Boasberg on 08/22/2012. (lcjeb2)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
YVONNE VANA STEWART,
Civil Action No. 12-737 (JEB)
UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE,
Plaintiff Yvonne Stewart brought this pro se action to complain of treatment she received
at a post office on Alabama Avenue in Southeast Washington. The Government now moves to
dismiss, arguing that its sovereign immunity deprives the Court of subject-matter jurisdiction.
Agreeing, the Court will grant the Motion.
According to Plaintiff’s one-paragraph Complaint, which must at this juncture be
presumed true, Stewart visited the Frederick Douglass Post Office on Alabama Avenue on
March 1, 2012, to obtain a money order and mail an item. See Compl. at 1. As has occurred
before, one of the employees “harassed” Plaintiff by telling her that she was in the wrong line
and must wait for another postal clerk. Id. at 1-2. Plaintiff also notes that she had complained
about the service in her building, and that a supervisor had asked if she was the “‘light-skinned
lady’” in the building. Id. at 2. In sum, Plaintiff believes that the postal workers at the Frederick
Douglass branch “are just not professional.” Id.
Although one might surmise that a telephone call to Plaintiff with an explanation or a
simple apology could have ended this suit – thereby obviating the need to expend legal and
judicial resources – the Government instead filed a Motion to Dismiss, alleging a lack of subjectmatter jurisdiction under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1).
In evaluating Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, the Court must “treat the complaint’s
factual allegations as true . . . and must grant plaintiff ‘the benefit of all inferences that can be
derived from the facts alleged.’” Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C.
Cir. 2000) (quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979)) (internal
citation omitted); see also Jerome Stevens Pharms., Inc. v. FDA, 402 F.3d 1249, 1253 (D.C. Cir.
2005). This standard governs the Court’s considerations of motions under both Rules 12(b)(1)
and 12(b)(6). See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974) (“in passing on a motion to
dismiss, whether on the ground of lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter or for failure to
state a cause of action, the allegations of the complaint should be construed favorably to the
pleader”); Walker v. Jones, 733 F.2d 923, 925-26 (D.C. Cir. 1984) (same). The Court need not
accept as true, however, “a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation,” nor an inference
unsupported by the facts set forth in the Complaint. Trudeau v. Fed. Trade Comm’n, 456 F.3d
178, 193 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), Plaintiff bears the burden of proving
that the Court has subject-matter jurisdiction to hear her claims. See Lujan v. Defenders of
Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992); U.S. Ecology, Inc. v. U.S. Dep’t of Interior, 231 F.3d 20, 24
(D.C. Cir. 2000). A court has an “affirmative obligation to ensure that it is acting within the
scope of its jurisdictional authority.” Grand Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185
F. Supp. 2d 9, 13 (D.D.C. 2001). For this reason, “‘the [p]laintiff’s factual allegations in the
complaint . . . will bear closer scrutiny in resolving a 12(b)(1) motion’ than in resolving a
12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim.” Id. at 13-14 (quoting 5A Charles A. Wright &
Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1350 (2d ed. 1987) (alteration in original)).
Additionally, unlike with a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court “may consider
materials outside the pleadings in deciding whether to grant a motion to dismiss for lack of
jurisdiction.” Jerome Stevens, 402 F.3d at 1253; see also Venetian Casino Resort, L.L.C. v.
E.E.O.C., 409 F.3d 359, 366 (D.C. Cir. 2005) (“given the present posture of this case – a
dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1) on ripeness grounds – the court may consider materials outside the
In moving to dismiss, the Government argues that Plaintiff’s failure to exhaust her
administrative remedies means that sovereign immunity deprives the Court of subject-matter
jurisdiction to hear the case. “[S]uits for damages against the United States under the common
law must be brought pursuant to the limited waiver of sovereign immunity in the [Federal Tort
Claims Act.]” Benoit v. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, 608 F.3d 17, 20 (D.C. Cir. 2010). Sovereign
immunity, moreover, “is jurisdictional in nature.” FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475 (1994); see
also Ali v. Rumsfeld, 649 F.3d 762, 775 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (failure to exhaust administrative
remedies in FTCA case jurisdictional). In order to obtain a waiver of such immunity, a plaintiff
must, under the FTCA, “have exhausted his administrative remedy before filing suit.” Benoit,
608 F.3d at 20 (citations omitted); see also McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993)
(“The FTCA bars claimants from bringing suit in federal court until they have exhausted their
In order to satisfy the FTCA’s administrative-exhaustion requirements, a plaintiff must
first present her claim to the appropriate federal agency within two years of the claim’s accrual.
28 U.S.C. § 2401(b). There is no allegation either in her Complaint or in her Response to
Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss that Plaintiff has taken any steps toward exhaustion of her claim.
This alone requires a dismissal of her case, as the Court has no jurisdiction to hear it.
Even if Plaintiff had exhausted her administrative remedies, it is hardly apparent that she
has a claim that could survive dismissal. Although we all hope to receive courteous service at
the establishments we patronize – whether private or governmental – mere rudeness or
unpleasantness does not a lawsuit make.
A separate Order dismissing the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction shall issue
/s/ James E. Boasberg
JAMES E. BOASBERG
United States District Judge
Date: August 22, 2012
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