SANDERS v. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge William J. Martini on 1/20/14. (gh, )
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civ. No. 14-7157 (WJM)
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
William J. Marini, U.S.D.J.
Defendant United States of America filed this motion to dismiss pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction
against the originally-named Defendants and also pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(5) for failure to properly serve the United States. Plaintiff has not
opposed the motion. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is hereby
This personal injury action, brought pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act
(“FTCA”), arises from a motor vehicle accident which occurred on September 23,
2013 (“MVA”). The MVA occurred between a vehicle owned by the Veterans
Administration (“VA”) being operated by a VA employee and a vehicle driven by
Jekyll Ayers in which Plaintiff was a passenger. As a result of the MVA, Plaintiff
Marion Sanders alleges that she suffered personal injuries.
Plaintiff timely presented an administrative claim (commonly referred to as a
SF-95). The SF-95 was subsequently presented to the VA. On or about August 7,
2014, the VA wrote to Raymond Armour, Esq., counsel to Plaintiff, denying
Plaintiff’s administrative claim. The letter advises Plaintiff as to the options
available for further pursuing the claim. Specifically, the letter directs Plaintiff to
the FTCA and states “that a tort claim which is administratively denied may be
presented to a United States District Court.” It further advises that such an action
must be filed within six months of the denial letter and that the proper party
defendant is the United States of America, not the VA.
Plaintiff initiated her action on or about September 10, 2014, in the Superior
Court of New Jersey, Essex County, Law Division, Civil Part. The state court
complaint names Steve Remy and the Office of Regional Council Department of
Veterans Administrators, as well as fictitious named defendants (i.e., John Doe and
ABC Corp.). On November 14, 2014, the United States removed the case to federal
court on the basis of the Federal Tort Claims Act, which provides that:
Upon certification by the Attorney General that the defendant employee
was acting within the scope of his office or employment at the time of
the incident out of which the claim arose, any civil action or proceeding
commenced upon such claim in a State court shall be removed without
bond at any time before trial by the Attorney General to the district
court of the United States for the district and division embracing the
place in which the action or proceeding is pending. Such action or
proceeding shall be deemed to be an action or proceeding brought
against the United States under the provisions of this title and all
references thereto, and the United States shall be substituted as the party
defendant. This certification of the Attorney General shall conclusively
establish scope of office or employment for purposes of removal.
28 U.S.C. § 2679(d)(2).
Plaintiff’s only attempt at service in this action was to mail a copy of the
summons and complaint to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Regional
Counsel, in Brooklyn, New York. The summons is only directed “to the following
defendant: Steve Remy.”
Subject Matter Jurisdiction
It is well-established that the United States, its agencies, instrumentalities, and
employees, are immune from suit except as Congress has expressly consented and
that upon such observance and adherence to its statutory terms. Moreover, the
precise terms of that consent define any court’s jurisdiction to entertain an action
brought pursuant to it. See, e.g., Federal Aviation Admin. v. Cooper, 132 S. Ct.
1441, 1448 (2012); Orff v. United States, 545 U.S. 596, 601-02 (2005); Department
of the Army v. Blue Fox, Inc., 525 U.S. 255, 260-61 (1999); United States v. Mitchell,
445 U.S. 535, 538 (1980); White-Squire v. United States Postal Service, 592 F.3d
453, 456 (3d Cir. 2010); Cudjoe ex rel. Cudjoe v. Department of Veterans Affairs,
426 F.3d 241, 246 (3d Cir. 2005).
A waiver of the sovereign’s traditional immunity from suit must be strictly
and narrowly construed in the sovereign’s favor. White-Squire, 592 F.3d at 456;
Lightfoot v. United States, 564 F.3d 625, 628 (3d Cir. 2009); Cudjoe, 426 F.3d at
246; In re Orthopedic Bone Screw Product Liability Litigation, 264 F.3d 344, 362
& n. 2 (3d Cir. 2001). Any ambiguities in the statutory text of the waiver must also
be construed in favor of immunity. Lane v. Pena, 518 U.S. 187, 192 (1996) (quoting
United States v. Williams, 514 U.S. 527, 531 (1995)).
Actions seeking to recover in tort against the United States, based on the
conduct of its employees for actions within the scope of employment, are governed
by the FTCA which constitutes a limited waiver of the sovereign’s immunity from
suit. Fields v. United States, 2010 WL 715720, *2 (D.N.J. Feb. 24, 2010) (citing
Roma v. United States, 344 F.3d 352, 362 (3d Cir. 2003)). The FTCA does not
permit a tort action to be brought against a federal employee who was acting within
the scope of employment at the time of the events that gave rise to the claim. 28
U.S.C. § 2679(b)(1). The employee is immune from liability in that circumstance.
United States v. Smith, 499 U.S. 160 (1991); Brumfield v. Sanders, 232 F. 3d 376,
379 (3d Cir. 2000); Jones v. Miner, 2007 WL 2212508, at *3 (D.N.J. July 27, 2007).
The United States itself is the only proper defendant in an action under the FTCA.
28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1), 2674, 2679(a); CAN v. United States, 535 F.3d 132, 138 n.2
(3d Cir. 2008); Hoffenberg v. United States, 2012 WL 379934, at *4 (D.N.J. Feb. 6,
2012); Doughty v. United States Postal Service, 359 F. Supp. 2d 361, 363 n.1 (D.N.J.
2005); Kieffer v. Vilk, 8 F. Supp. 2d 387, 393 (D.N.J. 1998).
In this case, the Complaint does not allege that Mr. Remy was acting beyond
or outside the scope of his federal employment. That omission is significant. Absent
an allegation that he was acting outside the scope of his VA employment, no
negligence cause of action can be brought against him personally, and the FTCA is
the only available remedy. Jenssen v. U.S. Postal Service, 763 F. Supp. 976, 979
(N.D.Ill. 1991); Leddy v. United States Postal Service, 525 F. Supp. 1053, 1054-55
(E.D.Pa. 1981). See also, Kieffer, 8 F. Supp. 2d at 394 (unrefuted allegation that
individual defendant acted as agent, servant or employee of the Postal Service
allowed for assumption that defendant was acting within the scope of employment
and was, therefore, immune from negligence claim). Moreover, in this case, Plaintiff
actually asserts that Steve Remy was driving a vehicle owned by the VA with the
VA’s permission and was acting as its agent and servant.
Accordingly, because the United States is the only proper party in a lawsuit
brought under the FTCA, Plaintiff cannot proceed against defendant Mr. Remy and
he must be dismissed with prejudice as a defendant.
Service of Process
Plaintiff has failed to effectuate service on the United States. The
requirements for service on the “United States and its Agencies, Corporations,
Officers, or Employees” is plainly spelled out in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
4(i). Before the District Court can exercise personal jurisdiction over the United
States, “the procedural requirements of service of a summons must be satisfied.
‘Service of summons is the procedure by which a court having venue and jurisdiction
of the subject matter of the suit asserts jurisdiction over the person of the party
served.’” Omni Capital International, Ltd. v. Rudolf Wolff & Co., 484 U.S. 87, 104
(1987) (quoting Mississippi Publishing Corp. v. Murphree, 326 U.S. 438, 444-45
(1946)). See Murphy Bros., Inc. v. Michetti Pipe Stringing, Inc., 526 U.S. 344, 35051 (1999). Where a plaintiff has failed to effectuate proper service, the Court is
without jurisdiction over the defendants and is constitutionally powerless to proceed
to an adjudication of any of the claims raised. Courts are thus admonished to assure
that jurisdiction over the defendant has been conferred, because to proceed in the
absence of personal jurisdiction is to engage in a “sterile exercise[.]” Ayres v. Jacobs
& Crumplar, P.A., 99 F.3d 565, 568-69 (3d Cir. 1996). Proper, effective service of
process is a prerequisite to further proceedings in any case. See Vermont Agency of
Natural Resources v. United States ex rel. Stevens, 529 U.S. 765, 778-79 (2000) (if
there is no jurisdiction over the person, there is no authority to do anything else);
Murphy Bros., 526 U.S. at 350-51 (service of the summons is the sine qua non
directing an individual to participate in a civil action); Ruhrgas AG v. Marathon Oil
Company, 526 U.S. 574, 584 (1999) (without jurisdiction over the defendant, the
court is powerless to proceed); Omni Capital, 487 U.S. at 104; Insurance Corp. of
Ireland v. Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinee, 456 U.S. 694, 701 (1982); Lampe v.
Xouth, Inc., 952 F.2d 697, 700-01 (3d Cir. 1992) (citing Hansberry v. Lee, 311 U.S.
32, 40 (1940)).
Specifically, to effectuate service upon the United States in a FTCA action, a
plaintiff must both serve the United States Attorney’s Office (“USAO”) in the
district in which the action is filed and “send a copy of [the summons and complaint]
by registered or certified mail to the Attorney General of the United States.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(i)(A)-(B). In this action, all Plaintiff has done is serve a summons
naming only Mr. Remy and that was served on the VA. Plaintiff has failed to serve
either the USAO or the Attorney General and, therefore, has not even attempted
service on the United States. Accordingly, Plaintiff has failed to effectuate service
of process on the United States.
For the above reasons, the United States’s motion to dismiss is granted.
Dismissal is without prejudice.
/s/ William J. Martini
WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.
DATE: January 20, 2015
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?