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Holliday v. United States

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

April 11, 2019

Paul Holliday and Seanne Holliday, Plaintiffs,
v.
United States of America, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION

          RICHARD MARK GERGEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is the United States of America's partial motion to dismiss. (Dkt. No. 35.) For the reasons set forth below, the motion is denied.

         I. Background

         Plaintiffs bring this medical malpractice claim against the United States of America (the "Government") pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 2671-2680, for alleged personal injuries sustained by Paul Holliday relating to a May 2015 prostate surgery conducted at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center-Charleston. (Dkt. No. 1 ¶¶ 11-22.) The Government now moves to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction "some of the theories of relief alleged" as found in paragraph 24 of the Complaint. At issue is whether Plaintiffs satisfied the administrative exhaustion requirement of the FTCA before bringing suit by first sufficiently presenting the claim to the Veterans Administration.

         II. Legal Standard

         A. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(h)(3)

         "If the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3); see also Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 506 (2006) ("The objection that a federal court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction . . . may be raised at any stage in the litigation, even after trial and the entry of judgment, Rule 12(h)(3)."). The determination of subject-matter jurisdiction "may be based on the court's review of the evidence." Lovern v. Edwards, 190 F.3d 648, 654 (4th Cir. 1999). The plaintiff has the burden of proving that subject-matter jurisdiction exists. Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., a Div. of Standex Intern. Corp., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999).

         B. Exhaustion of the FTCA Presentment Requirement

         The Government enjoys sovereign immunity from suits for damages at common law, and the FTCA constitutes a limited waiver of this immunity. Perkins v. United States, 55 F.3d 910, 913 (4th Cir. 1995). Specifically, the FTCA provides that the Government cannot be sued for money damage arising from personal injury allegedly caused by the negligence of a Government employee acting within the scope of his or her employment, "unless the claimant shall have first presented the claim to the appropriate Federal agency" for an administrative determination. 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a). This "requirement of filing an administrative claim is jurisdictional and may not be waived." Henderson v. United States, 785 F.2d 121, 123 (4th Cir. 1986).

         A claim is presented "when a Federal agency receives from a claimant ... an executed Standard Form 95 or other written notification of an incident, accompanied by a claim for money damages in a sum certain for injury to or loss of property, personal injury, or death." 28 C.F.R. § 14.2(a). The "claimant meets his burden if the notice (1) is sufficient to enable the agency to investigate and (2) places a sum certain value on her claim." Ahmed v. United States, 30 F.3d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1994) (internal quotation marks omitted). In other words, "no particular form or manner of giving such notice is required as long as the agency is somehow informed of the fact of and amount of the claim." Id. (quoting Williams v. United States, 693 F.2d 555, 557 (5th Cir. 1982) (emphasis in original). Because "no statement of legal theories is required [on a Standard Form 95], only facts plus a demand for money, the claim encompasses any cause of action fairly implicit in the facts." Murrey v. United States, 73 F.3d 1448, 1452 (7th Cir. 1996); see also Adkins v. United States, 896 F.2d 1324, 1326 (11th Cir. 1990). "In short, the amount of information required is 'minimal.'" Burchfield v. United States, 168 F.3d 1252, 1255 (11th Cir. 1999) (quoting Adams v. United States, 615 F.2d 284, 289 (5th Cir. 1980)); see also GAF Corp. v. United States, 818 F.2d 901, 919 (D.C. Cir. 1987) (holding that § 2675(a) requires a claimant to file "a written statement sufficiently describing the injury to enable the agency to begin its own investigation").

         III. Discussion

         The Government argues that paragraph 24 of the Complaint contains theories of relief that must be dismissed because they were not encompassed by the Standard Forms 95 ("SF-95") that Mr. Holliday presented to the Veterans Administration prior to bringing suit.

         Mr. Holliday submitted two Standard Forms 95 ("SF-95") to the Veterans Administration. The first SF-95, dated June 16, 2016, provided:

Basis of Claim: Mr. Holliday was a patient at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center. He was being treated for a P.E. [pulmonary embolus] that occurred following prostate surgery 6 days earlier. He was given an enema, resulting in a fistula between the ...

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