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Shurland v. Edwards

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

August 5, 2019



          Robert E. Payne Senior United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on the DEFENDANT'S RENEWED MOTION TO DISMISS (ECF No. 16) (the "Motion"). For the reasons set forth below, the Motion will be granted, and the dismissal will be with prejudice.


         David Shurland ("Shurland"), proceeding pro se, brings this action against Darlene Edwards ("Edwards"), the Public Affairs Officer at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center ("McGuire") in Richmond.

         Although the allegations in Shurland's COMPLAINT (ECF No. 1) are difficult to discern, it appears that he (a veteran) was at McGuire on or around August 7, 2018 (hereinafter, "August 7") for medical care. See generally Compl. at 1-5 (ECF No. 1); see also ECF No. 1-1 at 3-6 (letter attached to COMPLAINT describing August 7 incident) . On that day, in an effort to seek assistance, Shurland attempted to go to the office of McGuire's Director, but was stopped in the hallway by Edwards. Id. Shurland asserts that Edwards "assaulted" him in the hallway as he tried to get to the Director's office. Compl. at 2. The McGuire staff apparently had a different view, because the police were called and Shurland was cited for disorderly conduct. Id.; see also ECF No. 1-1 at 7 (citation).

         Then, according to Shurland, he was given a court date of October 25, 2018 on the disorderly conduct charge. Compl. at 2. Shurland appeared on that date, and was told that "the charge had been ultimately DISMISSED three weeks earlier and I could leave. I believe it to have been an unprecedented, shocking, disgraceful and horrifying explanation." Id. (alteration in original). Since the dismissal of his disorderly conduct charge, Shurland alleges that he has tried to determine whether there was "any admissible evidence introduced to support the [disorderly conduct] charge." Id. at 3. He asserts he has made numerous Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") requests, but that "FOIA ETHICS ARE BEING VIOLATED," and he has not received satisfactory responses. Id. at 3-5 (alteration in original). He also states that he asked the United States Attorney7 s Office to prosecute McGuire for the way it handled the August 7 incident, but the office refused. Id. at 2. In short, Shurland is unhappy with how the August 7 incident was handled and appears to believe that the aftermath of that incident evidences McGuire's mistreatment of veterans. See id. at 1-5.[1]

         Shurland's COMPLAINT makes a dizzying array of conclusory allegations of "cover-up[s]," "harassment," and official misconduct in the aftermath of the August 7 incident at McGuire. See generally Compl. at 1-5.[2] Those allegations notwithstanding, Shurland states that he is bringingwa Personal Injury Lawsuit" asserting claims for [i]ntentional Battery under the Federal Torts Claims Act (FTCA)[3] and civil action under the False Claims Act. . .[and] Disability and Age Discrimination" against Edwards. Compl. at 2. Because these are the claims that Shurland expressly pleads and because his other conclusory allegations are difficult to make sense of (and do not satisfy basic pleading standards), the Court reads the COMPLAINT as asserting FTCA claims, a False Claims Act (WFCA") claim, and claims for age and disability discrimination.

         Edwards and the United States[4] (the "Defendants") have moved to dismiss Shurland's COMPLAINT, see ECF No. 16, and the parties have fully briefed the Motion.[5] See ECF Nos. 17, 19, 20, 21. The facts and legal contentions are adequately presented in the materials before the Court and oral argument would not aid the decisional process. The matter is ripe for decision.

         THE STANDARDS GOVERNING FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6)

         The Defendants move to dismiss the COMPLAINT under both Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The Court recently set forth the well-established principles governing Rule 12(b)(1):

A party may file a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). If a court finds that it does not have subject matter jurisdiction over the case or controversy, it must dismiss the action. Of course, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that federal jurisdiction is proper.
Challenges to subject matter jurisdiction may be made in two ways. First, a facial challenge to jurisdiction may be made by arguing that the complaint does not allege facts that permit the exercise of federal subject matter jurisdiction. If that type of challenge is raised, the court must assume that all facts alleged in the complaint are true. Second, the challenge can be made under the theory that the complaint's assertion of subject matter jurisdiction is not true. In that event, a court may consider evidence outside the pleadings.

Rowe v. Clarke, 2019 WL 2477612, at *2 (E.D. Va. June 13, 2019); Andrews v. Taylor, 2018 WL 2108022, at *2 (E.D. Va. May 7, 2018) (citation omitted). Claims of sovereign immunity by the United States are properly considered under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b) (1), and waivers of sovereign immunity are strictly construed in favor of the sovereign. See Welch v. United States, 409 F.3d 646, 650-53 (4th Cir. 2005).

         Motions to dismiss based upon Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b) (6) are evaluated under the following standards:

In [considering a Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss], we must accept the factual allegations of the complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. To survive a 12(b)(6) motion, the "complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, "to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" A claim is "plausible on its face," if a plaintiff can demonstrate more than "a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully."

Rockville Cars, LLC v. City of Rockville, 891 F.3d 141, 145 (4th Cir. 2018) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) and Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The Court "may consider documents attached to the complaint or the motion to dismiss so long as they are integral to the complaint and authentic." Rockville Cars, 891 F.3d at 145 (citation omitted). Notwithstanding those basic principles, however, the Court does not "accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." SD3, LLC v. Black & Decker (U.S.) Inc., 801 F.3d 412, 422 (4th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         Further, courts construe pro se complaints liberally. As the Supreme Court has instructed, "[a] document filed pro se is 'to be liberally construed,' and 'a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam) (citations omitted). That said, "[p]rinciples requiring generous construction of pro se complaints are not. . .without limits." Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).


         Construing Shurland's largely incoherent and rambling pro se COMPLAINT liberally, he alleges various FTCA claims, a claim under the FCA, and "Disability and Age Discrimination." As set forth below, all of these claims fail, and the Motion is granted. And, although Shurland is pro se, amendment of his COMPLAINT would be futile; therefore, dismissal will be with prejudice.

         A. The FTCA Claims Are Dismissed For Lack Of Jurisdiction

         Shurland states that he is "filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit, with Intentional Battery under the Federal Torts Claims Act (FTCA)" against Edwards, a federal employee at McGuire.[6] Compl. at 2 (ECF No. 1) . Shurland also makes vague references (in different parts of the COMPLAINT) to "Defamation of Character" and assault.[7] Id. at 1-2. The analysis under the FTCA is the same for all of these claims because they are all intentional torts for which the United States has not waived sovereign immunity.

         (1) Shurland's FTCA Claim Is Against the United States

         Before discussing Shurland's FTCA claims against Edwards, it is necessary to address a threshold issue: is Edwards the proper party for the FTCA claims? The answer is "no."

         The Fourth Circuit recently discussed the issue of FTCA actions against federal employees and when the United States is properly substituted for the federal employee. See Doe v. Meron, __ F.3d __, 2019 WL 2838403, *l-2 (4th Cir. July 3, 2019). Under the FTCA, a federal employee is immune from personal liability suits if the claims arise "within the scope of their employment." Id. at *1; Maron, 126 F.3d at 321. The United States Attorney (or the United States Attorney General) must "certify" that the employee was acting in the scope of his or her ...

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