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Landon v. United States

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

October 15, 2019

BYRON LANDON, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          David J. Novak United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Byron Landon ("Plaintiff) brings this action against Defendant the United States of America ("Defendant") pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (the "FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2671 et seq., alleging that a United States Postal Service ("USPS") employee negligently caused a workplace accident that resulted in serious injury to Plaintiff. This matter now comes before the Court by consent of the parties pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1) on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 7), moving to dismiss Plaintiffs Complaint (ECF No. 1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion (ECF No. 7).

         L BACKGROUND

         When, as here, a defendant "challenges the factual predicate of subject matter jurisdiction, '[a] trial court may then go beyond the allegations of the complaint'" to determine if there are facts that support the jurisdictional allegations. Kerns v. United States, 585 F.3d 187, 192 (4th Cir. 2009). Accordingly, the Court accepts the following facts.

         At the time of his injury, Plaintiff worked as a "delivery driver" for John W. Ritter Trucking, Inc. ("Ritter Trucking"), a mail-delivery contractor for the USPS. (Compl. ¶ 11; Ex. A to Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss ("Def. Ex. A") (ECF No. 8-1) at 1; Ex. B to Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss ("Def. Ex. B") (ECF No. 8-2) at 1.) On the morning of April 22, 2016, Plaintiff was completing his pickup and delivery duties at the USPS Office in Sandson, Virginia. (Compl. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff alleges that as he stood "on top of a completely loaded and strapped trailer taking inventory," Ronna Bundick, a USPS employee, retracted a dock plate, creating a gap between the dock and the trailer. (Compl. ¶ 11.) According to Plaintiff, Ms. Bundick did not inform Plaintiff about the gap and, unaware, Plaintiff stepped backwards, causing his right leg to fall into the gap, and injuring it. (Compl. ¶ 11.) Following the accident, on April 11, 2018, Plaintiff filed an administrative claim with the USPS. (Compl. ¶ 7.) On December 3, 2018, the USPS denied Plaintiffs claim. On March 15, 2019, Plaintiff filed the instant suit pursuant to the FTC A. (Compl. ¶¶ 8-9.)

         On May 28, 2019, Defendant moved to dismiss Plaintiffs claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1). (Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss ("Def.'s Mem.") (ECF No. 8).) Specifically, Defendant argues that the Virginia Workers' Compensation Act ("VWCA" or the "Act") bars Plaintiffs claim against the USPS. (Def.'s Mem. at 1.) On May 31, 2019, Plaintiff filed a Memorandum in Opposition, alleging that the VWCA does not shield the USPS from suit in this case. (Pl.'s Opp. to Mot. to Dismiss ("Pl.'s Opp.") (ECF No. 9).) Defendant filed a Reply on June 6, 2019, (Def.'s Reply Mem. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss ("Def.'s Reply") (ECF No. 10)), rendering the matter ripe for review.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) challenges the court's jurisdiction over the subject matter of the complaint. A challenge under Rule 12(b)(1) may be facial or factual. Kerns, 585 F.3d at 192. If a defendant, as here, challenges the factual predicate of the court's subject matter jurisdiction, the defendant may attack "the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in fact, quite apart from any pleadings." White v. CMA Const. Co., Inc., 947 F.Supp. 231, 233 (E.D. Va. 1996) (internal citations omitted). In instances where a defendant makes a factual challenge to subject matter jurisdiction, "the district court may then go beyond the allegations of the complaint and resolve the jurisdictional facts in dispute by considering evidence outside the pleadings." U.S. ex rel. Vuyyuru v. Jadhav, 555 F.3d 337, 348 (4th Cir. 2009) (citing Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982)). Indeed, the Court may consider evidence outside of the pleadings without converting Defendant's 12(b)(1) motion to one for summary judgment. Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999) (citation omitted). Regardless of whether the 12(b)(1) challenge is facial or factual, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving subject matter jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Defendant contends that the Court lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate Plaintiffs case, because the VWCA bars his claim. (Def.'s Mem. at 1.) Specifically, Defendant argues that because under the FTCA the United States is liable to the same extent that a private defendant would be under state law, and because under Virginia law the VWCA is the '"exclusive remedy' against a statutory employer" for employees injured while performing work within the employer's trade or business, the VWCA bars Plaintiffs claim. (Def.'s Mem. at 1.) Plaintiff responds that the VWCA does not bar Plaintiffs claim, because the Virginia Supreme Court has held that Virginia workers' compensation laws are inapplicable to the federal government. (Pl.'s Opp. at 1.)

         A. The Government's Waiver of Sovereign Immunity Under the FTCA.

         Absent an explicit statutory waiver, sovereign immunity shields the United States from civil suits. Kerns, 585 F.3d at 194. In enacting the FTCA, Congress waived sovereign immunity for certain torts committed by federal employees. Id. (citing FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475 (1994)). The FTCA allows for monetary relief for injuries "caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment." 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1). However, the FTCA's limited waiver allows for liability only "under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred." Id.; Kerns, 585 F.3d at 194 ("An action under the FTCA may only be maintained if the Government would be liable as an individual under the law of the state where the negligent act occurred."); see also 28 U.S.C. § 2674 ("The United States shall be liable, respecting the provisions of this title relating to tort claims, in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances."). To that end, the FTCA '"plac[es] the government on the same footing as a private person with regard to certain types of claims.'" Bosman v. United States, 2012 WL 5957354, at *4 (E.D. Va. Nov. 27, 2012) (quoting Coulter v. United States, 256 F.Supp.2d 484, 488 (E.D. Va. 2003)). Furthermore, because the FTCA provides for a waiver of sovereign immunity, courts construe the FTCA strictly, and all ambiguities are resolved in favor of the United States. Rodin v. United States, 699 F.2d 681, 685 (4th Cir. 1983).

         As a threshold issue, because the parties agree that the alleged tortious conduct and resulting injury occurred in Virginia, (Compl. ¶ 11; Def.'s Mem. at 2.), Virginia law governs the extent of Defendant's liability. See Coulter, 256 F.Supp.2d at 488 (explaining that in determining whether a state workers' compensation statute bars a claim, the law of the state where the injury occurred governs (citing Home Indent. Co. of N.Y. v. Poladian, 270 F.2d 156, 160 (4th Cir. 1959))). Accordingly, the Court must consider whether, under Virginia law, the VWCA bars Plaintiffs negligence claim against Defendant for his work-related injuries.

         B. The VWCA Exclusivity Clause Bars ...


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