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Hall v. United States

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 23, 2014

ROBERT CARL HALL
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

MEMORANDUM

CATHERINE C. BLAKE, District Judge.

Pending before the court is the defendant's motion to dismiss or for summary judgment, (ECF No. 9), which is unopposed by plaintiff Robert Carl Hall.[1] A hearing in this matter is unnecessary. See Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, the defendant's motion, construed as a motion for summary judgment, shall be granted. Hall's motion for service of process, (ECF No. 3), shall be denied as moot.

BACKGROUND

Hall is a prisoner incarcerated in the Eastern Pre-Release Unit in Church Hill, Maryland. He filed the instant complaint pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), alleging the U.S. Department of State improperly denied his application for a passport. (Compl., ECF No. 1, at 1, 4.) He states that "[a]t all relevant times" he has been an unwitting participant in a secret ongoing federal "real world human testing program (HTP)" and that the federal government contracted with Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland Medical Systems to carry out the program. ( Id. at 4.)

Hall claims that, on April 7, 1999, he was ordered by the Circuit Court for Harford County to undergo a competency evaluation at Spring Grove Hospital "as a part of the research." ( Id. at 5.) He was found to be incompetent and suffering from "a DSMIV defined mental disorder." ( Id. ) He claims that, when he was released from Spring Grove, he was provided with thirty days of medication, but his personal property, including his passport, was kept by the Harford County Sheriff's Office between June 7, 1998, and April 7, 1999. ( Id. ) He further claims that unknown HTP agents invoked an official policy to obtain possession of his passport, and that they then destroyed it. ( Id. )

On April 18, 1999, Hall submitted an application for a replacement passport, together with the required fee. ( Id. ) He claims that the U.S. Passport Authority issued a new passport on May 18, 1999, but placed a hold on sending the passport to him at the request of the U.S. Department of Defense ("DOD"). ( Id. at 6.) From May 18, 1999, through at least December 9, 2013, the Passport Authority and the State Department have refused to remove the hold and release his passport or to refund the fee paid for it. ( Id. ) Hall claims that he became aware his passport would not be released and the fee would not be refunded on September 10, 2012, at which time he filed an FTCA claim. ( Id. ) The claim was denied by the State Department on June 21, 2013. ( Id. ) He now seeks the $65 passport fee plus $1000 in "recovery costs." ( Id. at 7.)

The defendant provides additional facts, which Hall does not dispute. State Department records reflect that Hall filed an application for a passport in April 2000, together with a form dated April 10, 2000, and captioned "Statement Regarding Lost or Stolen Passport." (Def.'s Mot., ECF No. 9-1, at 2.) In the form, he alleged his passport was taken from him when he was in custody at the Harford County Detention Center. ( Id. )

In a letter dated July 15, 2000, Hall contacted the State Department in an apparent effort to inquire about the status of his passport application. (ECF No. 9-2, Ex. 1.) Hall again wrote to the State Department on March 30, 2001, inquiring once more about the status of his passport and asking for his money to be returned if the passport application had been denied. (ECF No. 9-3, Ex. 2.) The State Department could not locate any further records indicating that Hall attempted to learn the status of his application after his March 30, 2001, letter. (Def.'s Mot. at 2.)

The defendant indicates that Hall's application for a passport was not ignored but rather was investigated because aspects of the application seemed fraudulent. ( Id. at 3.) The investigation began in May 2000 and was closed in March 2002, when it was determined there was insufficient evidence of fraud. No final action was taken on the application until the instant case brought about further review, and a denial letter, based on Hall's incarceration, was issued on March 5, 2014. ( Id .; see also ECF No. 9-4, Ex. 3.)[2]

STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment should be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a) (emphasis added). Whether a fact is material depends upon the substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). Accordingly, "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment." Id. "A party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [his] pleadings, ' but rather must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th Cir. 2003) (alteration in original) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant and draw all justifiable inferences in his favor. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007) (citation omitted); see also Greater Baltimore Ctr. for Pregnancy Concerns, Inc. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, 721 F.3d 264, 283 (4th Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). At the same time, the court must not yield its obligation "to prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to trial." Bouchat, 346 F.3d at 526 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

ANALYSIS

FTCA Claim

Under the FTCA, the United States may be liable for "injury or loss of property, or personal injury or death 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. ยง 1346(b). As a waiver of sovereign immunity, the FTCA is to be narrowly construed. See United States v. Nordic Village, Inc., 503 U.S. 30, 34 (1992). Immunity is not waived for any claim based upon "the exercise or performance or the failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function or ...


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