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Thompson v. United States

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 10, 2016

ROBERT D. THOMPSON, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Richard D. Bennett, United States District Judge

This pro se action is the second such action filed by Plaintiff Robert D. Thompson (“Plaintiff” or “Mr. Thompson”) regarding a terminated contract with the United States Naval Academy Athletic Association. In the first action, Thompson v. Naval Academy Athletic Association, Civ. A. No. RDB-12-2676, Mr. Thompson brought suit against the Naval Academy Athletic Association (the “NAAA), alleging that the NAAA breached a written contract between the parties by terminating said contract prior to the expiration of the three-year term.[1] On December 19, 2014, this Court granted summary judgment holding that the NAAA breached the contract to the extent that it terminated the agreement without the stipulated 180-day written notice. Thompson v. Naval Academy Athletic Ass’n, Civ. A. No. RDB-12-2676, 2014 WL 7240054 (D. Md. Dec. 19, 2014). As such, this Court awarded Mr. Thompson $120, 085.48, which represented the damages accrued during the notice period, but denied any additional award of damages. Id. at *4.

In the present action, Mr. Thompson asserts two claims arising from same contract at issue in Thompson v. Naval Academy Athletic Association (the “Contract”). Pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b), he alleges that Defendant United States of America (“Defendant” or “the Government”), through the United States Naval Academy (the “Naval Academy”), committed certain fraudulent misrepresentations to induce him into signing the Contract (Count I). Amended Compl. 11, ECF No. 9-1. These actions were, according to Plaintiff, grossly negligent (Count II). Id. at 12. He seeks damages of $4, 175, 000, in addition to the $120, 085.48 previously awarded. Id.

Currently pending are Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, or in the alternative, for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 5); Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to Amend Complaint (ECF No. 9); and Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint, or in the alternative, for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 10). The parties’ submissions have been reviewed and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). For the reasons that follow, Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, or in the alternative, for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 5) is MOOT;[2] Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to Amend Complaint (ECF No. 9) is GRANTED;[3]and Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint, or in the alternative, for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 10), construed as a Motion to Dismiss, is GRANTED WITH PREJUDICE. Quite simply, this case is essentially identical to an earlier action in which this Court awarded the Plaintiff damages of $120, 085.48 and is procedurally barred. This case is thus DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

BACKGROUND

The background facts of this action were fully set forth in Thompson v. Naval Academy Athletic Association, 2014 WL 7240054, at *1-2. To summarize, Plaintiff Robert Thompson entered into a “Letter Agreement” with the NAAA on October 29, 2010. Id. at *1; Amended Compl. ¶ 12. After a review of the Naval Academy’s financial records revealed that the Contract was not signed by an officer with contracting authority, Commander Justin Francis of the Financial Management Assessment Group recommended that the Contract be terminated. Amend. Compl. ¶¶ 21-23. Mr. Thompson received notice of the termination of the Contract on May 20, 2011. Id. ¶ 18. Through Thompson v. Naval Academy Association, he subsequently sought full payment under the Contract. Id. ¶ 19; see generally Thompson v. Naval Academy Athletic Ass’n, 2014 WL 7240054. As noted supra, this Court determined that the NAAA breached the Contract only to the extent that the NAAA terminated the agreement without 180-day notice. Thompson v. Naval Academy Athletic Ass’n, 2014 WL 7240054, at *3-4. This Court thus awarded Mr. Thompson $120, 085.48 in damages. Id.

Of relevance to the present action, Plaintiff subsequently filed an administrative tort claim seeking $4, 175, 000 in damages with the Department of the Navy (the “Navy”) pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b) (“FTCA”), on March 2, 2015. Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss Ex. 4, ECF No. 5-5 (Copy of Plaintiff’s Administrative Complaint).[4]The Navy denied his administrative claim on March 17, 2015, explaining that a “claim against the United States under the FTCA is forever barred unless presented in writing . . . within two years of the date such claim accrued.” Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss Ex. 5, ECF No. 5-6 (Copy of Letter Denying FTCA Claim). The Navy concluded that Mr. Thompson filed his claim outside of the limitations period, thereby necessitating denial of his claim. Id. Mr. Thompson then filed the present action against Defendant United States of America, again asserting various tort claims pursuant to the FTCA.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P 8(a)(2). The Government has moved to dismiss this action pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.[5] Rule 12(b)(6) authorizes the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The purpose of Rule 12(b)(6) is “to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006).

The Supreme Court’s opinions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), “require that complaints in civil actions be alleged with greater specificity than previously was required.” Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). In Twombly, the Supreme Court articulated “[t]wo working principles” that courts must employ when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. First, while a court must accept as true the factual allegations contained in the complaint, the court is not so constrained when the factual allegations are conclusory or devoid of any reference to actual events. United Black Firefighters v. Hirst, 604 F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir. 1979). Moreover, a court need not accept any asserted legal conclusions drawn from the proffered facts. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. (stating that “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice” to plead a claim). In the context of pro se litigants, however, pleadings are “to be liberally construed, ” and are “held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citation omitted); accord Brown v. N.C. Dept. of Corr., 612 F.3d 720, 724 (4th Cir. 2010).

Second, even a pro se complaint must be dismissed if it does not allege “a plausible claim for relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679; see also O’Neil v. Ponzi, 394 F. App’x. 795, 796 (2d Cir. 2010).Although a “plaintiff need not plead the evidentiary standard for proving” her claim, she may no longer rely on the mere possibility that she could later establish her claim. McCleary-Evans v. Maryland Department of Transportation, State Highway Administration, 780 F.3d 582, 584 (4th Cir. 2015) (emphasis omitted) (discussing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506 (2002) in light of Twombly and Iqbal).

ANALYSIS

In moving to dismiss the subject Amended Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s claims are time-barred under the FTCA statute of limitations, 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b).[6] The FTCA codifies a limited waiver of the sovereign immunity of the United States wherein a plaintiff may bring suit for certain torts committed by Government employees. Kokotis v. United States Postal Serv., 223 F.3d 275, 278 (4th Cir. 2000). Given the value of sovereign immunity to the sovereign, however, “the circumstances of its waiver must be scrupulously observed and not expanded by the courts.” Id. (citing United States v. Kubrick, 444 U.S. 111, 117-18 (1979)). Plaintiffs bringing claims under the FTCA thus “must file an FTCA action in careful compliance with its terms.” Kokotis, 223 F.3d at 278 (citing College v. United States, 411 F.Supp. 738 (D. Md. 1976), aff’d, 572 F.2d 453 (4th Cir. 1978)). Moreover, it is the plaintiff, and not the defendant, who bears the burden of establishing that he satisfied the terms of the FTCA. See, e.g., Logan v. United States, 851 F.Supp. 704, 707 (D. Md. 1994).

As the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has explained, a “key jurisdictional prerequisite to filing suit under the FTCA involves the presentation of an administrative claim to the government within two years of the incident.” Kokotis, 223 F.3d at 278 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b)). Specifically, the FTCA commands that “a tort claim against the United States shall be forever barred unless it is presented in writing to the appropriate Federal agency within two years after such claim accrues[.]” 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b) (emphasis added). Although state law determines whether the Government is liable under the FTCA, it is federal law that governs when a cause of action accrues. Gould v. United States Dep’t of Health & Human Servs., 905 F.2d 738, 742 (4th Cir. 1990) (en banc) (internal citations omitted), cert. denied, ...


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