United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
W. GRIMM UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
March 30, 2016, Angela Sirnik ("Sirnik"), a
resident of Laurel, Maryland, filed a self-represented
complaint on behalf of herself as well as the daughter and
stepson of Stanley Walter Sirnik, her husband, who she
alleges was killed in a car accident involving a 1992 Toyota
4Runner. See Compl., ECF No. 1. Sirnik claims that a
wrongful death sudden acceleration case was filed in a
Maryland court but never went to trial. Id. She
alleges that "due to negligence on the part of the
United States Justice Department and National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration, we file this complaint."
preliminary matter, Sirnik has filed a motion to proceed in
forma pauperis. Although her children, Sabrina Sirnik and
Brian Schwab, have seemingly signed the complaint, they have
not presented in forma pauperis motions and are not parties
to the complaint. The motion to proceed in forma pauperis
shall be granted as to Sirnik only. Sabrina Sirnik and Brian
Schwab are dismissed from the complaint without prejudice.
to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, courts are required to screen a
plaintiffs complaint when in forma pauperis status has been
granted. Therefore, pursuant to this statute, numerous courts
have performed a preliminary screening of non-prisoner
complaints. See Michau v. Charleston Cnty., S.C.,
434 F.3d 725, 727-28 (4th Cir. 2006) (applying 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2)(B) to screen preliminarily a non-prisoner
complaint); Troville v. Venz, 303 F.3d 1256, 1260
(11th Cir. 2002) (applying § 1915(e) to non-prisoner
actions); Evans v. Albaugh, No. 3:13-CV-11, 2013 WL
5375781, at *l-2 (N.D. W.Va. Sept. 25, 2013) (28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e) authorizes dismissal of complaints filed in
Court is required to liberally construe self-represented
complaints, see Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89,
94(2007), and to examine these complaints using a less
stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys, id;
see also Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir.
1978). Courts must allow the development of a potentially
meritorious case, see Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5,
9-10 (1980); Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 (1972),
and must assume the complaint allegations to be true,
Erickson, 551 U.S. at 93-94 (citing Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007)).
has set out a naked assertion of negligence. She has failed
to delineate how the United States Department of Justice,
U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland, and the Office of
Inspector General for the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration committed tortious actions or inactions. If a
complaint merely offers labels and conclusions, a formulaic
recitation of the elements, or "naked assertions devoid
of further factual enhancement, " it will not survive a
motion to dismiss. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (internal quotation marks and
extent that Sirnik alleges negligence on the part of federal
government agencies, the matter has been afforded a generous
construction as a Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA")
complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b). Under principles of
sovereign immunity, the United States and its agencies may
not be sued in tort except as permitted by FTCA. See
28 U.S.C. § 2679(b)(1); see, e.g., Salazar v.
Ballesteros, 17 Fed.App'x 129, 130 (4th Cir. 2001)
(explaining that the FTCA "immunizes federal employees
who are sued for actions 'within the scope of [their]
office or employment'" and upon substitution of the
Unite States as defendant, "allows the United States to
be sued for certain torts committed by its employees"
(alteration in original)). Under the FTCA, the federal
government has waived its sovereign immunity to tort
liability for the negligent or wrongful acts or omissions of
its employees acting in the scope of their federal
employment. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 2671-2680.
FTCA's limited waiver of sovereign immunity for damages
against government tortfeasors is subject to the condition
that an administrative claim must first be submitted to the
appropriate agency and denied before suit can be filed.
See 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a). The FTCA further
provides that a tort claim against the United States
"shall be forever barred" unless (1) the claim is
presented to the "appropriate Federal agency within two
years after such claim accrues, " or (2) the claim is
brought to federal court within six months after the agency
acts on the claim. See 28 U.S.C. § 2401 (b). A
tort claim pursuant to the FTCA accrues when the plaintiff
knows or reasonably should know of the existence and the
cause of his injury. See Gilbert v. United States,
720 F.2d 372, 374 (4th Cir. 1983) (citing United States
v. Kubrick, 444 U.S. 111, 118-25 (1979)).
Sirnik has completed administrative exhaustion, she must
explain why it took so long to discover and act on this
claim. The passage of time, however, is not necessarily a
stumbling block to suit. Recently, the United States Supreme
Court held that the time limitations under the FTCA are
non-jurisdictional and subject to equitable tolling. See
United States v. Kwai Fun Wong, 135 S.Ct. 1625(2015).
[E]quitable tolling is appropriate only "where the
defendant has wrongfully deceived or misled the plaintiff in
order to conceal the existence of a cause of action."
Indeed, the doctrine of equitable tolling is based on the
view that a defendant should not be encouraged to engage in
"misconduct that prevents the plaintiff from filing his
or her claim on time."
Kokotis v. United States Postal Service, 223 F.3d
275, 280-81 (2000) (internal citations omitted) (quoting
English v. Pabst Brewing Co., 828 F.2d 1047, 1049
(4th Cir. 1987)).
before proceeding in federal court, Sirnik is required to
submit timely written notification of the incident
(accompanied by a sum certain claim for monetary damages) to
the federal agency responsible for the activities giving rise
to the claim. See 28 C.F.R. §§ 14.2(a)
& (b)(1). She may file an FTCA suit in federal court
only after the agency denies her claim and must do so within
six months of the mailing of the denial. See 28
C.F.R. § 14.9(a). Sirnik does not indicate that she
timely presented her claim to the relevant federal agency.
The failure to completely exhaust administrative remedies
before filing an FTCA claim is a jurisdictional defect that
cannot be cured by administrative exhaustion after the suit
is filed. See McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106,
111-12 (1993); Chang-Williams v. United
States, 965 F.Supp.2d 673, 698-99 (D. Md. 2013). Thus,
Sirnik must indicate that her administrative claim has been
fully exhausted in order to proceed here.
has provided no detailed information in her complaint
regarding when she filed a tort remedy with the appropriate
federal agency and the results from the remedy. Moreover, her
complaint provides no background facts regarding her claim of
negligence nor does she discuss what relationship the case
has to the State of Maryland. She shall therefore be required
to file a supplemental complaint which provides this
information and is ...