United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
VINCENT D. TUGGLES, Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
LORETTA C. BIGGS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
initiated this action against the government of the United
States (“Defendant” or the
“Government”) alleging seven tort claims,
pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”).
(ECF No. 1.) Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to
Dismiss or in the Alternative Motion for Summary Judgment.
(ECF No. 5.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's
motion will be granted in part and denied in part.
is an honorably discharged veteran of the United States Army
residing in Wake County, North Carolina. (ECF No. 1
¶¶ 11, 18.) After completing an appointment at the
Veteran Affairs Medical Center (“VAMC”) in
Durham, North Carolina, on November 17, 2014, Plaintiff
“went to the travel pay booths [located in the VAMC] in
order to obtain reimbursement for the travel expenses for
which he was eligible.” (Id. ¶¶ 19,
22-23.) Plaintiff sought to “receive his reimbursement
as a cash voucher rather than having the reimbursement
deposited to his bank account.” (Id. ¶
24.) While Plaintiff attempted to explain his reasons for
requesting such a voucher, “a uniformed security guard
requested that Plaintiff step out of the administrator's
office.” (Id. ¶ 26.) Plaintiff next
alleges that “other uniformed officers came upon the
scene, and they laid their hands upon Plaintiff, and, after
grabbing Plaintiff about his body, they threw him to [the]
floor, where they proceeded to hit him about his neck, back,
and kidneys.” (Id. ¶ 27.) Plaintiff
alleges that he was then arrested for causing a disturbance
and later released without any charges filed. (Id.
about October 29, 2015, Plaintiff submitted a claim for
damages to the Department of Veteran Affairs (the
“Department” or “VA”) regarding the
above events. (Id. ¶ 3; ECF No. 1-1.) After the
Department denied Plaintiff's claim, (ECF No. 1-2),
Plaintiff requested reconsideration of his claim on or about
March 2, 2016, (ECF No. 1-3). On or about October 12, 2017,
the Department notified Plaintiff that it had completed its
reconsideration and that his claim was denied. (ECF No. 1-5;
ECF No. 1 ¶ 7.) Plaintiff then filed this complaint,
alleging seven causes of action: (1) negligence, (2)
negligent infliction of emotional distress
(“NIED”), (3) intentional infliction of emotional
distress (“IIED”), (4) false arrest, (5) false
imprisonment, (6) assault and battery, and (7) unlawful
deprivation and denial of constitutional rights. (ECF No. 1
now moves to dismiss this complaint pursuant to Rules
12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, or, in the alternative, for summary judgment
pursuant to Rule 56. (ECF No. 5.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Rule 12(b)(1), a party may seek dismissal based on the
court's “lack of subject-matter
jurisdiction.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). Subject matter
jurisdiction is a threshold issue that relates to the
court's power to hear a case and must be decided before a
determination on the merits of the case. Constantine v.
Rectors & Visitors of George Mason Univ., 411 F.3d
474, 479- 80 (4th Cir. 2005). A motion under Rule 12(b)(1)
raises the question of “whether [the plaintiff] has a
right to be in the district court at all and whether the
court has the power to hear and dispose of [the]
claim.” Holloway v. Pagan River Dockside Seafood,
Inc., 669 F.3d 448, 452 (4th Cir. 2012). The burden of
proving subject matter jurisdiction rests with the plaintiff.
Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982).
When evaluating a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, the court
should grant the motion “only if the material
jurisdictional facts are not in dispute and the moving party
is entitled to prevail as a matter of law.”
Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. United
States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991).
motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure “challenges the legal sufficiency of a
complaint, ” including whether it meets the pleading
standard of Rule 8(a)(2). Francis v. Giacomelli, 588
F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009). Rule 8(a)(2) requires a
complaint to contain “a short and plain statement of
the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,
” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), thereby “giv[ing] the
defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the
grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citation omitted). To
survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, “a complaint
must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to
‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A
complaint may fail to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted in two ways: first, by failing to state a valid legal
cause of action, i.e., a cognizable claim, see
Holloway, 669 F.3d at 452; or second, by failing to
allege sufficient facts to support a legal cause of action,
see Painter's Mill Grille, LLC v. Brown, 716
F.3d 342, 350 (4th Cir. 2013).
judgment is appropriate when “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). A dispute is “genuine” if the
evidence would permit a reasonable jury to find for the
nonmoving party, and “[a] fact is material if it might
affect the outcome” of the litigation. Jacobs v.
N.C. Admin. Office of the Courts, 780 F.3d 562, 568 (4th
Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks omitted). The role of
the court is not “to weigh the evidence and determine
the truth of the matter, ” but rather “to
determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.”
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249
(1986). When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the
court must “resolve all factual disputes and any
competing, rational inferences in the light most
favorable” to the nonmoving party. Rossignol v.
Voorhaar, 316 F.3d 516, 523 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting
Wightman v. Springfield Terminal Ry. Co., 100 F.3d
228, 230 (1st Cir. 1996)).
sets forth multiple arguments as bases for dismissal of
Plaintiff's claims to include: (1) that Plaintiff did not
adequately exhaust his administrative remedies before filing
this action, as required by the FTCA, (ECF No. 6 at 6-7; ECF
No. 19 at 1-4); (2) that Plaintiff's constitutional tort
claim is not cognizable under the FTCA, (ECF No. 6 at 19-21);
and (3) that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim under
which relief may be granted for the remaining claims.
(Id. at 10-19.) Defendant also moves for summary
judgment, in the alternative, as to all of Plaintiff's
claims. (ECF No. 5 at 1.)
Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies
general principle, the United States has sovereign immunity
from common law actions seeking damages. Perkins v.
United States, 55 F.3d 910, 913 (4th Cir. 1995). The
FTCA acts as a limited waiver of that immunity, giving
federal district courts jurisdiction to “hear civil
actions against the United States for money damages for
injuries caused by the negligent or wrongful acts or
omissions of government employees while acting within the
scope of their employment.” Id. The FTCA's
waiver of immunity is to be “strictly construed”
with “all ambiguities . . . resolved in favor of the
United States.” Williams v. United States, 50
F.3d 299, 305 (4th Cir. 1995). This waiver, however, is
subject to certain exceptions and prerequisites.
Perkins, 55 F.3d at 913. One such prerequisite is
that the claimant must first “present[ ] the claim to
the appropriate Federal agency and [have] his claim . . .
[be] finally denied by the agency” before filing suit
in federal court. 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a).
regulations deem a claim “to have been presented when a
Federal agency receives from a claimant . . . an executed
Standard Form 95 [SF-95] or other written notification of an
incident, accompanied by a claim for money damages in a sum
certain.” 28 C.F.R. § 14.2(a). A claim is properly
“presented” to an agency if it “(1) is
sufficient to enable the agency to investigate and (2) places
a ‘sum certain' value on [the] claim.”
Ahmed v. United States, 30 F.3d 514, 517
(4th Cir. 1994) (quoting Adkins v. United States,
896 F.2d 1324, 1326 (11th Cir. 1990)). “A notice is
sufficient to cause investigation where the factual predicate
permits an agency to ‘either reasonably assess its
liability or competently defend itself.'” Wood
v. United States, 209 F.Supp.3d 835, 840 (M.D. N.C.
2016) (quoting Drew v. United States, 217 F.3d 193,
197 (4th Cir. 2000), reh'g en banc granted, opinion
vacated, aff'd by equally divided court without
opinion, 231 F.3d 927 (4th Cir. 2000)); see also
Boles v. United States, 3 F.Supp.3d 491, 504 (M.D. N.C.
2014) (explaining that a plaintiff's administrative claim
properly presented a number of claims because it
“identified the incident in which [the plaintiff] was
injured and demanded a sum certain in damages”). A
claimant does not, however, need to “give the
government notice of every possible theory of
recovery.” Degenhard v. United States, No.
5:13- CV-685-BR, 2015 WL 632211, at *1 (E.D. N.C. Feb. 13,
2015) (internal quotation marks omitted).
argues that Plaintiff has failed to present all of his
claims, except his assault and battery claim, to the
Department before filing this action. (ECF No. 6 at 6-7.)
Thus, according to Defendant, this Court does not have
jurisdiction over such claims. (Id.) Plaintiff
argues in response that his administrative claim addressed
the “same set of operative facts” involved in his
claims in this action and, therefore, sufficiently presented
all seven claims to the Department. (ECF No. 18 at 4-5.)
SF-95 does not specifically name any legal cause of action.
(See ECF No. 1-1.) Instead, it sets forth a brief
narrative of the events which lead to his injuries, stating,
in relevant part:
After my appt. [on November 17, 2014], I went to the travel
desk to be reimbursed for my travel expenses (per my
scheduled appt.) and I was inexplicably attacked by at least
5 uniformed security guards thereby exacerbating my left
shoulder/arm condition. The next day, 11/18/2014, I was
hospitalized at the Rex Hospital for a strain put on my
shoulders, back, neck and displaced my hips all ...