Federal Tort Claims Act Requires a Clear Allegation Against a Federal Employee or Agency, DC Court Rules: Moorman v. United States

A U.S. District Court in Washington DC dismissed a lawsuit brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346, 2671 et seq., against the federal government and other government entities. The plaintiff in Moorman v. United States asserted causes of action for premises liability, but did not specifically plead facts to show how the federal government, or a federal employee, was liable for her injuries. The court found that the FTCA did not apply in the absence of any allegations to demonstrate the federal government’s liability, and that as a result, it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the entire case.

The plaintiff, Jacqueline Moorman, attended an event at the D.C. National Guard Armory in March 2009. When she left the event at approximately noon, she descended an exterior stairway. A concrete step crumbled under her feet, causing her to fall and sustain substantial injuries.

Moorman sued the Washington Convention and Sports Authority (WCSA), a government board that owns the Armory. She also named the United States and the District of Columbia as defendants. According to the district court’s opinion, her allegations of premises liability centered on the WCSA, which is part of the city government of Washington, DC. The mayor appoints most of the members of WCSA’s Board of Directors, who must also be confirmed by the Washington City Council. The federal government reportedly has no direct role in the WCSA or the operation of the Armory.

The lawsuit relied on the FTCA because of the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which prevents lawsuits against government entities except in specific circumstances. The federal government and all fifty states have enacted statutes allowing personal injury suits against governmental entities, provided claimants follow certain procedures. For claims against the federal government, the claimant must first present the claim to a federal agency, and may not file a lawsuit unless the agency denies the claim. State tort claims acts require presentation of a claim to a state agency prior to filing suit against the state or any of its agencies or subdivisions, such as counties or cities. The question presented by Moorman’s lawsuit was whether the FTCA would support claims against the District of Columbia or its subdivisions.

The United States moved the court to dismiss Moorman’s lawsuit for failing to state a claim on which the court could grant her relief. To survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must show enough facts to demonstrate more than a speculative right to relief. In granting the motion for the defendants, the court noted that Moorman provided few factual allegations to identify the party or parties that were liable for her injuries. She reportedly stated in her complaint that she believed the District of Columbia had responsibility over the steps that caused her injury, and that she would dismiss the federal government from the lawsuit if that were correct. Because her complaint did not allege any specific instance of negligence against the United States, the court held that it had to grant the motion to dismiss. The court also dismissed the claims against the other defendants, because without the United States as a party, the FTCA no longer applied and the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction.

The premises liability attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen represent the rights of people in the Washington, DC area who have suffered injuries due to hazardous or dangerous conditions on others’ property. For a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949.

More Blog Posts:

Federal Court Orders Arbitration Between Defendant and Third-Party Defendant in Premises Liability Lawsuit, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, September 20, 2012
Supreme Court Rules for Baseball Player in Sports Injury Case on Issue of Litigation Costs, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, June 28, 2012
Court Finds Washington Metro Immune from Claim in Slip and Fall Case, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, January 20, 2012

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