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Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. v. United States Postal Service

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

August 8, 2014

LIBERTY MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, as subrogee of MARTHA PARKHURST, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE and ARLENE NADEAU, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

DENISE J. CASPER, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. ("Liberty Mutual") brings this action against Defendants, the United States Postal Service ("USPS") and Arlene Nadeau ("Nadeau" or, collectively with USPS, "Defendants"), arising out of a car accident involving Martha Parkhurst ("Parkhurst"), an employee of the Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ("MSPCA"), and Nadeau, an employee of the USPS. Liberty Mutual seeks reimbursement from the USPS for workers' compensation benefits paid to Parkhurst as a result of the accident. The Defendants now moves to dismiss. D. 7. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is DENIED.

II. Factual Allegations and Procedural History

On September 9, 2010, Parkhurst was driving a vehicle when she was rear-ended by Nadeau. D. 1 ¶¶ 6, 8. Parkhurst sustained "severe, serious, and permanent injuries." D. 1 ¶13. At the time of the accident, Parkhurst was acting in the course and scope of her employment with MSPCA. Id . ¶¶ 2, 6. Nadeau was driving a mail truck owned by her employer, USPS. Id . ¶¶ 4, 9. Liberty Mutual alleges that the accident was caused by the negligence of the Defendant. Id . ¶ 11.

The parties do not dispute that the vehicle driven by Parkhurst was owned by MSPCA. D. 9 ¶ 2. The parties further do not dispute that Liberty Mutual provided MSPCA with automobile insurance. Id . ¶ 4; D. 8-1.

Liberty Mutual issued a workers' compensation insurance policy to MSPCA. D. 9 ¶ 5. The insurance policy grants to Liberty Mutual, on behalf of Parkhurst, the right to recover from a tortfeasor and responsible party amounts paid under the policy. See id. ¶¶ 5-6. Liberty Mutual paid workers' compensation benefits of $43, 489.17 to Parkhurst pursuant to the policy issued to MSPCA. D. 8-3 at 2.

On September 28, 2010, Liberty Mutual filed a claim with USPS seeking $2, 211.78 for damage to the car owned by MSPCA and driven by Parkhurst at the time of the accident. D. 8-1 (letter from Liberty Mutual to USPS). On November 1, 2010, USPS permitted recovery and enclosed a check in the amount requested. D. 8-2 (letter from USPS to Liberty Mutual). The letter stated in part that the "check operates as a complete release and bars recovery of any additional or future claims against [USPS]... by reason of the same subject matter. Should there be any subrogation claims or liens, or any outstanding indebtedness, they must be satisfied from the proceeds of this check." Id . Liberty Mutual accepted the check. D. 8-3 at 2 (letter from Liberty Mutual's counsel to USPS).

On July 7, 2012, Liberty Mutual requested an additional payment of $43, 489.17 as reimbursement for the workers' compensation benefits paid to Parkhurst. D. 8-4 (letter from Liberty Mutual to USPS). Liberty Mutual's request referenced Parkhurst as the employee and MSPCA as the employer. Id . It also referenced a claim number different from that in its September 28 request. Id . On May 6, 2013, the Defendant denied the claim. D. 8-5 (letter from USPS to Liberty Mutual). The Defendant explained that the previous payment of $2, 211.78 was "in full and final settlement of the claim you submitted" and that "the release letter, which accompanied our previous payment, indicated that acceptance of the check acts a complete release and bars any additional or future claims against" USPS. Id . The letter further stated that "cashing of a settlement check constitutes a release of the claim and bars consideration of any further claims arising from the same accident." Id.

Liberty Mutual brought this action on September 6, 2013 claiming negligence and seeking reimbursement for the amounts paid to Parkhurst. D. 1. The Defendant has moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, contending that sovereign immunity bars the suit. D. 7, 8. The Court heard the parties on the pending motion on July 30, 2014 and took the matter under advisement. D. 12.

III. Governing Legal Standard

A motion to dismiss brought under Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction is subject to the same standard of review as motions brought under Rule 12(b)(6). Muller v. Bedford VA Admin. Hosp., No. 11-10510-DJC, 2013 WL 702766, at *2 (D. Mass. Feb. 25, 2013) (citing Rogan v. Menino , 175 F.3d 75, 77 (1st Cir.1999)); see Sea Shore Corp. v. Sullivan , 158 F.3d 51, 54 (1st Cir.1998).

The Court is required to "assume the truth of all well-plead[ed] facts and give the plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences therefrom." Ruiz v. Bally Total Fitness Holding Corp. , 496 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 1997). The complaint must set forth "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). That is, taking all the facts as alleged in the complaint as true, there must be sufficient facts to demonstrate "more than a sheer possibility" that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. Garcia-Catalan v. United States , 734 F.3d 100, 102-03 (1st Cir. 2013) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). In addition to the facts set forth in the complaint, the Court may also "consider documents the authenticity of which are not disputed by the parties;... ...


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