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Rios v. United States

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 5, 2017

LUIS RIOS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          DENISE J. CASPER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Luis Rios (“Rios”) has filed this lawsuit against the United States of America, alleging that he sustained physical injuries due to its negligence in violation of 33 U.S.C. § 905(b). D. 1 ¶¶ 10-16. The United States has moved to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) on the basis that Rios did not properly exhaust the administrative requirements under the Admiralty Extension Act (“AEA”) prior to bringing this case in federal court. D. 16. The Court ALLOWS the motion to dismiss, but, as explained below, not solely on the basis of a failure to exhaust under the AEA, and shall dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

         II. Standard of Review

         Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), a defendant can move to dismiss an action in federal court based upon a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. “‘Because federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, federal jurisdiction is never presumed.'” Fabrica de Muebles J.J. Alvarez, Incorporado v. Inversiones Mendoza, Inc., 682 F.3d 26, 32 (1st Cir. 2012) (quoting Viqueira v. First Bank, 140 F.3d 12, 16 (1st Cir. 1998)). Instead, “the party invoking the jurisdiction of a federal court carries the burden of proving its existence.” Murphy v. United States, 45 F.3d 520, 522 (1st Cir. 1995) (quoting Taber Partners, I v. Merit Builders, Inc., 987 F.2d 57, 60 (1st Cir. 1993)). In other words, once a defendant challenges the jurisdictional basis for a claim in federal court pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), the plaintiff has the burden of proving that jurisdiction exists. Johansen v. United States, 506 F.3d 65, 68 (1st Cir. 2007).

         In general, the Court has “very broad discretion in determining the manner in which it will consider the issue of jurisdiction.” Valedon Martinez v. Hosp. Presbiteriano de la Comunidad, Inc., 806 F.2d 1128, 1132 (1st Cir. 1986). When considering a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), “the district court must construe the complaint liberally, treating all well-pleaded facts as true and indulging all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” Aversa v. United States, 99 F.3d 1200, 1209-10 (1st Cir. 1996) (citing Murphy, 45 F.3d at 522). The Court may also, however, look beyond the pleadings to determine whether it has jurisdiction. Katz v. Pershing, LLC, 806 F.Supp.2d 452, 456 (D. Mass. 2011), aff'd, 672 F.3d 64 (1st Cir. 2012); see Martinez-Rivera v. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, 812 F.3d 69, 74 (1st Cir. 2016); Aversa, 99 F.3d at 1210. If the Court concludes that it lacks jurisdiction over the claims alleged, it must dismiss the action. See Johansen, 506 F.3d at 68.

         III. Factual and Procedural Background

         Unless otherwise indicated, the following summary is based upon the facts alleged in the complaint, D. 1.

         Rios was a member of the crew of a vessel owned, operated or controlled by the United States and named the USNS William McLean (“the McLean”). D. 1 ¶¶ 1, 6. On February 13, 2014, Rios and a fellow crew member were working on “a CHT hose” connected to the McLean that was not depressurized. Id. ¶¶ 6, 9. Rios was holding onto the hose while a fellow crew member uncoupled it. Id. ¶¶ 6-7. When the hose uncoupled, it propelled into Rios, tossed him approximately ten feet and caused him to sustain injuries to his back and hip. Id. ¶ 8. His injuries required continuing medical treatment and caused permanent disability and loss of enjoyment. Id. ¶ 15.

         On August 7, 2015, Rios submitted an initial presentment letter pursuant to 46 U.S.C. § 30901 to the United States Department of Transportation Maritime Administration (“the Maritime Administration”), the United States Department of Transportation, the United States Department of Justice and the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Texas via certified mail. D. 16-4. There is no dispute that the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Texas and the United States Department of Justice received the presentment letter. D. 16-1 at 2-3. The record reflects, however, that neither the Department of Transportation nor the Maritime Administration received the initial presentment letter. Id. at 3; D. 16-5 ¶¶ 2, 4.

         On September 1, 2015, Rios mailed a second presentment letter pursuant to 46 U.S.C. § 30901 to the Maritime Administration. D. 16-1 at 3; D. 16-6. The Maritime Administration received this second letter on September 17, 2015. D. 16-5 ¶ 5. That same day, the Maritime Administration forwarded the second letter to the Navy, the entity that owned and operated the McLean. Id.

         Thereafter, Rios filed this action on February 5, 2016. D. 1. The United States moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. D. 16; see D. 16-1 at 5-11. The Court heard the parties on the pending motion and took the matter under advisement. D. 20.

         IV. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1)

         A. Establishing ...


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