WILLIAM H. MONE reports on a recent published decision from the United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit.
A New Jersey woman was injured as a result of a motor vehicle collision with a vehicle owned and operated by the United States Postal Service (“USPS”). Two weeks thereafter, the woman submitted an administrative tort claim notice to USPS pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). The woman’s claim was subsequently denied by the USPS, and the woman was notified that she was permitted to file suit in federal court no later than six months from the date the denial notice was mailed to her. The woman subsequently filed suit against the USPS and the driver of the other vehicle in the District Court of New Jersey eight months after the denial notice was mailed to her.
The United States intervened on behalf of the USPS and moved for summary judgment, arguing that the woman’s claim was time-barred because it was filed more than six months after the USPS denied her claim. The District Court granted the motion for summary judgment and dismissed the woman’s claim accordingly. The woman appealed that decision and argued that the time limit should be “equitably tolled” and that the applicable provision of the FTCA required her to either (1) file her lawsuit within six months of the denial of her claim or (2) submit her claim to the USPS within two years of the date the claim accrued.
On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the District Court’s dismissal of the woman’s claim. The court noted that the applicable provision of the FTCA required that the woman meet both conditions in the statute – i.e. that she file her lawsuit within six months of the denial letter and notify the USPS of her claim within two years of the date of the accident.
In doing so, the court relied on a similar decision from the Sixth Circuit, explaining that the FTCA plainly contemplates that one act (the administrative filing) will precede the other act (court filing). Effectively, the court ruled that the woman had two years from the date of the accident to bring her claim before the USPS, and six months from her claims denial to file suit in the District Court. In addition, the court concluded that Congress meant to impose some kind of time limitation on administrative and court filings when enacting the FTCA.
Please contact William H. Mone if you have any questions or need assistance in connection with this subject.