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STANLEY v. UNITED STATES

May 16, 1995

JULIA A. STANLEY, Individually and as the Natural Guardian and Parent of Laura Stanley, an Infant, Plaintiff, -vs- UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN T. ELFVIN

 In this "dog-bite" case arising under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("the FTCA") *fn1" , defendant United States of America moves for summary judgment. Such motion will be granted.

 Summary judgment is appropriate if it is shown that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FRCvP *fn2" 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). The defendant, as the moving party or movant, need not negate the non-moving plaintiff's or "non-movant's" position; it simply has to point out the lack of evidence supporting her claim. She, in opposing the motion and in light of her evidentiary burden, must then present competent evidence showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. "The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-movant's] position will be insufficient [to defeat a motion for summary judgment]; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-movant]." Id. at 252. See also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 324, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986); Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F.2d 979, 982 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 849, 116 L. Ed. 2d 117, 112 S. Ct. 152 (1991). In reviewing a summary judgment motion, "a district court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the party defending against the motion." Eastway Const. Corp. v. City of New York, 762 F.2d 243, 249 (2d Cir. 1985). In support of their positions and in accordance with this Court's Local Rule 56, the parties have submitted their respective statements of undisputed and disputed facts. See United States' Statement of Undisputed Facts ("the Defendant's Fact Statement"); Plaintiff's Statement of Disputed Facts ("the Plaintiff's Fact Statement"). To the extent that each is buttressed by affidavits and supporting papers in accordance with FRCvP 56(c) & 56(e), this Court has determined that certain facts are undisputed and serve as the basis for the analysis and conclusions contained herein.

 The plaintiff is the mother of the infant Laura Stanley, both of whom resided at a Department of Defense Family Housing Facility in Niagara Falls, N.Y. during the time period of the events in question. The mother's husband and Laura's father was a member of the United States military. On August 7, 1990 Laura was bitten and injured by a dog owned by the Pritchard family, which lived at the same facility.

 William Pritchard, III, was the Public Affairs Officer for the United States Navy Recruiting District in Buffalo, N.Y. As such he was responsible for local recruiting activities -- e.g., coordinating publicity, visiting schools, arranging for potential recruits to visit naval vessels in the area and apprising naval personnel of his efforts and the results thereof.

 Pritchard and his family owned two malamute dogs while residing in the military housing, one of which was "Goldie," a bitch. There were and are Department of Defense rules and regulations governing pets in military housing. *fn3" Such rules and regulations are applicable to all pet owners -- not just those in the military, but also their spouses, children and invited guests. Pritchard advised the military housing officials that these pets would be kept at his family's residence. These dogs did not relate to Pritchard's duties as a Public Affairs Officer but were kept solely for the pleasure of his family. Shortly after the Pritchards had moved into their residence in the Spring of 1988, they requested and received permission from the housing project manager to erect fencing to contain the dogs and did so. In April of 1989, after investigating complaints regarding the number of pets the Pritchards owned, the manager discovered that they actually owned and housed three dogs and two cats in violation of the above-noted regulations. The manager requested that Pritchard "decrease the number of pets to two" and informed Pritchard that "Non compliance of these regulations may result in a warning letter to terminate government housing." Exhibit A attached to Plaintiffs' Appendix. It is undisputed that, at the time of events in question, the Pritchards owned and housed only two pets -- Goldie and the other malamute. Prior to the events of August 7, 1990 the manager had never received any complaints of and was not aware of any vicious or dangerous propensity or any indication of such in either dog.

 In early August 1990 Goldie had puppies and was being kept in the Pritchards' garage with her litter. On August 7th Pritchard's five-year old son invited Laura over to his house and, after receiving the permission of her mother to do so, she and her sister Sarah accompanied the boy to his home. He asked his parents if the girls could see the puppies, but was not permitted to do so; he was told that Goldie would not want people around her puppies. Shortly thereafter, while the children were playing in the backyard, the boy told the girls to follow him. He then brought them to the back door of the garage and opened it, whereupon Goldie ran out and bit Laura. No member of the Pritchard family is a defendant in this suit.

 Pursuant to a stipulation between the parties and the approval of this Court, the second and third claims of the four-claim Amended Complaint, filed June 9, 1993, were dismissed with prejudice. *fn4" Order filed March 21, 1994. What remains is an action under the FTCA wherein the plaintiff asserts that, under the rules and regulations of the Department of Defense, Pritchard was charged with the duty of controlling Goldie and that the Department of Defense was charged with enforcing its rules and regulations concerning the care and ownership of pets on military housing complexes. The Amended Complaint further alleges that the whelping Goldie was locked in the garage because of her dangerous propensities, that Goldie was not under Pritchard's control as was required and that Goldie attacked and injured Laura. It is further alleged that Pritchard was acting within the scope of his employment and was delegated the specific duty to keep Goldie safely restrained. Amended Complaint at P15. Thus, it is asserted that the defendant is vicariously liable for Pritchard's negligence, if any, under the doctrine of respondeat superior. The Fourth Claim for Relief is derivative from the First and seeks additional damages for Laura's past, present and future medical and dental treatment.

 The FTCA states in part:

 
"The district courts *** shall have exclusive jurisdiction of civil actions on claims against the United States, for money damages, *** personal injury *** caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his *** employment, under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred."

  Pritchard was at the time a federal employee for FTCA purposes under 28 U.S.C. ยง 2671 which further states that acting within the scope of his office or employment', in a case of a member of the military or naval forces of the United States *** means acting in line of duty." As applied to this case, the FTCA operates as a waiver of the United States's sovereign immunity for torts committed by government employees to the extent that a similarly-situated private person would be held liable under New York law. Chen v. U.S, 854 F.2d 622, 625-626 (2d Cir. 1988). Thus, this Court must determine whether there is a genuine issue whether Pritchard was acting within the scope of his employment which, under New York law, would supply a basis for imposing liability upon the defendant under the theory of respondeat superior.5 As is illustrated above, this Court is not relying on any conflicting evidence in its ruling and there are no disputed material facts; thus, summary judgment is an appropriate vehicle for the disposition of this matter. Mary KK v. Jack LL, 203 A.D.2d 840, 611 N.Y.S.2d 347 (3d Dep't 1994) (summary judgment is appropriate on the "scope of employment" issue where there is no conflicting evidence or the facts are undisputed).

 Under New York law, an employer may be found liable for the tortious behavior of its employee if such was within the scope of the latter's employment. Hall v. Danforth, 172 A.D.2d 906, 567 N.Y.S.2d 958, 959 (3d Dep't 1991) (deer hunter shot by farm employee after being invited by employee to hunt on farm brought personal injury action against employee and farm owner; summary judgment granted to farm owner who, because employee was engaged in purely personal action and was not doing anything in furtherance of duty he owed to owner, was not liable -- citing Murray v. Watervliet City School Dist., 130 A.D.2d 830, 515 N.Y.S.2d 150 (3d Dep't 1987)). Hall further states that, if the tort was committed by the employee solely for personal ends, rather than in furtherance of or incident to the employer's business, liability for the employee's acts may not be imputed to the employer. Ibid. (citing Horowitz v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 137 A.D.2d 492, 524 N.Y.S.2d 236 (2d Dep't), appeal denied, 72 N.Y.2d 803 (1988)). See also Mary KK, supra (regarding school district's liability, the court held acts of sexual misconduct by teacher were clearly outside scope of teacher's employment and thus theory of respondeat superior did not apply); Joseph v. City of Buffalo, 187 A.D.2d 946, 590 N.Y.S.2d 350, 351 (4th Dep't 1992) (city could not be held liable for injuries suffered by individual who shot himself with police officer's weapon; court concluded that officer, while at home with his family, was not engaged in any police business), aff'd, 83 N.Y.2d 141, 608 N.Y.S.2d 396, 629 N.E.2d 1354 (1994); Joshua S. v. Casey, 206 A.D.2d 839, 615 N.Y.S.2d 200 (4th Dep't 1994) (school, church and diocese were not liable under theory of respondeat superior for alleged abuse because abuse was not within scope of employment and could not be said to have been in furtherance of school's, church's or diocese's business). As New York's Court of Appeals stated, in order to impute liability to an employer, "it suffices that the tortious conduct be a natural incident of the employment." Riviello v. Waldron, 47 N.Y.2d 297, 304, 418 N.Y.S.2d 300, 391 N.E.2d 1278 (1979).

 Further guidance on this "scope of employment" issue within the context of military service is also available at the federal level, where it has been a matter of contention. Surprisingly, this legal issue has arisen several times under facts almost identical to the instant matter, with the Sixth, Eighth and District of Columbia Circuits' Courts of Appeals holding that the United States is not vicariously liable under respondeat superior via the FTCA and the Ninth Circuit's concluding otherwise. See Chancellor by Chancellor v. U.S., 1 F.3d 438 (6th Cir. 1993); Piper v. U.S., 887 F.2d 861 (8th Cir. 1989); Nelson v. U.S., 267 U.S. App. D.C. 330, 838 F.2d 1280 (D.C. Cir. 1988); Lutz v. United States, 685 F.2d 1178 (9th Cir. 1982). See also, e.g., Brotko v. U.S., 727 F. Supp. 78 (D.R.I. 1989).

 In urging the conclusion that controlling a family pet was within the line of Pritchard's duty as a member of the military, the plaintiff highlights the "special factors" of military service, distinguishing it from garden-variety, civilian employment. See Lutz, 685 F.2d at 1182-1183; Craft v. United States, 542 F.2d 1250, 1255 (5th Cir. 1976), reh'g denied, 546 F.2d 906 (1977); Weaver v. U.S. Coast Guard, 857 F. Supp. 539, 542-548 (S.D.Tex. 1994). In Lutz, the government was found liable for the dog-bite injuries sustained by a young girl under facts similar to those herein. The military ...


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