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HYATT v. UNITED STATES

June 25, 1997

EARL HYATT, Plaintiff, against UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHNSON

 JOHNSON, District Judge:

 Earl Abraham Hyatt ("plaintiff") has brought this action against the United States of America ("government" or "defendant") pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act for false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, negligence, and gross negligence. A bench trial was conducted on June 10 and 11, 1996. In addition to arguing that plaintiff failed to establish his cause of action at trial, the government moved to dismiss the complaint as time-barred. The Court reserved decision on that motion, as well as on the merits of the case.

 For the reasons stated below, the Court finds that plaintiff's claims are not time-barred, and that plaintiff proved his claim for false imprisonment at trial.

 PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

 Plaintiff brought this action based largely on the government's mistaken imprisonment of him from May 25 to September 7, 1990. On March 1, 1991, plaintiff filed his initial complaint with this Court against the United States of America, the Drug Enforcement Agency ("DEA"), DEA Agent Robert Fanter, and other unknown DEA agents and federal agencies, pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA") and the Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Plaintiff then filed an administrative claim with the DEA on June 14, 1991. The DEA denied plaintiff's administrative claim on January 23, 1992, and after the government answered the complaint on February 11, 1992, the parties moved forward with discovery from the spring of 1992 until the spring of 1993.

 The government subsequently moved for summary judgment. Pursuant to this Court's Memorandum and Order dated October 28, 1994 ("Memorandum and Order"), plaintiff's claims were all dismissed, and plaintiff's attorney was directed to pay the costs of the motion. Specifically, the Court found in part that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the FTCA claims contained in plaintiff's initial March 1, 1991 complaint, because that action was commenced before satisfaction of the administrative exhaustion requirement under 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a) ("Section 2675(a)"). As stated in the Court's Memorandum and Order, "because the FTCA constitutes a waiver of sovereign immunity, the procedures set forth in Section 2675 must be adhered to strictly." Memorandum and Order at 11 (quoting Keene Corp. v. United States, 700 F.2d 836, 841 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 864, 78 L. Ed. 2d 171, 104 S. Ct. 195 (1983)). Plaintiff had failed to meet the requirements of Section 2675(a) when he filed his complaint prior to filing his administrative claim with the DEA, and the Court therefore lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the FTCA claims. See McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 124 L. Ed. 2d 21, 113 S. Ct. 1980 (1993). The Court, however, permitted plaintiff to replead his FTCA claims against the United States, and plaintiff therefore filed an amended complaint based on a single FTCA cause of action against the United States on November 9, 1994.

 The government's initial response to the amended complaint was a motion to dismiss filed prior to trial but fully briefed only after trial. The Court reserved its decision on that motion, and conducted a bench trial in June 1996. The parties submitted post-trial briefs in August and September 1996.

 DISCUSSION

 I. Motion to Dismiss the Complaint as Time-Barred.

 As discussed above, the Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiff's initial FTCA claims because they were prematurely filed and plaintiff therefore failed to meet the requirements of Section 2675(a).

 The United States argues that the Court also lacks the jurisdiction to consider the single cause of action in plaintiff's amended complaint. Specifically, defendant cites 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b) ("Section 2401(b)") which states:

 
A tort claim against the United States shall be forever barred unless it is presented in writing to the appropriate Federal agency within two years after such claim accrues or unless action is begun within six months after the date of mailing, by certified or registered mail, of notice of final denial of the claim by the agency to which it was presented.

 Section 2401(b). The government points out, and plaintiff apparently agrees, that both requirements set forth in the above-quoted paragraph must be satisfied by a plaintiff bringing a tort claim against the United States. See Willis v. United States, 719 F.2d 608, 612 (1983). Because the DEA denied plaintiff's administrative claim on January 23, 1992, the government argues that plaintiff had only until July 23, 1992 to bring his complaint. Plaintiff filed his amended complaint, however, pursuant to this Court's Memorandum and Order, on November 9, 1994, long after the six-month statute of limitations had passed. The government therefore concludes that the single FTCA cause of action contained in plaintiff's amended complaint is time-barred. In short, defendant asserts, plaintiff's first March 1, 1991 complaint was filed too early, and his November 9, 1994 amended complaint was filed too late.

 Plaintiff argues in response that unlike the jurisdictional requirements codified at Section 2675(a) which cannot be waived, the statute of limitations contained in Section 2401(b) constitutes an affirmative defense which defendant must prove and plead. Specifically, plaintiff argues that the defendant completely waived its statute of limitations defense. This argument is without merit. Even if the waiver of Section 2401(b) as a principle were appropriate, defendant made no such waiver in this case. As its initial response to the amended complaint, defendant filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint based precisely on the argument that plaintiff failed to satisfy the statute of limitations requirement of Section 2401(b).

 More persuasive is plaintiff's argument that the statute of limitations of Section 2401(b) is subject to equitable tolling, and should be tolled in the instant case.

 The Second Circuit has indicated that the temporal boundaries set forth in Section 2401(b) are jurisdictional requirements. Long Island Radio Company v. NLRB, 841 F.2d 474, 477 (2d Cir. 1988) ("Where a statute authorizing a claim against the United States contains time limits for filing the claim, those limits set the temporal boundaries of the consent to be sued; they grant the tribunal in which the claim is to be filed jurisdiction to entertain only those claims that are filed within the time allowed by the statute.") (citing, among others, Leonhard v. United States, 633 F.2d 599, 624 (2d Cir. 1980) (a suit brought under the FTCA), cert. denied, 405 U.S. 908 (1981)). Since that indication, however, the Supreme Court has stated that the principle of equitable tolling should apply to suits brought against the government under statutes that waive sovereign immunity. The Court stated:

 
Once Congress has made such a waiver, we think that making the rule of equitable tolling applicable to suits against the Government, in the same way that it is applicable to private suits, amounts to little, if any, broadening of the congressional waiver . . . . We therefore hold that the same rebuttable presumption of equitable tolling applicable to suits against private defendants should also apply to suits against the United States.

 Irwin v. Dep't of Veteran Affairs, 498 U.S. 89, 95-96, 111 S. Ct. 453, 112 L. Ed. 2d 435 (1990).

 In accord with Irwin, several circuit courts of appeals have found that the time requirements of Section 2401(b) may be equitably tolled. See, e.g., Alvarez-Machain v. United States, 107 F.3d 696, 701 (9th Cir. 1996); Glarner v. United States, 30 F.3d 697, 701 (6th Cir. 1994); Krueger v. Saiki, 19 F.3d 1285, 1286 (8th Cir.) cert. denied, 513 U.S. 905, 130 L. Ed. 2d 187, 115 S. Ct. 269 (1994). See also Lambert v. United States, 44 F.3d 296, 298-99 (5th Cir. 1995) (implying that equitable tolling may be appropriate in some FTCA suits, albeit not the instant one); Benge v. United States, 17 F.3d 1286, 1288 (10th Cir. 1994) (same); Long v. Card, 882 F. Supp. 1285, 1287-88 (E.D.N.Y. 1995) (same). It is therefore appropriate for this Court to consider plaintiff's contention that the statute of limitations should be equitably tolled in the instant case.

 Plaintiff specifically contends that defendant's attorney affirmatively acted to induce plaintiff not to file a complaint within the six-month period following his receipt of the denial of his administrative claim, and this Court finds that some form of such an express statement was actually made by the government and relied upon by plaintiff's attorney. *fn1" Civardi Aff. P 8 ("[Defendant's attorney] explicitly indicated to me that he would not file the answer until after the administrative claim had been denied. He stated to me, '. . . . I could force you to refile the complaint, but I'm not gonna do that.'"). Such an express inducement by the government's attorney was not relevant to this Court's earlier decision regarding plaintiff's satisfaction of the requirements of Section 2675, because that section of the statute conveys subject matter jurisdiction on this Court and is not subject to waiver or equitable considerations. See Memorandum and Order at 14-15. For purposes of the current motion, however, and particularly regarding plaintiff's argument that the Section 2401(b) statute of limitations should be tolled, this Court may consider defendant's representation to plaintiff's attorney that he did not need to refile the complaint after receipt of the administrative denial.

 In particular, the Court considers this fact in the context of other circumstances of this case and in light of the purpose of a statute of limitations. Although "federal courts typically extend[] equitable relief only sparingly[,] equitable tolling may be appropriate in situations "where the claimant has actively pursued his judicial remedies by filing a defective pleading during the statutory period, or where the complainant has been induced or tricked by his adversary's misconduct into allowing the filing deadline to pass." Irwin v. Dep't of Veterans Affairs, 498 U.S. at 96 (footnotes omitted).

 In the instant case, plaintiff did actively pursue his judicial remedies by conducting discovery with his adversary during the statutory period, and this Court has found that plaintiff was induced not to refile the complaint after the administrative denial. Equally important, the purposes of Section 2401(b) are still satisfied if equitable tolling is applied to this case. Specifically, the government was put on notice in as early as March 1991 to defend against this action, and the fact that discovery was conducted within the statutory period meant that both defendant and the Court were successfully protected from having to deal with a case in which the search for truth might otherwise have been seriously impaired by the loss of evidence. See United States v. Kubrick, 444 U.S. 111, 117, 62 L. Ed. 2d 259, 100 S. Ct. 352 (1979). In short, the "obvious purpose" of Section 2401(b), in encouraging prompt presentation of claims, is still served if equitable tolling is applied in this case. See id. (citations omitted).

 Considering all of these factors, the Court finds that equitable tolling is appropriate in the instant case, and that plaintiff's November 9, 1994 filing of the amended complaint -- just twelve days after the government's motion for dismissal of the original complaint was decided by the Court -- satisfies the requirements of Section 2401(b). *fn2" Defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint as time-barred is therefore denied.

 II. Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law.

 The Court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to ...


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