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Vaselli v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. New York

October 3, 2014

RICHARD VASELLI, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND JOHN F. O'NEILL, Defendants.

Plaintiff is represented by Edward J. Garnett, Jr., Riconda & Garnett, Valley Stream, NY, and Patrick J. Hackett, Garden City, NY.

Defendants are represented by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney, Eastern District of New York, by James R. Cho, Brooklyn, NY, and by James Halleron Knapp and Diane C. Leonardo-Beckmann, Central Islip, NY.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

JOSEPH F. BIANCO, District Judge.

Plaintiff Richard Vaselli ("Vaselli" or "plaintiff') brings this negligence action against the United States of America (the "Government") and John F. O'Neill ("O'Neill") (collectively, "defendants") pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. §§1346(b), 2671-80 ("FTCA"). He alleges that O'Neill, a United States Postal Service ("USPS") letter carrier, negligently drove his USPS truck into plaintiffs car while making a U-turn on Mills Pond Road in Saint James, New York on September 23, 2011. Defendants have filed a counterclaim against plaintiff, alleging that plaintiff's negligent driving caused $2, 993.47 in property damage to the USPS truck.

The Court held a bench trial on the issue of liability on July 28, 2014. After carefully considering the evidence introduced at trial, the arguments of counsel, and the controlling law on the imbues presented, the Court issues its findings of fact and conclusions of law, as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a).

As an initial matter, the Court dismisses all claims against O'Neill because the Government has certified that O'Neill was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident in question. ( See Certification, ECF No. 6-1); see also 28 U.S.C. § 2679(d)(1) ("Upon certification by the Attorney General that the defendant employee was acting within the scope of his office or employment at the time of the incident out of which the claim arose, any civil action or proceeding commenced upon such claim in a United States district court shall be deemed an action against the United States under the provisions of this title and all references thereto, and the United States shall be substituted as the party defendant."); Rivera v. United States, 928 F.2d 592, 609 (2d Cir. 1991) (holding that, under § 2679, individual defendants are immune from common law tort claims, and that suit against the United States is "the exclusive remedy" for torts committed by government agents). Accordingly, the Court considers only plaintiff's claims against the Government, as well as the Government's counterclaim against plaintiff.

Next, as discussed in detail infra, the Court concludes by a preponderance of the evidence that plaintiff's negligent driving was the sole cause of the accident with O'Neill's truck. Accordingly, plaintiff is entitled to nothing, and plaintiff is liable to the Government for the full amount of the damage to the USPS truck caused by plaintiff's negligence in an amount to be determined in a separate bench trial.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed the complaint on December 18, 2012. Defendants answered the complaint and filed a counterclaim on February 22, 2013. Plaintiff has never answered the counterclaim, even after being given an opportunity to do so after the bench trial was held.[1]

Defendants submitted their proposed findings of fact and trial brief on July 21, 2014. Plaintiff submitted his proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law on July 23, 2014.

The Court held a bench trial on the issue of liability on July 28, 2014. Plaintiff and O'Neill testified as part of plaintiff's case-in-chief O'Neill and James Adler ("Adler"), the supervisor of customer service for the post office in St. James, New York, testified for the defense. Both sides stipulated to the admission in evidence of certain photographs taken after the accident.

After the bench trial concluded, the Court granted the parties the opportunity to submit revised proposed findings of fact in light of the evidence adduced at trial. The Government submitted its proposed findings of fact on August 29, 2014, and plaintiff submitted his proposed findings of fact on September 21, 2014.

The Court has fully considered all of the evidence presented by the parties, as well as their written submissions. Below are the Court's ...


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