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Mooney v. G.A.C. Realty Corp.

United States District Court, W.D. New York

March 5, 2015

SHARON A. MOONEY and WILLIAM J. MOONEY, Plaintiffs,
v.
G.A.C. REALTY CORP. and LIMA CLOVER FARMS MARKET, INC., Defendants. G.A.C. REALTY CORP. and LIMA CLOVER FARMS MARKET, INC., Third-Party Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, Third-Party Defendant.

DECISION & ORDER

FRANK P. GERACI, Jr., District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs Sharon and William Mooney commenced a lawsuit in state court against the owners of a shopping plaza, alleging that they were injured on their property. Dkt. # 1. The Defendants subsequently commended a third-party action against the United States Postal Service, alleging that they were the party who caused the alleged injuries. Id. After removing this action to federal court, the United States Postal Service moved to dismiss the Complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), arguing that this Court lacks jurisdiction to hear the case. Dkt. # 4.

BACKGROUND

The facts of this case are relatively straightforward. Plaintiffs Sharon A. and William J. Mooney commenced an action in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of Livingston ("Livingston County Supreme Court") on or about June 29, 2011 against Defendants G.A.C. Realty Corp. ("GAC") and Lima Clover Farms Market, Inc. ("Lima Clover"). GAC and Lima Clover subsequently filed a third-party action on January 16, 2014 in Livingston County Supreme Court, which named the United States Postal Service ("USPS") as the third-party defendant. The third-party Complaint was served upon the United States Attorney for the Western District of New York and the Attorney General of the United States on or about January 27, 2014.

The actions allege that on February 17, 2011, Plaintiff Sharon A. Mooney slipped on ice in a parking lot, and sustained injuries from her fall. The original Complaint describes the parking lot as being that of the Save-a-lot grocery store, located at 7273 W. Main Street, Lima, New York, and further alleges that the parking lot was owned by GAC. The third-party Complaint alleges that GAC leased the real property located at 7275 W. Main Street, Lima, New York to the USPS, and as part of that lease agreement, the USPS was responsible for snow removal at that property. The third-party Complaint alleges that the USPS either caused or contributed to the Plaintiff's injuries through its own negligence.

On April 28, 2014, the United States of America removed the Livingston County Supreme Court action to this Court. The Clerk of this Court opened this removed case on May 1, 2014, and that same day, the United States moved to (1) substitute the United States of America as the proper defendant in place of the United States Postal Service and (2) dismiss this action under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Specifically, the United States advances two independent basis for dismissal. First, the government argues that because the USPS contracted with an independent contractor to perform snow removal at their Lima facility, the acts were not taken by a federal employee, and Congress' waiver of sovereign immunity under the Federal Torts Claims Act ("FTCA") only applies to government employees, and not to independent contractors. In addition, the government argues that the Livingston County Supreme Court lacked jurisdiction over the USPS because actions against a federal agency can only be brought in United States District Court. Because the state court never had jurisdiction over the USPS, the government argues that under the derivative jurisdiction doctrine, this Court only acquires through removal such jurisdiction that the original court possessed - which they argue, in this case, was none.

On June 9, 2014, approximately a month after the Motion to Dismiss was filed, I granted the parties request to stay briefing on the Motion to Dismiss, so that they could engage in limited discovery directed exclusively to the snowplow contractor that serviced the parking lot at issue and who is not a party to this action, focusing on whether employees of the USPS supervised or controlled the contractor's actions. Dkt. # 7. After completing that limited discovery, GAC filed their opposition to the present motion, and the government filed their Reply in support. Dkt. ## 12, 13.

For the following reasons, the government's motion to substitute the United States for defendant USPS is GRANTED, the parties' stipulution to dismiss Lima Clover from this action is APPROVED, the government's Motion to Dismiss the United States from this action is GRANTED, and this action is remanded to the Livingston County Supreme Court.

DISCUSSION

1. Legal Standard

Federal district courts are courts of limited jurisdiction; their judicial power extends only so far as authorized by the Constitution and the laws of Congress. See Bender v. Williamsport Area Sch. Dist., 475 U.S. 534, 541 (1986). Furthermore, the party asserting jurisdiction bears the burden of proving that the case is properly before the court. In re Joint Eastern & Southern Dist. Asbestos Litig., 14 F.3d 726, 730 (2d Cir. 1993). In ruling on a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) for lack of subject ...


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