Process for Filing a Demand and Lawsuit
The district courts have exclusive jurisdiction over actions under the FTCA. Also, the FTCA is the exclusive remedy in any civil case resulting from a tort committed by a federal employee in the course and scope of employment. If suit is brought against the employee rather than the United States, the Attorney General will defend and the suit may be removed to a federal court if it has been commenced in a state court. However, the Attorney General must first certify that the employee was acting within the scope of his employment. Thus, any person who believes he has been injured by a government employee acting within the scope of his official duties will effectively be in litigation with the federal government once the Attorney General's certification of the employee's scope of employment issues. The employee can not be sued in his individual capacity if the government defends the suit.
Counsel must be aware of certain things when advancing a claim under the FTCA. There is no right to a jury trial in actions brought under the federal statute, even if one would have existed in a suit against the employee. 28 U.S.C. § 2402. Also, by forcing the injured party to bring the action against the federal government instead of the individual federal employee, the two-year statute of limitations governing FTCA cases applies regardless of state law. Therefore, the suit may be barred under the FTCA even if the action would have been timely under the state law. This result works an injustice when the plaintiff had no reason to believe that the federal government was involved in the dispute. However, the FTCA’s two- year statute of limitations will also apply to allow a claim which would be time- barred under state law. For example, a claim was allowed against the federal government even though the claim had expired under Maryland’s one-year statute of limitations. Maryland v. United States, 165 F.2d 869 (4th Cir. 1947).
Importantly, plaintiffs must first file an administrative claim with the appropriate agency before bringing a tort suit under the FTCA. This claim must give the governmental agency enough notice of its nature and basis so that it can begin its own investigation and evaluation, and it must demand payment for a "sum certain." The administrative claim must be filed within two years of the injury. 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b). A plaintiff’s failure to first file an administrative claim will result in the claim being dismissed from the court for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Because subject matter jurisdiction cannot be waived, the requirement to first file with the appropriate agency cannot be waived, Richman v. U.S., 709 F.2d 122 (1st Cir. 1983); nor can jurisdiction be stipulated. Bush v. U.S., 703 F.2d 491 (11th Cir. 1983).
After the administrative claim is filed, the agency must deny it in writing before a suit against the United States can be filed in district court. If the agency does not act upon the claim within six months, the claim is considered to be denied and the plaintiff can then proceed to bring the federal claim in court. 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a). If the administrative claim is denied outright by the agency or denial is presumed because of agency inaction for six months, the litigant has six months to file a tort claim in federal district court. 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b).
Litigants must take special precaution to ensure that the claim proceeds in proper order. To exemplify: A woman was injured on August 10, 1981 from falling into a manhole being worked on by the Veterans Administration (VA). She properly filed the claim with the VA on April 22, 1982. However, she filed an FTCA claim against the United States in federal district court on August 10, 1982. The VA sent her notice of denial of her administrative claim on October 22, 1982. On May 31, 1983, the district court dismissed the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because the plaintiff had filed before receiving notice of denial from the VA. She was allowed to amend her complaint, and filed the amended supplemental complaint on June 13, 1983. The amended complaint was also dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction by the district court. The Fifth Circuit agreed with the dismissal, holding that the claim was now time-barred. Plaintiff had 6 months to file suit in court after the VA denied the administrative claim; April 22, 1983 was therefore the relevant statute of limitations. Plaintiff’s amended complaint was filed after this date. Furthermore, the amended complaint could not relate back to the original complaint (August 10, 1982) because the original complaint was prematurely filed and was not valid. Since an amended complaint cannot relate back to a date on which the court had no subject matter jurisdiction, her claim was lost. Reynolds v. U.S., 748 F.2d 291 (5 th Cir. 1984).
Notice means the claim must be sufficiently specific to make the government aware of the action so it can prepare to defend itself. Goodman v. U.S ., 298 F.3d 1048 (9th Cir. 2002) illustrates this requirement. A man filed an administrative claim against a federal agency for medical malpractice after the death of his wife. The claim was denied, and one day before the six-month time limit expired, he filed suit in federal court. Plaintiff later realized that the proper claim for him to file was a lack of informed consent, not medical malpractice. However, the United States argued that this claim was time- barred because six months had run since the claim was denied by the agency, and he should therefore not be allowed to amend the complaint. The circuit court of appeal decided otherwise, ruling that the administrative claim alleging medical malpractice was broad enough to put the government on notice of the claim for failure to obtain the patient's informed consent for the treatment. The administrative claim is not required to provide more than the minimal details of the factual predicate for the claim to put the government on notice. A full preview of the lawsuit reciting every possible theory of recovery is not required.