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Martin v. U.S. Department of Transportation

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green Division

July 25, 2017

PEPPY MARTIN PLAINTIFF
v.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION; and KENTUCKY TRANSPORTATION CABINET DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Greg N. Stivers, Judge United States District Court

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant U.S. Department of Transportation’s Motion to Dismiss (DN 23), Defendant Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s Motion to Dismiss (DN 28), Plaintiff’s Motions for Summary Judgment (DN 24, 33, 34), and Defendant U.S. Department of Transportation’s Motion to Strike Plaintiff’s Motions for Summary Judgment (DN 35). For the following reasons, Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss are GRANTED, Defendant’s Motion to Strike is DENIED AS MOOT, and Plaintiff’s Motions for Summary Judgment are DENIED AS MOOT.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Peppy Martin (“Martin”), appearing pro se, brings this action against the U.S. Department of Transportation (“USDOT”) and Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (“KYTC”) for alleged damages incurred as a result of the design and construction of the I-65 widening project that occurred adjacent to Martin’s property. (See Compl., DN 1-2). Martin alleges that the project has damaged her “health, wealth, and welfare . . . loss of privacy, and loss of future income” and seeks $100 million in damages. (Compl. 13). USDOT and KYTC have moved to dismiss the Complaint arguing that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction and that the Complaint fails to state a claim. (Def.’s Mot. Dismiss, DN 23; Def.’s Mot. Dismiss, DN 28). USDOT has also moved to strike Martin’s Motion for Summary Judgment from the record. (Def.’s Mot. Strike, DN 35). These matters are ripe for adjudication.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. USDOT’s Motion to Dismiss

         USDOT moves pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) to dismiss all claims against it. (See Def.’s Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss 2-9, DN 23-1 [hereinafter USDOT’s Mot.]). In order to survive a motion to dismiss alleging a lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of proving subject matter jurisdiction. See Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982). The Court must “construe the Complaint liberally and treat all well-pleaded facts as true, according the plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences.” Murphy v. United States, 45 F.3d 520, 522 (1st Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). “‘It is axiomatic that the United States may not be sued without its consent and that the existence of consent is a prerequisite for jurisdiction.’” Munaco v. United States, 522 F.3d 651, 652 (6th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting United States v. Mitchell, 463 U.S. 206, 212 (1983)).

         The sovereign immunity of the United States extends to federal agencies and federal officers in their official capacities. Muniz-Muniz v. U.S. Border Patrol, 741 F.3d 668, 671 (6th Cir. 2013). Without a “clear relinquishment” of sovereign immunity, a court has no jurisdiction overt tort actions against the United States. Dalehite v. United States, 346 U.S. 15, 31 (1953). Among the limited waivers of the government’s sovereign immunity is the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), which provides a remedy against the United States for the torts of its officers and employees. United States v. Orleans, 425 U.S. 807, 813 (1976). The FTCA waives the government’s sovereign immunity for claims brought against it “for injury or loss of property, or personal injury or death by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment . . . .” 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1).

         Martin’s alleged various state tort claims may not be maintained against USDOT. Aside from the fact that Martin has neither brought her state tort claims under the FTCA nor named the United States as a defendant, an actionable FTCA claim must be for injury caused by the negligent or wrongful conduct of a federal employee. FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 477 (1994). The alleged negligent conduct of which Martin complains, however, was committed by employees either of the state or contracted by the state during the I-65 construction project. (See Compl.). The only link Martin alleges between the USDOT and the latter entities is that USDOT provides federal funds to those entities, and thus should have provided more oversight. (Pl.’s Resp. Def.’s Mot. Dismiss 1-2, DN 26 [hereinafter Pl.’s Resp. USDOT’s Mot.]). But “the existence of federal funding, standing alone, does not establish an individual’s status as a federal employee and hence the government’s liability under the [FTCA] . . . .” Haugen v. United States, 492 F. Supp. 398, 401 (E.D.N.Y. 1980), aff’d, 646 F.2d 560 (2d Cir. 1980) (citations omitted); see Orleans, 425 U.S. at 813 (“The Tort Claims Act was never intended, and has not been construed by this Court, to reach employees or agents of all federally funded programs that confer benefits on people.”). Because Martin has alleged no more than a funding relationship between the USDOT and the state employees whose conduct she challenges, she could not have stated a valid FTCA claim against the USDOT even if she had brought one. Accordingly, the Court concludes that USDOT is immune from suit.[1]

         Turning to USDOT’s argument that the claims asserted against it should be dismissed pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), a complaint is subject to dismissal if it “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must construe the complaint in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party, accepting “as true all factual allegations and permissible inferences therein. Gazette v. City of Pontiac, 41 F.3d 1061, 1064 (6th Cir. 1994) (citing Westlake v. Lucas, 537 F.2d 857, 858 (6th Cir. 1976)). The nonmoving party, however, must plead more than bare legal conclusions. Lillard v. Shelby Cty. Bd. of Educ., 76 F.3d 716, 726 (6th Cir. 1996). In order to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, “[the] complaint must contain (1) ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible,’ (2) more than ‘a formulaic recitation of a cause of action’s elements,’ and (3) allegations that suggest a ‘right to relief above a speculative level.’” Tackett v. M & G Polymers, USA, LLC, 561 F.3d 478, 488 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). While the pleadings do not need to contain detailed factual allegations, the nonmoving party must allege facts that when “accepted as true . . . ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 663 (2009).

         USDOT contends that although the Complaint names USDOT as a defendant, she makes no mention of any legal wrongdoing specifically by USDOT. (USDOT’s Mot. 4-5). Her allegations involving both Defendants include the following:

• “Defendants have, without her knowledge or express permission, effectively obviated her visibility on I-65 by creating a huge and expensive setback, some 15 feet thick and 50 feet deep.” (Compl. 10).
• “[t]he 3 Defendants have made a sheer mess not only of Plaintiffs frontage which has value for its visibility but also of the medians at the Bonnieville exit, particularly on the northbound side.” (Compl. 11).
• “Her land has been defaced, and its commercial development is hurt by the lack of vision of ...

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