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Luangrath v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

May 8, 2019

MATINA LUANGRATH, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          BARBARA J. ROTHSTEIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Matina Luangrath brings this complaint under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), seeking money damages as compensation for personal injuries allegedly caused by the negligence of the United States Postal Service (“USPS”) and the United States. Currently before the Court is Defendant the United States'[1] motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 9) asserting that Luangrath's claim is time-barred by the FTCA's two-year statute of limitations, and that this untimely claim is not entitled to equitable tolling. Having reviewed the motion, the opposition thereto, the record of the case, and the relevant legal authorities, the Court will grant the motion and dismiss the complaint.

         II. BACKGROUND

         On April 15, 2016, USPS employee Enoch Han was driving a USPS vehicle while delivering mail as part of his official duties in Snohomish County, Washington.[2] Compl., Dkt. No.1 at ¶ 4.3. His vehicle collided with the vehicle that Matina Luangrath was driving, injuring her. Id. at ¶ 4.5. Luangrath alleges that this accident caused her permanent bodily injury, past and future disability and loss of enjoyment of life, past and future medical bills, past and future income loss and/or loss of earning potential, mileage expenses and other out of pocket expenses, other special and general damages, and pain and suffering. Id. at ¶ 5.3. Luangrath maintains that she was not negligent in the accident (id. at ¶ 5.5), but that the United States and USPS were, listing three causes of action against them: negligence, respondeat superior, and negligent hiring and supervision. Id. at ¶¶ 5.1 to 7.1.

         Luangrath, through counsel, mailed a letter to USPS's Accident and Tort Claims Investigation office. Dkt. No. 9-1 at 5. The letter is dated April 13, 2018 but was received by USPS on April 16, 2018, as noted by a receipt stamp for incoming correspondence. Id. The letter informed USPS of Luangrath's representation by counsel “in connection with a claim for injuries against the United States Postal Service as a result of the motor vehicle collision of April 15, 2016.” Id.

         USPS Tort Claims Examiner Kyle Harbaugh responded to Luangrath in a letter dated April 23, 2018. Dkt. No. 9-1 at 7. Harbaugh wrote that Luangrath's initial notice did not constitute a valid claim “as it fails to contain all the required information.” Id. Harbaugh then listed the requirements of a valid claim, including sufficient facts to allow the government to investigate its liability and a sum certain amount for injury or loss. Id. Harbaugh instructed that this information could be conveyed on a Standard Form (SF) 95, but also noted that the SF 95 is not required. Id. Harbaugh further instructed that a valid claim must be presented within two years after the claim accrues. Id.

         That same day, April 23, 2018, Luangrath submitted a completed SF 95 to Harbaugh's office by fax and mail. Dkt. No. 9-1 at 10. The signed form attached a Washington police report, listed Luangrath's injuries to her back and neck, and listed amounts of $20, 000 for property damage and $100, 000 for personal injury, for a total claim of $120, 000. Id.

         On May 11, 2018, Harbaugh sent Luangrath a letter denying her claim as untimely. Dkt. No. 9-1 at 11. “This claim was received by the Postal Service on April 23, 2018. Accordingly, we have no authority to consider this claim, as it was filed beyond the time period established by statute, therefore, this claim is denied.” Id.

         Luangrath and Harbaugh had one final exchange of letters. On May 23, 2018 Luangrath requested reconsideration of the claim denial and urged USPS to apply equitable tolling of the two-year limitation period. Dkt. No. 9-1 at 12-16. On June 14, 2018, Harbaugh, on behalf of USPS, denied the request for reconsideration. Dkt. No. 9-1 at 17.

         Luangrath filed a lawsuit in this Court on December 12, 2018 challenging USPS's denial of her claim. Dkt. No. 1.

         III. LEGAL STANDARDS

         “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). In deciding a summary judgment motion, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all justifiable inferences in its favor. Johnson v. Poway Unified School Dist., 658 F.3d 954, 960 (9th Cir. 2011).

         IV. ...


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