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Ruchert v. Williamson

United States District Court, D. Idaho

July 21, 2017

DENNIS RUCHERT and CHERYL RUCHERT a/k/a/ CHERYL YOUNG, husband and wife, Plaintiffs,
v.
JOHN PETE WILLIAMSON and JANE DOE WILLIAMSON, husband and wife; NEZ PERCE TRIBAL POLICE; and NEZ PERCE TRIBE, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

         INTRODUCTION

         Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction (Dkt. 7). The motion is fully briefed and at issue. For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant the motion and dismiss Plaintiffs' claims.

         BACKGROUND

         This negligence action arises from a motor vehicle collision on March 27, 2014, involving Plaintiffs Dennis Ruchert and Cheryl Ruchert and Defendant John Pete Williamson, an employee of the Nez Perce Tribal Police Department. On March 8, 2016, Plaintiffs filed suit in state court, alleging that the collision was caused by Williamson's negligence and seeking damages for personal injuries and property damage. Defendants had the action removed to this Court on September 14, 2016. See Dkt. 3-2.

         Soon thereafter, the United States filed the present Motion to Dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Dkt. 7. The United States Attorney for the District of Idaho, on behalf of the Attorney General, filed a certification pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2679(d)(1) stating that Williamson was acting within the scope of his employment with the Nez Perce Tribal Police Department at the time of the accident. See Certification of United States Attorney Wendy J. Olson at 2, Dkt. 7-2. The certification also attests that Defendants Williamson, Nez Perce Tribal Police, and Nez Perce Tribe were performing authorized functions under the tribe's funding contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs pursuant to the Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act (“ISDEAA”), Pub. L. 101-512 § 314, 25 U.S.C. § 450f. Accordingly, the United States argues that it must be substituted as the sole named defendant in this action and that Plaintiffs' exclusive remedy lies under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2679. Because Plaintiffs failed to file an administrative tort claim with Williamson's employing agency prior to filing suit, as required by the FTCA, the United States argues that this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear their claims.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         1. Overview of Federal Tort Claims Act

         The Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346, 2671-2680, waives the United States' sovereign immunity for “certain torts of federal employees acting within the scope of their employment.” See United States v. Orleans, 425 U.S. 807, 814 (1976) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1). As defined in the FTCA, an “employee of the government” includes (1) “officers or employees of any federal agency . . . and persons acting on behalf of a federal agency in an official capacity, temporarily or permanently in the service of the United States, whether with or without compensation.” 28 U.S.C. § 2671.

         Employees of a tribe or tribal organization may be deemed “federal employees” for purposes of the FTCA when acting pursuant to a contract authorized by the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 (“ISDEAA”). See Pub. L.101-512, 25 U.S.C. § 450f. The ISDEAA created a system by which tribes could take over the administration of programs or services to Indian populations that otherwise would be provided by the Federal government. See Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla & Cupeño Indians v. Jewell, 729 F.3d 1025, 1033 (9th Cir. 2013). Congress extended the FTCA's waiver of sovereign immunity to claims “resulting from the performance of functions” under ISDEAA “contract[s], grant agreement[s], or cooperative agreement[s].” 25 U.S.C. § 450f. However, this waiver of sovereign immunity is limited:

[A]n Indian tribe, tribal organization or Indian contractor is deemed hereafter to be part of the Bureau of Indian Affairs . . . while carrying out any such contract or agreement and its employees are deemed employees of the Bureau . . . while acting within the scope of their employment in carrying out the contract or agreement.

Id.

         The FTCA empowers the Attorney General to certify that a federal employee sued for wrongful or negligent conduct “was acting within the scope of his office or employment at the time of the incident out of which the claim arose.” § 2679(d)(1). Upon such certification, the action “shall be deemed an action against the United States under the provisions of [the FTCA], and the United States shall be substituted as the party defendant.” Id.; see also Walker v. Chugachmiut, 46 F. App'x 421, 424 (9th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted) (“Once certification is given in a civil action, the [FTCA] mandates . . . substitution of the United States as the defendant.”). “The Attorney General's decision regarding scope of employment certification is conclusive unless challenged.” See Green v. Hall, 8 F.3d 695, 698 (9th Cir. 1993) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2679(d)(1)-(4)).

         ANALYSIS

         1. Application of the Federal Tort Claims Act The United States Attorney for the District of Idaho certified, on behalf of the Attorney General, that Defendant John Williamson was acting within the course and scope of his employment with the Nez Perce Tribal Police Department during the relevant time period. See Certification of United States Attorney Wendy J. Olson, Dkt. 7-2. The U.S. Attorney also certified that Defendants Williamson, Nez Perce Tribal Police, and Nez Perce Tribe were performing authorized functions under the Nez Perce Tribe's ISDEAA contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Id. Plaintiffs have not challenged this ...


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