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Adams v. United States Department of Housing and Urban Development

decided: December 17, 1986.

FALICHA ADAMS, AN INFANT BY HER PARENT AND NATURAL GUARDIAN, PAULA ADAMS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE



Appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, Howard G. Munson, Chief Judge, summarily dismissing Federal Tort Claims Act action because of failure to satisfy jurisdictional requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 2675.

Author: Kearse

KEARSE, Circuit Judge :

Plaintiff Paula Adams ("Adams"), suing in her own right and on behalf of her daughter Falicha Adams ("Falicha"), appeals from a final judgment entered in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, Howard G. Munson, Chief Judge, summarily dismissing her claims against defendant United States Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD" or the "government"), brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b), 2671-2680 (1982) ("FTCA"), to recover damages totaling $4,400,000 allegedly resulting from an accident to Falicha in their home, housing owned by HUD. The district court granted the government's motion for summary judgment on the ground that plaintiff had failed to comply with certain jurisdictional prerequisites to suit under the FTCA because Adams had failed to the file an administrative claim with HUD on her own behalf and because Falicha's administrative claim failed to specify the precise amount of her claim. See 28 U.S.C. § 2675. On appeal, Adams argues that the dismissal was improper because, in the circumstances, the government had adequate notice of her claim and of the amount of Falicha's claim. We reject these contentions and affirm (1) the dismissal of Adams's claim in its entirety, and (2) the dismissal of Falicha's claim to the extent that it demands more than $1,000.

I. BACKGROUND

According to the complaint, in March 1984, Adams and Falicha resided in Syracuse, New York, in an apartment complex owned by HUD. On March 31, 1984, a kitchen cabinet in their apartment fell from the wall and hit Falicha. She was taken to a local hospital where she was treated and released on the same day.

On May 17, 1985, Thomas F. Quinlan, an attorney, wrote a letter "Re: Falicha Adams " ("Quinlan letter") to HUD official Joseph Soto, requesting compensation for Falicha's injuries resulting from the accident. This letter, accompanied by a narration of the circumstances surrounding the accident, a medical report, and three invoices, stated in pertinent part as follows:

As a result of this incident, medical expenses were incurred which are in excess of $1,000.00. We enclose copies of bills from (two medical doctors and a radiologist) which total $893.31 . . . . If you had public liability coverage at the time this accident occurred, it is requested that you refer the enclosed documents to the appropriate insurance carrier. We would like to negotiate a settlement of this matter and avoid the necessity of litigation, if possible.

Quinlan was subsequently contacted by one of the government's insurance carriers who offered $2,000 in settlement of the claim. Quinlan demanded $7,500, and no settlement was reached.

In February 1986, Adams commenced the present action, alleging that the fall of the kitchen cabinet was the result of the government's negligence and had caused pain and suffering and permanent physical injuries to Falicha and the loss of Falicha's services to Adams. The complaint sought $4,000,000 in damages for Falicha plus $400,000 for Adams in her own right. HUD filed an answer and moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. HUD conceded that the Quinlan letter constituted a administrative claim on behalf of Falicha, but it argued that Adams had failed to filed an administrative claim on her own behalf as required by § 2675(a), and that Falicha's claim was not sufficiently definite in amount.

After a hearing oral argument, the district court agreed and granted HUD's motion. Judgment was entered dismissing the complaint, and this appeal followed.

II. DISCUSSION

FTCA § 2675 provides, in pertinent party, that

(a) An action shall not be instituted upon a claim against the United States for money damages for . . . personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment, unless the claimant shall have first presented the claim to the appropriate Federal agency . . . .

(b) Action under this section shall not be instituted for any sum in excess of the amount of the claim ...


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