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Estate of Anderson-Coughlin v. United States

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 28, 2017

ESTATE OF SKYLER JUSTICE ANDERSON-COUGHLIN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS

          Jeffrey Alker Meyer, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiffs Todd Anderson and Seana Coughlin bring this action in their capacity as co-administrators of the estate of their deceased son, Skyler Anderson-Coughlin.[1] They seek to hold the United States liable under the Federal Tort Claims Act for the tragic death of their son after his car was struck by a tractor trailer truck that was carrying U.S. mail. I will dismiss this lawsuit for lack of jurisdiction because none of plaintiffs' claims are cognizable under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

         Background

         In the early evening of November 10, 2013, Skyler Anderson-Coughlin was driving north on Interstate 91 in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. He died after his car was struck in the rear by a tractor trailer that was hauling U.S. mail from North Carolina to Massachusetts.

         The driver of the tractor trailer was Anatoliy Untilov. He worked for a company known as Stepanov Trucking, which in turn was a subcontractor for a company known as Beam Brothers, Inc. (“Beam”). The United States Postal Service contracted with Beam to be a Highway Contract Route Supplier (“supplier”). Beam's role as a supplier was to haul bulk mail along specified routes pursuant to the terms of its contract with the Postal Service.

         To perform its obligations under the supplier contract, Beam was required to furnish its own vehicles and equipment, as well as to pay for the fuel necessary to operate its vehicles. Beam was solely responsible for the maintenance of its equipment and for insuring motor vehicles used in the performance of its Postal Service contract.

         Beam was also required to provide its own drivers. The Postal Service did not pay or provide any benefits to drivers operating under the contract with Beam. The Postal Service could not terminate drivers that were hired by or on behalf of Beam.

         Pursuant to the supplier contract, the Postal Service required Beam, in broad terms, to employ personnel to perform operations under the contract who were suitable for the performance of the contract. The contract required contract employees to be able to perform the required duties, to be reliable and trustworthy, to appear neat and clean, and to conduct themselves professionally. But Beam, as the supplier under the contract, was responsible for ensuring that its employees satisfied the guidelines of the Postal Service.

         The supplier contract also permitted Beam to subcontract for the services to be performed under the contract. Subcontractors like Stepanov Trucking were required to meet all of the same capability and qualification requirements as the prime contract supplier. But Beam as the prime supplier was required to “supervise . . . the operations of its subcontractors which provide services under [the] contract personally or through representatives.” Doc. #39-2 at 61.

         In order for any contract drivers to haul U.S. mail and to access postal facilities, they were required to be determined eligible by the Postal Service. Untilov was twice determined to be eligible by the Postal Service, once in 2008 and again in 2012.

         A document titled “Management Instruction PO-530-2009-4” set forth the procedures for screening contractor personnel and determining if they were eligible to haul U.S. mail. See Doc. #40-1. According to this Management Instruction, the supplier was required to provide the following items to an administrative official at the Postal Service: a contract personnel questionnaire filled out by the applicant, an authorization and release for a background investigation, a fingerprint card, and a copy of the driver's current driving record. The Postal Inspection Service was then responsible for reviewing the forms, performing the required background checks, and adjudicating the clearance application.

         A driver would not be eligible if he had certain criminal history circumstances, such as a felony conviction within the previous five years, an outstanding arrest warrant, or a conviction for stealing mail. Nor would a driver be eligible if, in the previous five years, he had more than two reckless or careless driving convictions, more than two at-fault accidents, or more than five moving violations (or three or more for the same offense). Additionally, the applicant could not have any drug convictions or convictions for leaving the scene of an accident.

         Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit on September 9, 2016. On November 11, 2016, defendant moved to dismiss the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Federal Tort Claims Act. On April 17, 2017, a hearing was held on the motion. In an oral ruling, I denied the motion without prejudice to defendant's refiling its motion after allowing plaintiff to conduct ...


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