June 25, 2019

Tenth Circuit: FTCA Claims Subject to Jurisdictional Time Limitations

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Barnes v. United States on Wednesday, January 21, 2015.

Larry Barnes was indicted in Oklahoma federal court for two crimes related to possession and distribution of methamphetamine. He was convicted and sentenced to two concurrent 66-month sentences. Barnes appealed. While his appeal was pending, the government acquired evidence that testimony of an ATF agent, a Tulsa police officer, and a confidential informant had been fabricated, and asked the court to vacate Barnes’ conviction and immediately release him from prison. The court granted that motion on July 2, 2009.

Seeking redress, Barnes filed administrative tort claims with the BATF on May 20, 2010. Receiving no response from the BATF, Barnes filed a civil lawsuit in Oklahoma state court on May 13, 2011, which the government removed to federal court. On September 23, 2011, the BATF filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing that since the FTCA vests exclusive jurisdiction over federal tort claims in the federal district court, and removal jurisdiction requires a colorable state court claim, and plaintiffs had no jurisdiction in state court, the federal court therefore lacked jurisdiction as well. On October 25, 2011, while its motion to dismiss was pending, the BATF notified Barnes via certified mail of its formal denial of the administrative claims. The letter specifically advised that any appeal must be filed within six months of the date of  mailing of the letter, or by April 25, 2011.

On March 23, 2012, the federal district court granted the BATF’s motion to dismiss, and dismissed the case without prejudice. On August 22, 2012, Barnes filed a second lawsuit in federal district court. The BATF again moved to dismiss, this time for lack of jurisdiction under F.R.C.P. 12(b)(1) due to the lawsuit being time-barred. The district court granted the motion to dismiss and Barnes appealed.

The Tenth Circuit analyzed the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a) and 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b), and found the two sections acted like “book-ends” for the time limit to file an FTCA claim. Barnes argued that his second lawsuit was timely because he was filing under § 2675(a)’s “deemed denial” provision, but the Tenth Circuit found that the BATF’s October 25, 2011 letter explicitly triggered § 2401(b)’s six-month limitations period. The Tenth Circuit found that the court lacked jurisdiction due to the time-bar.

The Tenth Circuit also analyzed Supreme Court precedent in Irwin v. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, 498 U.S. 89 (1990), regarding jurisdictional bars and equitable estoppel. After a lengthy analysis, the Tenth Circuit concluded it was bound by previous circuit precedent to apply a jurisdictional bar to FTCA claims. Even analyzing Barnes’ claims under equitable estoppel principles, though, the Tenth Circuit still found no relief for Barnes, because he could not show “affirmative misconduct” by the BATF.

The Tenth Circuit found that the district court correctly dismissed the claims, but incorrectly did so with prejudice. Claims subject to a jurisdictional bar are properly dismissed without prejudice. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court but remanded for correction of the dismissal as without prejudice.

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