United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia
JEFFREY A. SONCZALLA, Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA; FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS; DUTY OFFICER; UNKNOWN STAFF; DEREK MCINTYRE; JOHN GILLEY; and MATTHEW DOYLE, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING MOTION OF THE
UNITED STATES TO LIMIT THE SCOPE OF DAMAGES [DKT. NO. 84],
AND LIMITING THE SCOPE OF DAMAGES
M. KEELEY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
plaintiff, Jeffrey A. Sonczalla (“Sonczalla”),
has pursued two lawsuits in this Court, one pursuant to the
Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), and another
pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents
of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971).
Both arise out of the same facts and circumstances. Now
pending is the motion of the United States to limit the scope
of damages available to Sonczalla (Dkt. No. 84). Because this
motion raised questions about Sonczalla's mental
capacity, the Court appointed Tobi N. Gilbert, Psy.D., to
conduct a neuropsychological evaluation (Dkt. Nos. 89, 92).
Following receipt of Dr. Gilbert's expert report, the
parties supplemented their arguments on the pending motion to
limit damages (Dkt. No. 126). Briefing is now complete and
the motion is ripe for decision. After careful consideration
of the parties' arguments, for the reasons that follow,
the Court GRANTS the United States'
motion (Dkt. No. 84) and LIMITS the scope of
Sonczalla's FTCA damages to $10, 000.00.
13, 2013, an inmate assaulted Sonczalla in his cell at the
United States Penitentiary (“USP”) Hazelton,
located in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia (Dkt. No. 5-1 at 2).
When found nine hours later, Sonczalla was unconscious and
covered in blood. Id. He was then transported to
West Virginia University Hospitals (“WVUH”),
where he was “diagnosed with a subdural hematoma,
subarachnoid hemorrhage, intraparenchymal hemorrhage, as well
as 6thand 7th rib fractures”
(Dkt. No. 85 at 1-2). After remaining at WVUH for one month,
Sonczalla was transferred to Monongalia General Hospital
where he stayed for another month.
August 2013, the Federal Bureau of Prisons
(“BOP”) transferred Sonczalla to its Federal
Medical Center (“FMC”) in Springfield, Missouri.
Id. There he participated in a number of
neurological and psychological consultations, which detailed
the effects of his injuries. Id. at 2-3. Based on
this information, Sonczalla filed an administrative tort
claim with the BOP, requesting $10, 000.00 in damages (Dkt.
No. 84-1 at 31).
the BOP denied his administrative claim, Sonczalla filed a
complaint in this Court on January 26, 2016, alleging causes
of action pursuant to the FTCA and Bivens. On May
12, 2017, following nine extensions of time, the defendants,
Tonya Brown-Stobbe, Captain, Duty Officer, BOP, D. McIntyre,
Operation Lieutenant, United States, and Unknown Staff
(collectively, “the Defendants”), finally answered
the complaint and moved to dismiss Sonczalla's
Bivens claims or, alternatively, to bifurcate the
case and temporarily stay his Bivens claims pending
resolution of his FTCA claims (Dkt. Nos. 47, 48). After
Magistrate Judge Aloi bifurcated the case and temporarily
stayed Sonczalla's Bivens claims as requested
(Dkt. No. 53), the parties proceeded through discovery in the
FTCA case (Dkt. Nos. 58, 65).
to 28 U.S.C. § 2675(b), on February 2, 2018, the United
States moved to limit Sonczalla's FTCA damages to $10,
000.00, the amount requested in his administrative tort
claim, (Dkt. No. 84). Because this motion raised questions
about Sonczalla's mental capacity, the Court stayed the
case and appointed Dr. Gilbert to conduct a
neuropsychological evaluation (Dkt. Nos. 89, 92).
status conference on December 19, 2018, Sonczalla's
court-appointed counsel reported that Dr. Gilbert would soon
complete and submit her expert report (Dkt. No. 113).
Accordingly, the Court lifted the stay of Sonczalla's
FTCA claims (Dkt. No. 115). After finally receiving Dr.
Gilbert's report on March 22, 2019, the Court held a
further status conference on April 10, 2019, when it directed
the parties to submit supplemental briefs on the pending
motion to limits damages (Dkt. Nos. 125, 126).
FTCA, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b), 2671-2680, governs tort
claims for injuries arising from the negligent conduct of
federal employees acting within the scope of their
employment.” Lopatina v. United States, 528
Fed.Appx. 352, 356 (4th Cir. 2013). “A plaintiff
proceeding against the United States under the FTCA must
first file an administrative claim with the relevant federal
agency within two years after the injury.” Id.
(citing 28 U.S.C. §§ 2401(b), 2675(a)).
administrative claim must contain, among other things, a
‘sum certain' for damages.” Id.
(citing 28 U.S.C. § 2675(b); 28 C.F.R. § 14.2(a);
39 C.F.R. § 912.5(a)). “The presentation of an
administrative claim containing a sum-certain demand is a
jurisdictional prerequisite to suit.” Id.
(citing Kokotis v. U.S. Postal Serv., 223 F.3d 275,
278-79 (4th Cir. 2000)). “While a claim remains pending
with the agency, a claimant may file an amended claim at any
time to increase the amount of her sum-certain demand.”
Id. (citing 28 C.F.R. § 14.2(c); 39 C.F.R.
§ 912.5(b)-(c)). “If the administrative claim is
denied, or if six months elapse without agency action on the
claim, a claimant may bring suit in federal court.”
Id. (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a)).
amount of damages that may be recovered is presumptively
limited to the ‘amount of the claim presented to the
federal agency.'” Id. (quoting 28 U.S.C.
§ 2675(b)). “A plaintiff may, however, recover a
‘sum in excess' of that claim ‘where the
increased amount is based upon newly discovered evidence not
reasonably discoverable at the time of presenting the claim
to the federal agency, or upon allegation and proof of
intervening facts, relating to the amount of the
claim.'” Id. (quoting same).
“Post-filing information that is merely
‘cumulative and confirmatory' of earlier evidence
does not satisfy this exception.” Adkins v. United
States, 990 F.Supp.2d 621, 623 (S.D. W.Va. 2014) (citing
Kielwien v. United States, 540 F.2d 676, 680 (4th