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Edwards v. United States

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

September 29, 2014

ADIJAT EDWARDS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant

Graham Ojala-Barbour, OJALA-BARBOUR LAW FIRM, St. Paul, MN; and Richard L. Breitman, BREITMAN IMMIGRATION LAW FIRM, Minneapolis, MN, for plaintiff.

David W. Fuller, Assistant United States Attorney, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Minneapolis, MN, for defendant United States of America.

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MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

JOHN R. TUNHEIM, United States District Judge.

This case arises out of events that occurred in the course of Plaintiff Adijat Edwards' arrival at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport from Nigeria. She was detained by immigration officials upon her arrival and alleges that the officials confiscated $4,000 worth of her jewelry and that several days later, immigration officers forced her to withdraw $1,200 in cash from a bank with her bank card, explaining that this was required in order to pay for her flight back to Nigeria as part of her expedited removal from the United States.

She brings this action under the Federal Tort Claims Act (" FTCA" ), alleging claims for both conversion and negligence. Defendant United States (" the government" ) moves to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, arguing that her claims fall within exceptions to the government's waiver of its sovereign immunity under the FTCA. The

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Court will deny the government's motion to dismiss with regard to Edwards' claim for conversion of her $1,200 in cash, but grant the government's motion in all other respects.

BACKGROUND

I. COMPLAINT

Edwards alleges that she landed at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport from Nigeria on January 31, 2011. (Compl. ¶ 7, Aug. 26, 2013, Docket No. 1.) She alleges that upon her arrival, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (" ICE" ) and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (" CBP" ) officers detained her and held her in custody. ( Id. ¶ 8.) Edwards alleges that CBP and ICE officers " separated [her] from her possessions at the time of her detention," including jewelry valued at $4,000. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 9-10.)

Later, on the morning of February 8, 2011, Edwards alleges that an ICE officer named Ken, accompanied by another officer, took Edwards " to the U.S. Bank at [the] Minneapolis[-]St. Paul International Airport" and requested that she withdraw $1,200 in cash using her bank card, which he claimed was necessary to purchase an airline ticket for her expedited removal from the United States. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 11-14.) Ken took Edwards to the Delta Airlines ticket counter at the airport and asked her to purchase a ticket for Edwards' expedited removal, but the ticket agent advised him that a ticket was not necessary for a person's expedited removal from the United States. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 15-16.) Edwards alleges that Ken then kept the $1,200 in cash and that after she requested that he return it to her, he told her that the money would be returned to her at the time of her removal from the United States or immediately before her removal. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 17-19.)

Edwards alleges that she was then returned to the ICE offices in the Metro Office Park in Bloomington, MN. ( Id. ¶ 20.) She alleges that later that same day, February 8, 2011, another officer whose name was possibly " Zanter" or " Vanter," accompanied Edwards to the airport. ( Id. ¶ 21.) Edwards asked him when her jewelry and $1,200 cash would be returned to her and he said that he did not know. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 22-23.) Edwards alleges that neither the $1,200 cash nor the jewelry were or ever have been returned to her. ( Id. ¶ 24.)

II. ADMINISTRATIVE CLAIM

Defendant United States presents evidence of an administrative claim that Edwards made on the basis of these events. (Ex. to Mem. in Support of Mot. to Dismiss, Mar. 3, 2014, Docket No. 16.) The claim is in the form of a letter dated February 6, 2013 from Edwards' counsel to the ICE Office of Principal Legal Advisor, the Office of General Counsel, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of the Chief Counsel for ICE. ( Id.) The letter includes a summary of the events at issue here listed in a manner that substantially mirrors that in the complaint. ( Id.) The letter also states that " [t]he date of events resulting in the conversion of property, cash and jewelry is February 8, 2011. It occurred at the offices of ICE in Bloomington, Minnesota at 7800 Metro Parkway, 2901 Metro Drive, and at the Minneapolis, St. Paul International Airport" and that " [p]roperty [d]amage in this matter involves the theft of $1,200.00 in cash and jewelry valued at approximately $4,000.00." ( Id.)

III. THIS ACTION

Edwards now brings this action against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act. She alleges in Count I a claim for conversion under the FTCA, alleging that the officers' actions deprived her of

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her cash and jewelry and their refusal to return either amounted to conversion under Minnesota law and that the United States is liable for their actions under the FTCA. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 27-28.) She alleges in Count II a claim for negligence under the FTCA, alleging that ICE had a duty to " protect, safeguard, and return" her property and that it breached that duty. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 30-32.) She seeks compensatory damages and attorneys' fees. ( Id. at 5.)

Defendant United States moves to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. It argues that each of her claims fail for distinct reasons. The United States argues that her conversion claim fails as a matter of law because the " detention of goods" exception to the United States' liability under the FTCA includes conversion actions and thus the United States has not waived sovereign liability with regard to such a claim. It argues that her negligence claim fails, both because it likely falls under the " detention of goods" exception, and because she failed to assert a claim for negligence in her administrative claim. Alternatively, it argues that her negligence claim fails because it is barred by the FTCA's " discretionary function" exception, see 28 U.S.C. § 2680(a). The Court concludes that Edwards' conversion claim for the jewelry is barred by the detention of goods exception, but that her claim for the withdrawn cash is not. With regard to her negligence claim, the Court concludes that Edwards did not adequately present facts supporting this claim in her administrative claim letter and thus did not properly exhaust the claim. The Court will therefore grant the government's motion for dismissal except with respect to Edwards' conversion claim for the withdrawn cash.

ANALYSIS

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) challenges the Court's subject matter jurisdiction and requires the Court to examine whether it has authority to decide the claims. Uland v. City of Winsted, 570 F.Supp.2d 1114, 1117 (D. Minn. 2008). There are two types of subject-matter-jurisdiction challenges under Rule 12(b)(1): " facial" attacks and " factual" attacks. See, e.g., Titus v. Sullivan, 4 F.3d 590, 593 (8th Cir. 1993). A facial attack challenges subject-matter jurisdiction based solely on the allegations appearing on the face of the complaint. Osborn v. United States, 918 F.2d 724, 729 n.6 (8th Cir. 1990). " In ruling on such a motion, a court must afford the non-moving party the same protections it would be entitled to under Rule 12(b)(6)." Gilmore v. Nw. Airlines, Inc., 504 F.Supp.2d 649, 653 (D. Minn. 2007). " By contrast, a factual attack depends upon the resolution of facts in order to determine whether subject-matter jurisdiction exists; a court may rely upon matters outside the pleadings when considering such an attack, and the non-moving party does not receive the benefit of Rule 12(b)(6)'s safeguards." Id.

Here, the government does not challenge the adequacy of the facts underlying jurisdiction, but rather whether the facts in the complaint, accepted as true, legally amount to a proper claim under the FTCA.[1] Thus, " [b]ecause the government

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limits its jurisdictional attack to Jones's complaint, this is a facial challenge to subject-matter jurisdiction." Jones v. United States, 727 F.3d 844, 846 (8th Cir. 2013). The Court therefore considers Edwards' complaint under the rules governing a motion to ...


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