Valadez-Lopez v. United States

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Law
  • Date Filed: 08-26-2011
  • Case #: 09-16375; 09-17479; 09-17481
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge S. Thomas for the Court; Circuit Judges Schroeder and Gould
  • Full Text Opinion

Under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2675, failure by an agency to make a final disposition on a claim within six months may be deemed a final denial. Therefore exhausted, a plaintiff may amend an existing complaint that asserts non-FTCA claims and to name the United States in an FTCA cause of action.

Valadez-Lopez claimed he was deprived of schizophrenia medication while in immigration detention. He filed § 1983 claims against local and federal agents, and administrative tort claims against relevant agencies under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). 28 U.S.C. §1346. When after six months he had not received a response, Valadez-Lopez amended the FTCA claim to include the United States. The district court granted summary judgment on the local §1983 claims and granted the United States’ motion to dismiss for lack of administrative exhaustion. The Ninth Circuit held, however, because the FTCA allowed Valadez-Lopez to consider his first claim denied if not disposed of within six months, his subsequent amendment did not lack exhaustion. Alternatively, the Court found that Valadez-Lopez failed to state a viable FTCA claim where his “successive pleadings [left] the municipality to guess as to [his] theory.” Hence, the County was not given sufficient notice to be held liable, particularly where the § 1983 claim implicated a “failure to train,” and thus summary judgment was appropriate. Further, the Court found that Valadez-Lopez’s complaint fell outside the FTCA’s waiver of sovereign immunity because it “[did] not identify how any federal government employee negligently caused or contributed to his being deprived of his schizophrenia medication” while he was detained in a local jail. The claim was thus a “vague and somewhat incomprehensible assertion[] . . . [that] would unreasonably require trial courts and defendants to piece together a theory of liability from a string of unrelated and incoherent assertions.” The Court concluded that while Valadez-Lopez may have suffered needless harm, his claims were not viable as presented even after he was offered multiple opportunities to amend them. AFFIRMED.

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