Today's circuit split involves the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), which generally permits civil actions against the United States “for injury or loss of property . . . caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment, under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred.” 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1).
The FTCA’s discretionary function exception, however, “immunizes conduct of government employees that arises from legislative and administrative decisions grounded in social, economic, and political policy, protecting against liability that would seriously handicap efficient government operations.” Carroll v. U.S., 661 F.3d 87, 99 (1st Cir. 2011).
Last Tueday a federal court in Puerto Rico identified a circuit split over the two-tiered framework used by courts to determine the applicability of the FTCA's discretionary function exception:
The applicability of the discretionary framework [sic] exception is determined according to a well-established two-tiered framework. Said exception applies if the conduct underlying the FTCA claim (1) "involves an element of judgment or choice, and (2) was susceptible to policy-related analysis." Sanchez ex rel. D.R.-S. v. U.S.,671 F.3d 86, 93 (1st Cir. 2012) (citing Limone v. United States, 579 F.3d 79, 101 (1st Cir. 2009) (quoting Berkovitz v. United States, 486 U.S. 531, 536, 108 S. Ct. 1954, 100 L. Ed. 2d 531, (1988)) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). "Conduct does not involve an element of judgment or choice if a "'federal statute, regulation, or policy specifically prescribes a course of action for an employee to follow,' because 'the employee has no rightful option but to adhere to the directive.'" Sanchez ex rel. D.R.-S., 671 F.3d at 93 (citing United States v. Gaubert, 499 U.S. 315, 322, 111 S. Ct. 1267, 113 L. Ed. 2d 335 (1991)). Furthermore, conduct is susceptible to policy analysis if some plausible policy justification could have undergirded the challenged conduct; it is not relevant whether the conduct was the end product of a policy-driven analysis. Sanchez ex rel. D.R.-S., 671 F.3d at 93 (citing Shansky v. United States, 164 F.3d 688, 692 (1st Cir. 1999)). Thus, a court must first identify the conduct alleged to have caused the harm and then determine whether the conduct can be fairly described as discretionary, and if so, decide whether the exercise or non-exercise of the granted discretion is actually or potentially influenced by policy considerations. Carroll, 661 F.3d at 100 (citing Fothergill v. United States, 566 F.3d 248, 252 (1st Cir. 2009)).
If the challenged conduct is both discretionary and policy-based, there is no subject-matter jurisdiction for the claim. Carroll, 661 F.3d at 100 (citing Montijo–Reyes, 436 F.3d at 24). First Circuit precedent places the burden on the plaintiff to show that discretionary conduct was not policy-driven and, thus falls outside the exception. Carroll, 661 F.3d at 100 n. 15 (citing Bolduc, 402 F.3d at 60, 62). However, the First Circuit has noted that there exists a circuit split as to whether the plaintiff or the government bears the burden of proof regarding the discretionary function exception. Carroll, 661 F.3d at 100 (citing Hart v. United States, 630 F.3d 1085, 1089 n.3 (8th Cir. 2011)).
Timmerman v. United States, CIVIL NO. 11-1816(JAG) (Dist P.R. June 5, 2012).
In St. Tammany Parish ex rel. Davis v. FEMA, the Fifth Circuit offered a more comprehensive overview of this split in authority:
While the plaintiff bears the burden of showing an unequivocal waiver of sovereign immunity, it is less clear whether the plaintiff or the government bears the burden of proof to show whether a discretionary function exception to a waiver of sovereign immunity applies. Our sister courts of appeals are split. Some place the burden on the plaintiff to show that the government's conduct does not fall within the discretionary function exception. SeeAragon v. United States, 146 F.3d 819, 823 (10th Cir.1998). Others place the burden on the government to show that the exception applies. See Merando v. United States, 517 F.3d 160, 164 (3d Cir.2008); Terbush v. United States, 516 F.3d 1125, 1128 (9th Cir.2008) (citing Prescott v. United States, 973 F.2d 696, 702 n. 4 (9th Cir.1992)); Stewart v. United States, 199 F.2d 517, 520 (7th Cir. 1952). Other courts of appeals have declined to decide the issue, being uncertain whether the Supreme Court in Gaubert intended to place the burden of proving the non-applicability of the exception on the plaintiff as a consequence of its holding that "[f]or a complaint to survive a motion to dismiss, it must allege facts which would support a finding that the challenged actions are not the kind of conduct that can be said to be grounded in the policy of the regulatory regime," 499 U.S. at 324-25, 111 S.Ct. 1267. See Sharp v. United States, 401 F.3d 440, 443 n. 1 (6th Cir.2005) (declining to decide whetherGaubert altered its earlier view that the government bears the burden); Ochran v. United States, 117 F.3d 495, 504 n. 4 (11th Cir. 1997) (refusing to decide which party bears the burden, but placing the "burden of production of the policy considerations that might influence the challenged conduct ... on the Government" after the plaintiff alleged facts facially placing the claims outside of the exception); Autery v. United States, 992 F.2d 1523, 1526 n. 6 (11th Cir.1993) (refusing to decide which party bears the burden); Kiehn v. United States, 984 F.2d 1100, 1105 n. 7 (10th Cir.1993) (refusing to decide which party bears the burden). But see Prescott, 973 F.2d at 702 n. 4 (holding that the government bears the burden because Gaubert decided that "plaintiff must advance a claim that is facially outside the discretionary function exception in order to survive a motion to dismiss" but "did not deal with the burden of proof question").
In the context of a motion to dismiss, however, the courts have widely held that the plaintiff must invoke jurisdiction by pleading facts that facially allege matters outside of the discretionary function exception. SeePrescott, 973 F.2d at 702 n. 4; Blakey v. U.S.S. Iowa, 991 F.2d 148, 154 (4th Cir.1993); Autery, 992 F.2d at 1526 n. 6; Kiehn, 984 F.2d at 1105; Carlyle v. U.S., Dep't of the Army, 674 F.2d 554, 556 (6th Cir.1982). Relying onGaubert and without addressing which party bears the ultimate burden of proving the applicability of the exception, this court agreed that a plaintiff must "allege a claim sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss based on the `discretionary function' exception." ALX El Dorado, Inc. v. Sw. Sav. & Loan Ass'n/FSLIC, 36 F.3d 409, 411 n. 13 (5th Cir. 1994). On this motion to dismiss, therefore, the Parish must advance a claim that is facially outside the discretionary function exception in order to survive the motion to dismiss, regardless of which party bears the ultimate burden of proof.
556 F. 3d 307 n.3 (5th Cir. 2009).
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