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Thomas Botell, Jennifer Botell, Individually, and B.B. and K.B v. United States of America

July 27, 2012

THOMAS BOTELL, JENNIFER BOTELL, INDIVIDUALLY, AND B.B. AND K.B., MINORS, BY AND THROUGH THEIR GUARDIAN AD LITEM, JENNIFER BOTELL,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garland E. Burrell, Jr. Senior United States District Judge

ORDER

Pending are cross-motions for summary judgment on Defendant's third affirmative defense, which is designated as the discretionary function exception to exposure to liability under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA").

I. LEGAL STANDARD

When deciding cross-motions for summary judgment, each motion is evaluated on its own merits, "taking care in each instance to draw all reasonable inferences against the party whose motion is under consideration." B.F. Goodrich Co. v. U.S. Filter Corp., 245 F.3d 587, 592 (6th Cir. 2001); see also Bryan v. McPherson, 608 F.3d 614, 619 (9th Cir. 2010) (stating all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the evidence "must be drawn in favor of the non-moving party").

"The burden of proving the applicability of the discretionary function exception is on [Defendant]." Marlys Bear Med. v. United States ex. rel. Sec'y of Dep't of Interior, 241 F.3d 1208, 1213 (9th Cir. 2001). Thus, concerning Defendant's motion for summary judgment, "'[w]here, as here, the moving party bears the burden of proof at trial, [Defendant] must come forward with evidence which would entitle it to a directed verdict if the evidence went uncontroverted at trial.'" Houghton v. South, 965 F.2d 1535, 1536 (9th Cir. 1992) (emphasis in original) (quoting Int'l Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally's, Inc., 939 F.2d 1257, 1264-65 (5th Cir. 1991)).

"[Defendant], therefore, bears the initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact on each issue material to [its] affirmative defense." Id. at 1537. "A fact is 'material' when, under the governing substantive law, it could affect the outcome of the case." Thrifty Oil Co. v. Bank of Am. Nat. Trust & Sav. Ass'n, 322 F.3d 1039, 1046 (9th Cir. 2003) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). An issue of material fact is "genuine" when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.

Further, concerning Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, Plaintiffs have both the initial burden of production and the ultimate burden of persuasion on [the motion]. In order to carry its burden of production, [Plaintiffs] must either produce evidence negating an essential element of [Defendant's affirmative defense] or show that [Defendant] does not have enough evidence of an essential element to carry its ultimate burden of persuasion at trial. In order to carry its ultimate burden of persuasion on the motion, [Plaintiffs] must persuade the court that there is no genuine issue of material fact.

Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co., Ltd. v. Fritz Cos., Inc., 210 F.3d 1099, 1102 (9th Cir. 2000) (internal citations omitted).

II. DISCUSSION

The FTCA waives sovereign immunity for tort claims arising out of "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) (2010). However, the FTCA's waiver of immunity is limited by many exceptions, including the discretionary function exception, which provides immunity from suit for "[a]ny claim . . . based upon the exercise or performance or the failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function or duty on the part of a federal agency or an employee of the Government, whether or not the discretion involved be abused." Id. § 2680(a).

The Supreme Court implemented "a two-step analysis to determine applicability of the [discretionary function] exception." Terbush v. United States, 516 F.3d 1125, 1129 (9th Cir. 2008). The first step requires determining whether the challenged action "involve[s] an element of judgment or choice." United States v. Gaubert, 499 U.S. 315, 322 (1991). "If the action is not discretionary, it cannot be shielded under the discretionary function exception." Whisnat v. United States, 400 F.3d 1177, 1181 (9th Cir. 2005).

"If the conduct involves choice or discretion, the [C]court must then determine whether that judgment is of the kind that the discretionary function exception was designed to shield." GATX/Airlog Co. v. United States, 286 F.3d 1168, 1174 (9th Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks omitted). "The second [step] requires the [C]court to determine whether the discretion left to the government is the kind of discretion protected by public policy, which is understood to include decisions grounded in social, economic, or political policy." Myers v. U.S., 652 F.3d 1021, 1028 (9th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted).

A. Plaintiffs' Motion

Plaintiffs argue they are entitled to prevail on their motion "since the [Lassen Volcanic National Park ('LAVO') Environmental, Health and Safety Program ('Safety Program')] is a 'mandatory policy' and no such 'permissive exercise of judgment' exists, 'the inquiry comes to an end' and ...


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