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Hoofman v. Country Club Place LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

July 2, 2019

ERIC HOOFMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTRY CLUB PLACE LLC, et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          SHIRLEY PADMORE MENS AH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant United States of America's Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 20). All parties who have been served have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).[1] For the following reasons, the motion will be granted, Plaintiff's claims against the United States of America will be dismissed, and Plaintiff's remaining state-law claims will be remanded to state court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3) because the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over those claims.

         I. Background

         This action was originally filed in the Circuit Court of St. Charles County, Missouri, by Plaintiff Eric Hoofman. The defendants named in the First Amended Petition are Country Club Place LLC; Country Place, LLC; Highway 94 Apartment Management, LLC (collectively, the “Apartment Defendants”); Jose Steers, an employee of the Apartment Defendants; and the United States of America. The case was removed to this Court on December 10, 2018, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1442(a), based on the presence of the United States as a defendant. (Doc. 1-3).

         In his First Amended Petition, Plaintiff Eric Hoofman alleges the following. The Country Club Place Apartments (the “Apartments”) consist of 40 or more multi-unit buildings set on 40 acres of land in St. Charles. At the times relevant to this lawsuit, Plaintiff rented a unit in the Apartments (“Plaintiff's Unit”), located on Cherry Hills Lane. Defendant Country Club Place, LLC and Defendant Country Place, LLC own and/or operate the Apartments. Defendant Highway 94 Apartment Management, LLC manages the Apartments, including the grounds and roads therein. In order to get to Plaintiff's Unit, one would travel from Burning Tree Lane to Pleasant Valley Drive to Cherry Hills Lane.

         Plaintiff's mailbox is located just off of Pleasant Valley Drive, in an area containing mailboxes for more than 250 individual units at the Apartments (the “Pleasant Valley Mailboxes.”). Prior to 2015, individual mailboxes at the Apartments were located in breezeways within each individual building at the Apartments. In 2015, the mailboxes were moved to their Pleasant Valley location, either through a decision of the United States or a decision of the Apartment Defendants. There are no sidewalks on either Cherry Hills Lane or Pleasant Valley Drive. The public can freely travel on Pleasant Valley Drive, and there are no signs warning or mentioning that the road is shared with pedestrians. In order to get to Plaintiff's mailbox on foot, Plaintiff must walk in the street.

         On or about January 21, 2016, Plaintiff left his apartment to get his mail. There was snow on the grass, but the roads were clear. While walking to retrieve his mail, Plaintiff was struck by a vehicle driven by Jose Steers on Pleasant Valley Drive. Plaintiff was seriously injured in the accident. Defendant Steers fled the scene and was eventually arrested by the police.

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants were responsible for selecting a safe location for the mailboxes but chose to move the mailboxes to an unsafe location. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants knew that the new location increased the risk that a pedestrian could be struck by a vehicle. Plaintiff also alleges that that Defendants were responsible for constructing a sidewalk on Pleasant Valley Drive but chose not to do so.

         Plaintiff asserts four claims. In Count I, Plaintiff asserts a negligence claim against the Apartment Defendants and the United States, based on these Defendants' failing to construct a sidewalk on Pleasant Valley Drive; failing to provide a safe route for Plaintiff to get his mail; failing to place Plaintiff's mailbox and the Pleasant Valley Mailboxes in a safe location; moving Plaintiff's mailbox to an unsafe location; failing to maintain a safe roadway; and failing to update their facilities to provide safe means of traveling by foot in the Apartments. In Count II, Plaintiff asserts a premises liability claim against the Apartment Defendants and the United States. Plaintiff alleges that the Apartment Defendants owned the Apartments and maintained the property, roads, and mailboxes in the Apartment. In the alternative, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant United States maintained the location of the mailboxes and selected their location. Plaintiff further alleges that due to the lack of a sidewalk or safe route to the mailboxes, the property was not reasonably safe. In Count III, Plaintiff asserts a negligence claim against the Apartment Defendants and Jose Steers, alleging that Defendant Steers was acting in the course and scope of his employment and was negligent in his driving. In Count IV, [2] Plaintiff asserts a negligent hiring and retention claim against the Apartment Defendants based on their hiring and retention of Defendant Steers.

         In the instant motion, Defendant United States of America moves to dismiss the claims against it for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and the doctrine of sovereign immunity.

         II. Legal Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), a party may move to dismiss an action based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Eighth Circuit has held that “[i]n deciding a motion under Rule 12(b)(1), the district court must distinguish between a facial attack-where it looks only to the face of the pleadings-and a factual attack-where it may consider matters outside the pleadings.” Croyle v. United States, 908 F.3d 377, 380 (8th Cir. 2018) (citing Osborn v. United States, 918 F.2d 724, 729 n. 6 (8th Cir. 1990)). See also Moss v. United States, 895 F.3d 1091, 1097 (8th Cir. 2018); Titus v. Sullivan, 4 F.3d 590, 593 (8th Cir. 1993); C.S. ex rel. Scott v. Mo. State Bd. of Educ., 656 F.Supp.2d 1007, 1011 (E.D. Mo. 2009). Here, Defendant United States' motion is based entirely on the face of the pleadings, so the Court construes it as a facial challenge. In evaluating a facial challenge, “the court restricts itself to the face of the pleadings and the non-moving party receives the same protections as it would defending against a motion brought under Rule 12(b)(6).” Branson Label, Inc. v. City of Branson, Mo., 793 F.3d 910, 914 (8th Cir. 2015) (quoting Osborn, 918 F.2d at 729 n. 6). The court must accept as true all of the factual allegations in the complaint, but it need not accept legal conclusions. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         To survive a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the party asserting jurisdiction has the burden of establishing that subject matter jurisdiction exists. V S Ltd. P'ship v. Dep't of Hous. & Urban Dev., 235 F.3d 1109, 1112 (8th Cir. 2000).

         III. ...


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