United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Corpus Christi Division
ORDER GRANTING UNITED STATES OF AMERICA'S MOTIONS
GONZALES RAMOS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Veronica Ramirez (the decedent's widow) filed this
wrongful death action on behalf of herself, the Estate of
Martin Gomez Arrellano (the decedent), and A.A.G. (the
decedent's minor son). D.E. 1-2, 14. Ramirez sued Juan
Enrique Escobedo Moreno (Escobedo), who filed a third-party
claim against the United States, seeking contribution. D.E.
42-1. Plaintiff Blanca Gomez Arellano (the
decedent's mother) filed a separate wrongful death action
against the United States on behalf of herself and the
decedent's estate. D.E. 44. The cases have been
consolidated in this action.
the Court are the Government's substantively identical
motions to dismiss (D.E. 7, 16, 22), challenging all of the
claims raised against it by both sets of Plaintiffs and the
Third-Party Plaintiff. The Government argues that the Court
lacks subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the claims by
virtue of its sovereign immunity. Plaintiffs responded (D.E.
24, 29, 31) and the Government replied (D.E. 33, 34). For
reasons set forth, the motions to dismiss (D.E. 7, 16, 22)
Gomez Arellano (Gomez) died of asphyxiation while he was
concealed and trapped in an inner compartment of a Kenworth
tractor sleeper berth. The tractor-trailer had been detained
and impounded at the Falfurrias, Texas checkpoint after
Border Patrol agents discovered Roberto Rico-Duran, an
undocumented alien, hiding in the closet of the same sleeper
berth. The agents took Rico-Duran and the truck driver,
Escobedo, into custody, charging Escobedo with the crime of
unlawful transportation of an alien.
claim that the Border Patrol agents were required to open all
compartments and inventory them before impounding the
vehicle. Doing so, they claim, would have ensured that Gomez
was discovered and removed from the compartment before he
died. According to the pleadings, the agents failed to
conduct that inventory. Alternatively, Plaintiffs allege in
conclusive terms that the agents discovered Gomez, but
intentionally left him to die. Because of the nature of the
features of the compartment, Gomez could not open it from the
inside and his body was discovered three days later when its
decomposition became apparent.
sued the United States (as the proper party encompassing the
Department of Homeland Security and the Customs and Border
Protection Agency) for negligence, assault and battery, false
imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional
distress, alleging that the agents' failure to discover
Gomez, or their intentional or reckless disregard for him,
caused his death. D.E. 14, 42-1, 44. The United States seeks
dismissal of all claims against it on the basis of sovereign
immunity, which defeats jurisdiction.
Standard of Review
a waiver of sovereign immunity, courts lack subject matter
jurisdiction over lawsuits against the United States.
Lehman v. Nakshian, 453 U.S. 156, 161 (1981). The
burden of proof on a Rule 12(b)(1) motion challenging
jurisdiction is on the party asserting
jurisdiction-Plaintiffs and the Third-Party Plaintiff here.
Ramming v. U.S., 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001).
In examining a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, a court may consider
“(1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint
supplemented by the undisputed facts evidenced in the record;
or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus
the court's resolution of disputed facts.”
Willoughby v. United States ex. Rel. U.S. Dep't of
the Army, 730 F.3d 476, 479 (5th Cir. 2013).
determine the Court's jurisdiction, we look to see if
Plaintiffs have shown that the Government has waived its
immunity with respect to the category of claims in which the
action falls. Truman v. United States, 26 F.3d 592,
594 (5th Cir. 1994). Plaintiffs bring state law tort claims
under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), which waives the
government's sovereign immunity for claims of
personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful
act or omission of any Government employee 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). On its face, the FTCA waiver
applies to defeat sovereign immunity for the tort claims
against the United States unless a
separate statutory exception applies.
Government argues that sovereign immunity still applies in
this case because the facts place the claims within an
exception to the FTCA waiver that is alternately referred to
as the customs-duty or detention of property exception. This
exception preserves sovereign immunity against “[a]ny
claim arising in respect of . . . the detention of any goods,
merchandise, or other property by any officer of customs or
excise or any other law enforcement officer . . . .” 28
U.S.C. § 2680(c). The Supreme Court has held that any