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Dominguez v. United States

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

August 27, 2015



Gerald A. Phelps for appellant.

Brian Pérez-Daple, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Carmen M. Ortiz, United States Attorney, was on brief, for appellee.

Before Howard, Chief Judge, Lynch and Thompson, Circuit Judges.


Page 152

HOWARD, Chief Judge.

Plaintiff-appellant Roberto Carlos Dominguez filed suit seeking money damages against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (" FTCA" ), 28 U.S.C. § § 1346(b)(1), 2671 et seq. Dominguez alleged that in 1998 and 1999 he was wrongfully detained and deported as an unauthorized alien despite his true status as a United States citizen. The district court dismissed the case as time barred on the government's motion, thereby rejecting Dominguez's attempt to use the discovery rule as shelter for his claims. Concluding that delayed accrual is foreclosed by the factual allegations in Dominguez's complaint, we affirm.

We construe the facts alleged favorably to the plaintiff, and, viewed through that lens, the complaint and attached exhibits present the following facts. See Yacubian v. United States, 750 F.3d 100, 107-08 (1st Cir. 2014). Federal immigration authorities detained Dominguez from July 1998 through September 1999. In the course of numerous interrogations, Dominguez told Immigration and Customs Enforcement (" ICE" ) agents that he was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, but the agents failed to investigate his citizenship status beyond the immigration file and ignored his claim of a United States birthplace. After an administrative hearing before an Immigration Judge (" IJ" ) in September 1999, Dominguez was ordered removed to the Dominican Republic. ICE agents told him that if he ever returned to America he would be incarcerated.

Dominguez lived in the Dominican Republic for the next ten years. At some point, friends and family told him to go to the United States Embassy to see what, if any, paperwork he could obtain in order to return to the United States. Dominguez did so, and after submitting a United States birth certificate and other documentation, he was granted a U.S. passport. He returned to this country in September 2009, and for about a year he lived in fear that he again would be deported or thrown in jail. In November 2010, Dominguez met with a lawyer to " give himself up" but instead allegedly learned that his detention and deportation at the hands of the federal government had been illegal. Dominguez did not pursue relief until February 2012 when he first filed a damages claim through administrative channels as required under the FTCA. See 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a). Meanwhile, in October 2011, federal authorities had asked the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to detain him and also had required Dominguez to surrender his U.S. passport.[1]

Page 153

In his complaint, Dominguez faults the government for, among other things, failing to investigate his claims of U.S. citizenship in 1998-1999 thereby causing his illegal detention and removal as a United States citizen. He attached to the complaint a purported Massachusetts birth certificate showing that he had been born in Lawrence, Massachusetts on November 9, 1979.[2] Dominguez asserted claims against the United States and three individual federal employees who had been involved in his detention and deportation or in issuing the 2011 detention letter. The individual defendants later were dismissed from the case, leaving the federal government as the sole defending party.

After conducting a hearing on the government's motion to dismiss, the district court granted the motion and entered a final judgment of dismissal in September 2013. We review the court's decision de novo. Sanchez v. United States, 740 F.3d 47, 52 (1st Cir. 2014).

The FTCA permits suits against the government for torts caused by the wrongful acts of any government employee while acting within the scope of his office or employment. See 28 U.S.C. § § 1346(b)(1), 2645. Plaintiffs have two years from the time of accrual to file a claim with the appropriate agency and then, if the claim is denied, six months after the denial to file suit. See id. § 2401(b). Therefore, if Dominguez's detention and deportation in 1998 and 1999 constituted the accrual conduct, his decade-plus delay in filing an agency claim in February 2012 would, of course, bar his federal suit. Application of the federal discovery rule is Dominguez's only hope, and it quickly fades.

The discovery rule applies to certain FTCA claims " under circumstances where the fact or cause of an injury is unknown to (and perhaps unknowable by) a plaintiff for some time after the injury occurs, and which will sometimes dictate that a claim accrues well after the time of the injury." Rakes v. United States,442 F.3d 7, 19 (1st Cir. 2006); see Sanchez, 740 F.3d at 52. For such claims, the cause of action accrues once the plaintiff knows, or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should have known, the factual basis of the cause of action, which includes the existence of an injury and its probable causal connection to the federal government. McIntyre v. United States,367 F.3d 38, 52 (1st Cir. 2004); Callahan v. United States,426 F.3d 444, 451 (1st Cir. 2005). This objective inquiry ...

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