Still Heir to Nothing

A son whose father left him absolutely nothing in last-minute paperwork executed at a VA Hospital tried unsuccessfully to sue the VA employees who witnessed the father’s testamentary documents.

Federal employees often find themselves at the wrong end of a lawsuit, but this recent case offers an interesting twist. (Smith v. USA (DDC Civ No. 14-cv-00959(APM), 1/29/16))

Mr. Smith Senior died at the VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C. A few weeks before his death, the Senior Smith, while an inpatient, executed the necessary documents to leave his nieces his property, insurance proceeds and civil service death benefit, and leave nothing to his son, Robert Junior. Three VA employees served as witnesses on the various documents. (There is no indication as to why Smith Senior gave everything to his nieces and left his son out—that is left to our imaginations.)

Obviously unhappy with his disinheritance, almost two years later Smith Junior resorted to filing a Federal tort claim against the VA, variously accusing the federal employees of forging his father’s signature and helping the nieces steal his father’s personal property that remained at the hospital after he died. The claim threw around words like “forgery,” “theft,” fraudulent misrepresentation,” “collusion,” and “negligence.” (Opinion p. 2)

VA denied Smith Junior’s administrative claim and he took his case to federal court, suing both VA and the Office of Personnel Management.

The court threw the suit out.

As to OPM, the court ruled that since Plaintiff did not file any administrative claim at all with that agency, under the Federal Tort Claims Act there is no jurisdiction for his suit. As for the VA, essentially the Plaintiff failed to properly present an administrative claim to the agency arguing the case that he now tries to argue in court—namely, that the VA was negligent in training its employees. Since his administrative claim “did not adequately apprise the agency of the negligence claims that Plaintiff now asserts in his Complaint…this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to consider them.” (p. 10)

The court also denies Smith Junior’s efforts to amend his suit in order to somehow get over the jurisdiction hurdle, indicating this would be “futile” since even the amended complaint would “not survive a motion to dismiss.” (p. 13)

Smith v. USA (14-cv-00959)

About the Author

Susan McGuire Smith spent most of her federal legal career with NASA, serving as Chief Counsel at Marshall Space Flight Center for 14 years. Her expertise is in government contracts, ethics, and personnel law.