Ahvakana v. United States

Decision Date17 February 2022
Docket Number3:13-cv-00010-JMK
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Alaska
PartiesPETE AHVAKANA and LILLY AHVAKANA, Individually and as parents of J.A., a Minor, Plaintiffs, v. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

PETE AHVAKANA and LILLY AHVAKANA, Individually and as parents of J.A., a Minor, Plaintiffs,


No. 3:13-cv-00010-JMK

United States District Court, D. Alaska

February 17, 2022



Before the Court is Defendant United States' Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction at Docket 72. The motion has been fully briefed, [1] and the Court held oral argument on September 17, 2021.[2] For the following reasons, the motion is DENIED.


Plaintiffs Pete and Lilly Ahvakana bring this action on behalf of their minor son, J.A., and themselves under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. § 2674. The Ahvakanas allege that medical personnel at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage, Alaska, and at Samuel Simmonds Memorial Hospital in Bethel, Alaska,


negligently failed to diagnose and treat J.A., causing lifelong disability and consequent emotional injury.[3]

The FTCA requires that claimants first exhaust their administrative remedies before filing an action in federal court.[4] For the purposes of exhaustion, “[t]he failure of an agency to make final disposition of a claim within six months after it is filed shall . . . be deemed a final denial of the claim.”[5] Here, Plaintiffs were required to submit their initial claims to Health and Human Services (“HHS”) for investigation and either (1) receive a final denial or (2) wait for six months to pass before filing an action in federal court. The Ninth Circuit has held that this requirement is jurisdictional.[6]

The Ahvakanas filed the present case on January 15, 2013.[7] In their Complaint, Plaintiffs stated that more than six months had elapsed since receipt of their claims at HHS, satisfying the prerequisite for federal court jurisdiction:

4. Notice of this claim as required by 28 USC 2675 was received by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on July 10, 2012
5. Defendant has not rendered a final administrative decision and more than six months have elapsed since Plaintiffs submitted their administrative claims.[8]

In its Answer, the Government responded that:

4. Defendant admits that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services received administrative claims from the plaintiffs on July l6, 2012
5. Defendant admits that prior to the plaintiffs filing the current Complaint, a final administrative decision has not been issued regarding the administrative claims and more than six months had elapsed from the date of filing the claims.[9]

Neither party followed up or otherwise addressed the conflicting dates regarding the claim receipt. Based on the admitted statement in the pleadings that six months had expired, both parties proceeded with the understanding that the Court held subject matter jurisdiction. The parties engaged in complex litigation over the course of seven years, and the Government was discussing a possible settlement.[10]

Now, nearly a decade later, the Government argues that the Ahvakanas filed their Complaint two days before the expiration of the six-month window, thus depriving this Court of jurisdiction.[11] The parties appear to agree that Plaintiffs sent the HHS claim form via Three-Day Certified Mail on July 10, 2012.[12] Plaintiffs argue that HHS received its claims three days later, on July 13, 2012, which would satisfy the six-month requirement.[13] The Government argues that HHS received the claims six days after postmark, on Monday, July 16, 2012-two days shy of the six-month requirement.[14]


The parties engaged in substantive litigation regarding which date HHS received the claims. Much of the evidence has been lost or destroyed in the seven years between when the claims were mailed and when the Government filed its present motion, presumably because, until this point, the parties agreed that six months had elapsed.[15] In support of its position, the Government provided the HHS claims, which show “received by” stamps dating July 16, 2012, and a letter mailed to the Ahvakanas stating that HHS received the claims on July 16, 2012.[16] In support of their position, the Ahvakanas provide statistics on Certified Mail and evidence of the mail-room processes of HHS, which they use to suggest the agency may have received the form on Friday July 10, but failed to process it until Monday, July 16.[17]

The Ahvakanas argue that, regardless of the factual dispute, the Government is bound to its admission in the pleadings that six months had elapsed since the claims were received by HHS and the Complaint was filed. In the alternate, they ask the Court to craft an equitable remedy that would allow their claim to proceed.[18]


Under Rule 12(b)(1), a defendant may challenge subject matter jurisdiction in one of two ways:

A “facial” attack accepts the truth of the plaintiff's allegations but asserts that they are insufficient on their face to invoke federal jurisdiction. . . .
A “factual” attack, by contrast, contests the truth of the plaintiff's factual allegations, usually by introducing evidence outside the pleadings. When the defendant raises a factual attack, the plaintiff must support her jurisdictional allegations with “competent proof[]” under the same evidentiary standard that governs in the summary judgment context. The plaintiff bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that each of the requirements for subject-matter jurisdiction has been met. . . . [I]f the existence of jurisdiction turns on disputed factual issues, the district court may resolve those factual disputes itself.[19]


This case involves a seemingly complex factual dispute with a straightforward resolution. Seven years into litigation and after the statute of limitations has run, the Government challenges the date that HHS received Plaintiffs' FTCA claim forms. However, the Government's pleadings admit that six months had elapsed between when HHS received the claims and when Plaintiffs filed their Complaint in the district court.

The Court finds that the Government made a binding judicial admission that it has not sufficiently withdrawn. Further, the Court declines to exercise its discretion to reject that admission. Judicial admissions serve to withdraw certain facts from future contention. Thus, while the Government is not estopped from challenging subject matter jurisdiction, the formal admission prevents it from later denying its own factual statement


that six months had elapsed between the date HHS received the claims and when the Complaint was filed.

A. The Government Made a Judicial Admission that More than Six Months had Elapsed Between Plaintiffs Submitting Their Administrative Claims and Filing the Present Complaint

The Government first argues that its statement does not constitute a judicial admission. This is incorrect. Factual assertions in pleadings, unless amended, are considered judicial admissions that are conclusively binding on the party who made them.[20] “Judicial admissions are formal admissions in the pleadings which have the effect of withdrawing a fact from issue and dispensing wholly with the need for proof of the fact.”[21] “When an admission or agreement concerning a factual issue is made . . . that issue stands as fully determined as if it had been adjudicated after the taking of testimony at trial[.]”[22] The doctrine of judicial admission is equally true for jurisdictional facts.[23] “While consent of parties cannot give the courts of the United States jurisdiction, . . . the parties may admit the existence of facts which show jurisdiction, and the courts may act judicially upon such an admission.”[24]

Here, the Government made a factual assertion in its Answer that “prior to the plaintiffs filing the current Complaint . . . more than six months had elapsed from the


date of filing the [HHS] claims.”[25] This is a clear and unequivocal factual statement; there is no room for a different interpretation of the Government's words.[26] As such, it has “the force of a finding” to which the Government is bound.[27]

The Government now believes its statement to be incorrect and, because of this, argues that it cannot be a binding judicial admission. This argument misunderstands the function of judicial admissions. Unlike ordinary evidence, an admission serves to set aside a fact as uncontested. The admitting party cannot later controvert it with new evidence or argument, and the opposing party is entitled to rely on its conclusive and binding effect.[28] An admission of fact “is not merely another layer of evidence, upon which the district court can superimpose its own assessment of weight and validity. It is, to the contrary, an unassailable statement of fact that narrows the triable issues in the case.”[29] As such, it “cannot be rebutted by contrary testimony or ignored by the district court simply because it finds the evidence presented by the party against whom the admission operates more credible.”[30] Because the Government clearly and unequivocally admitted that six months had elapsed, that fact is insulated from attack. Therefore, the Court will not reopen


a factual inquiry into the date Plaintiffs' claims were received from HHS for the purpose of deciding whether six months had elapsed, and it will not consider the Government's newly presented evidence or arguments that its previous admission is now incorrect.[31] The reason that judicial admissions are binding is especially apparent here, where, after seven years, much of the evidence that Plaintiffs might have relied upon has been lost or destroyed because Plaintiffs understandably treated the Government's admission as conclusive.[32] If a party was released from its binding admission merely because it...

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