Neil v. United States, No. 92-6033

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtSTEVENS
Citation113 S.Ct. 1980,508 U.S. 106,124 L.Ed.2d 21
Decision Date17 May 1993
Docket NumberNo. 92-6033
PartiesWilliam McNEIL, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES

508 U.S. 106
113 S.Ct. 1980
124 L.Ed.2d 21
William McNEIL, Petitioner,

v.

UNITED STATES.

No. 92-6033.
Argued April 19, 1993.
Decided May 17, 1993.
Syllabus*

Four months after petitioner McNeil, proceeding without counsel, filed this Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) suit for money damages arising from his alleged injury by the United States Public Health Service, he submitted a claim for such damages to the Department of Health and Human Services, which promptly denied the claim. The District Court subsequently dismissed McNeil's complaint as premature under an FTCA provision, 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a), which requires that a claimant exhaust his administrative remedies before bringing suit. The Court of Appeals affirmed, although decisions in other Circuits have permitted a prematurely filed FTCA action to proceed if no substantial progress has taken place in the litigation before the administrative remedies are exhausted.

Held: An FTCA action may not be maintained when the claimant failed to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing suit, but did so before substantial progress was made in the litigation. Section 2675(a)'s unambiguous text—which commands that an "action shall not be instituted . . . unless the claimant shall have first presented the claim to the appropriate . . . agency and his claim shall have been finally denied by the agency" requires rejection of McNeil's contention that his action was timely because it was commenced when he lodged his complaint with the District Court. The complaint was filed too early, since McNeil's claim had not previously been presented to the Public Health Service nor "finally denied" by that agency. Also unpersuasive is McNeil's argument that his action was timely because it should be viewed as having been "instituted" on the date when his administrative claim was denied. In its statutory context, the normal interpretation of the word "institute" is synonymous with the words "begin" and "commence." The most natural reading of the statute indicates that Congress intended to require complete exhaustion of Executive remedies before invocation of the judicial process. Moreover, given the clarity of the statutory text, it is certainly not a "trap for the unwary." Pp. ____.

964 F.2d 647, affirmed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Allen E. Shoenberger, Chicago, IL, appointed by this Court, for petitioner.

William K. Kelley, Washington, DC, pro hac vice, by special leave of the Court, for respondent.

Justice STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Federal Torts Claims Act (FTCA) provides that an "action shall not be instituted upon a claim against the United States for money damages" unless the claimant has first exhausted his administrative remedies.1 The question presented is whether such an action may be maintained when the claimant failed to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing suit, but did so before substantial progress was made in the litigation.

I

On March 6, 1989, petitioner, proceeding without counsel, lodged a complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleging that the United States Public Health Service had caused him serious injuries while "conducting human research and experimentation on prisoners" in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections. He invoked the federal court's jurisdiction under the FTCA and prayed for a judgment of $20 million. App. 3-7.

Four months later, on July 7, 1989, petitioner submitted a claim for damages to the Department of Health and Human Services.2 The Department denied the claim on July 21, 1989. On August 7, 1989, petitioner sent a letter to the District Court enclosing a copy of the Department's denial of his administrative claim and an affidavit in support of an earlier motion for appointment of counsel. Petitioner asked that the court accept the letter "as a proper request, whereas plaintiff can properly commence his legal action accordingly." Id., at 10.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, the United States was not served with a copy of petitioner's complaint until July 30, 1990.3 Id., at 2. On September 19, 1990, the United States moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that petitioner's action was barred by the 6-month statute of limitation.4 The motion was based on the assumption that the complaint had been filed on April 15, 1990, when petitioner paid the court filing fees, and that that date was more than six months after the denial of petitioner's administrative claim. In response to the motion, petitioner submitted that the complaint was timely because his action had been commenced on March 6, 1989, the date when he actually lodged his complaint and the Clerk assigned it a docket number.

The District Court accepted March 6, 1989 as the operative date of filing, but nonetheless granted the Government's motion to dismiss. Petitioner's suit was not out-of-time, the District Court reasoned, but, rather, premature. The Court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to entertain an action "commenced before satisfaction of the administrative exhaustion requirement under § 2675(a)." Id., at 21.

The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed. The court explained:

"According to 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b), a tort claim against the United States must be 'begun within six months after the date of mailing . . . of notice of final denial of the claim by the agency to which it was presented.' The administrative denial was mailed on July 21, 1989, so McNeil had between then and January 21, 1990, to begin his action. The complaint filed in March 1989 was too early. This left two options. Perhaps the document filed in March 1989 loitered on the docket, springing into force when the agency acted. Or perhaps the request for counsel in August 1989, during the six-month period, marks the real 'beginning' of the action. The district court rejected both options, and McNeil, with the assistance of counsel appointed by this court, renews the arguments here.

. . . . .

"March 1989 was too early. The suit did not linger, awaiting administrative action. Unless McNeil began a fresh suit within six months after July 21, 1989, he loses." 964 F.2d 647, 648-649 (1992).

The court reviewed the materials filed in August 1989 and concluded that the District Court had not committed plain error in refusing to construe them as having commenced a new action.5

Because decisions in other Circuits permit a prematurely filed FTCA action to proceed if no...

To continue reading

Request your trial
4990 practice notes
  • Van Gessel v. Moore, 1:18-cv-01478-DAD-GSA-PC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • February 24, 2020
    ...an administrative claim is denied, or deem denied, may a claimant file an action in federal court. Id.; see also McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993) ("The FTCA bars claimants from bringing suit in federal court until they have exhausted their administrative remedies."). Signif......
  • Lafferty v. US, Civ. A. No. 94-13.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Eastern District of Kentucky
    • April 4, 1995
    ...interest and intervening complaint operated as if party substituted under Fed. R.Civ.P. 17(a)). 9 See McNeil v. U.S., ___ U.S. ___, ___, 113 S.Ct. 1980, 1984, 124 L.Ed.2d 21 (1993) (interpreting 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a)) as requiring that administrative remedies cannot be deemed to have been exh......
  • Gagliardi v. Fisher, Civil Action No. 06-0095.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. Western District of Pennsylvania
    • March 16, 2007
    ...elements of his or her claim and is not excused from conforming to the standard rules of civil procedure. McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113, 113 S.Ct. 1980, 124 L.Ed.2d 21 (1993) ("[W]e have never suggested that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation should be interpreted so......
  • Barnes v. Doe, No. 13–5014.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Tenth Circuit
    • January 21, 2015
    ...“bars claimants from bringing suit in federal court until they have exhausted their administrative remedies.” McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113, 113 S.Ct. 1980, 124 L.Ed.2d 21 (1993). Section 2675(a) provides: An action shall not be instituted upon a claim against the United States......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
5063 cases
  • Van Gessel v. Moore, 1:18-cv-01478-DAD-GSA-PC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • February 24, 2020
    ...an administrative claim is denied, or deem denied, may a claimant file an action in federal court. Id.; see also McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993) ("The FTCA bars claimants from bringing suit in federal court until they have exhausted their administrative remedies."). Signif......
  • Lafferty v. US, Civ. A. No. 94-13.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Eastern District of Kentucky
    • April 4, 1995
    ...interest and intervening complaint operated as if party substituted under Fed. R.Civ.P. 17(a)). 9 See McNeil v. U.S., ___ U.S. ___, ___, 113 S.Ct. 1980, 1984, 124 L.Ed.2d 21 (1993) (interpreting 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a)) as requiring that administrative remedies cannot be deemed to have been exh......
  • Gagliardi v. Fisher, Civil Action No. 06-0095.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. Western District of Pennsylvania
    • March 16, 2007
    ...elements of his or her claim and is not excused from conforming to the standard rules of civil procedure. McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113, 113 S.Ct. 1980, 124 L.Ed.2d 21 (1993) ("[W]e have never suggested that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation should be interpreted so......
  • Barnes v. Doe, No. 13–5014.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Tenth Circuit
    • January 21, 2015
    ...“bars claimants from bringing suit in federal court until they have exhausted their administrative remedies.” McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113, 113 S.Ct. 1980, 124 L.Ed.2d 21 (1993). Section 2675(a) provides: An action shall not be instituted upon a claim against the United States......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT