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Law School Case Brief

Bell v. HCR Manor Care Facility of Winter Park - 432 F. App'x 908 (11th Cir. 2011)


The test of federal jurisdiction is not whether the cause of action is one on which the claimant can recover. Rather the test is whether the cause of action alleged is so patently without merit as to justify dismissal for want of jurisdiction. Where the defendant's challenge to the court's jurisdiction is also a challenge to the existence of a federal cause of action, the proper course of action for the district court is to find that jurisdiction exists and deal with the objection as a direct attack on the merits of the plaintiff's case. Ordinarily a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction that directly attacks the merits of a claim is best resolved through a Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 motion for summary judgment or a Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) failure to state a claim.


A daughter, as estate administratrix of her mother, sued a nursing home and a doctor under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 and the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) for medical malpractice and wrongful death. The administratrix's claims alleged that her mother had received inadequate medical care, which resulted in her death. The district court concluded that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the administratrix's claims had no plausible foundation and granted the defendants' motion to dismiss.


Did the federal district court have subject matter jurisdiction ?




The court found that the district court erred by dismissing the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because the defendants' motions to dismiss directly challenged the merits of her claims, and not the district court's jurisdiction. Further, the administratrix's § 1983 and FTCA claims formed the basis of her complaint, and thus, subject matter jurisdiction existed. Nonetheless, the court summarily upheld dismissal of the § 1983 and FTCA claims because the administratrix had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. In particular, the court found that the fact that the privately operated nursing home was licensed by the state did not constitute action under color of state law for § 1983 purposes. Similarly, the FTCA claim failed because defendants doctor and nursing home were neither federal agencies nor federal officials, and they were not acting on the federal government's behalf.

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