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Hamm v. Wilson

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

December 19, 2014

RICKY HAMM, Plaintiff,
ERIC WILSON, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION (Granting Defendant's Motion to Dismiss)

HENRY E. HUDSON, District Judge.

Ricky Hamm ("Hamm"), a federal inmate confined in the Federal Correctional Complex in Petersburg, Virginia ("FCC Petersburg"), filed suit[1] in the Circuit Court of Prince George County, Virginia ("Circuit Court") against Defendants[2] for breach of contract. Defendant Wilson[3] removed that case to this Court. This matter is before the Court on: (1) Defendant Wilson's Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, (2) for Summary Judgment ("Motion to Dismiss, " ECF No. 2; "Motion for Summary Judgment, " ECF No. 3); (3) Hamm's Motion for Remand (ECF No. 6); and (4) Hamm's Motion to Amend, or in the Alternative, to Transfer to the Court of Federal Claims ("Motion to Amend, " ECF No. 8; "Motion to Transfer, " ECF No. 9). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Defendant's Motion to Dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

I. Procedural History

Hamm, a federal inmate proceeding pro se, filed suit in the Circuit Court against "Federal Bureau of Prisons, Inc." and "Petersburg, Low."[4] (Compl. at 3.) The Complaint alleges that Defendants breached contracts "in the first instance and as a third-party beneficiary." ( Id. )

On August 29, 2014, Defendant Wilson filed a Notice of Removal of State Court Action to United States District Court. ("Notice of Removal, " ECF No. 1.) On September 5, 2014, Defendant Wilson filed a Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 2) and Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 3).

On September 17, 2014, Hamm filed a "Notice for Remand to State Court" ("Motion to Remand, " ECF No. 6), which the Court construes as a Motion to Remand.[5] Defendant Wilson filed an Opposition to Motion to Remand (ECF No. 7).

On October 7, 2014, Hamm filed a Motion to Amend (ECF No. 8) and Motion to Transfer to the Court of Federal Claims (ECF No. 9). Defendant Wilson responded with an Opposition to the Motion to Amend and Motion to Transfer (ECF No. 10). On October 28, 2014, Hamm filed an untitled Memorandum of Law and Facts (ECF No. 11).

II. Summary of Allegations

Hamm's contends that a variety of conditions at the FCC Petersburg are unsuitable. The unsuitable conditions of the facility, Hamm avers, include violations of the fire code, "over capacity of the facilities and buildings, " "inmates being subjected to second hand smoke, " "officers stealing food from the kitchen, " and "violati[on] of the code regarding capacity of facilities buildings."[6] (Compl. at 6-7.) Hamm argues that 18 U.S.C. § 4002[7] and § 4042, [8] along with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development's regulations for housing, 24 C.F.R. § 5.703, constitute "contracts" between the BOP and the United States, that he is a third party beneficiary to these "contracts, " and that his conditions of confinement constitute a breach of those contracts. ( Id. at 5-6.) Hamm seeks ad damnum in the form of $10, 000, 000 in real damages per defendant and $50, 000, 000 in punitive damages. ( Id. at 8.)

III. Lack of Jurisdiction

"Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377, 116 S.Ct. 1673, 1675 (1994). They possess only such power as is authorized by the Constitution or conferred by statute. Id Absent a finding of subject matter jurisdiction, this Court has no adjudicative authority to proceed further. Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 94, 118 S.Ct. 1003, 1012, 140 L.Ed.2d 210 (1998). As explained below, because the Circuit Court lacked jurisdiction over Hamm's claims, so too does this Court.

A. Sovereign Immunity and Waiver

"Absent a waiver, sovereign immunity shields the Federal Government and its agencies from suit. Sovereign immunity is jurisdictional in nature. Indeed, the terms of [the United States'] consent to be sued in any court define that court's jurisdiction to entertain the suit." FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475 (1994) (alteration in original) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted) (citing United States v. Mitchell, 463 U.S. 206, 212 (1983); United States v. Sherwood, 312 U.S. 584, 586 (1941)).

The statutes and regulation Hamm cites in his Complaint, 18 U.S.C. §§ 4002, [9] 4042[10] and 24 C.F.R. § 5.703[11] do not create a private right of action against the United States for breach of contract. See, e.g., Touche Ross & Co. v. Redington, 442 U.S. 560, 569 (1979) (refusing to find a statute created an implied private remedy when it failed to prohibit certain conduct or create federal rights in favor of private parties).

The statute most applicable to Hamm's contract claims is the "Big Tucker Act, " 28 U.S.C. § 1491. Smeltzer v. United States, 131 F.3d 136 (4th Cir. 1997). This Act grants the Court of Federal Claims exclusive jurisdiction over breach of contract claims against the United States where the amount in controversy exceeds $10, 000. Id. The Act does not, however, grant state courts jurisdiction over these claims.[12] See Bullock v. Napolitano, 666 F.3d 281, 285 (4th Cir. 2012) (explaining that in suits against the United States, state courts lack subject matter jurisdiction unless the waiver of sovereign immunity expressly grants jurisdiction to state courts).

B. Derivative Jurisdiction

Defendant Wilson removed under 28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1), [13] which permits the Government to remove a civil case that is filed against officers or agencies of the United States in state court. 28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1). The doctrine of derivative jurisdiction applies when the Government removes a case under § 1442. Palmer, 498 F.3d at 246. When derivative jurisdiction applies, the federal court only acquires the jurisdiction possessed by the state court prior to removal. See id. at 244, 246. When, as here, the state court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the federal court does not acquire jurisdiction upon removal, "even though in a like suit originally brought in federal court, the court would have had jurisdiction." Smith v. Cromer, 159 F.3d 875, 879 (4th Cir. 1998) (citing Boron Oil Co. v. Downie, 873 F.2d 67, 70 (4th Cir. 1998)).[14]

C. Analysis

Although styled as a state law breach of contract claim, Hamm may only bring his initial complaint against the United States pursuant to the "Big Tucker Act." 28 U.S.C. § 1491. The Circuit Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over claims brought pursuant to that Act. Bullock, 666 F.3d at 285 (observing that "state courts do not have presumptive jurisdiction to decide suits against the United States"). Pursuant to the doctrine of derivative jurisdiction, this Court's jurisdiction over a removed case is the same as that of the state court from which the case originated. Palmer, 498 F.3d at 244.[15] Because the Circuit Court lacked jurisdiction over Hamm's case, this Court accordingly lacks subject matter jurisdiction, and must dismiss the case. See, e.g., Patton v. F.B.I., No. 2:14-13347, 2014 WL 3496112, at *3 (S.D. W.Va. July 11, 2014).

Pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), this Court must dismiss any action filed by a prisoner if the Court determines the action (1) "is frivolous" or (2) "fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1). A complaint "is frivolous where it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). "[A] matter of law is frivolous where [none] of the legal points [are] arguable on their merits.' Id. (quoting Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738, 744 (1967)). Accordingly, because this Court lacks jurisdiction and cannot legally adjudicate Hamm's claims, dismissal is appropriate under § 1915A(b)(1).

IV. Outstanding Motions

A. Defendant's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Defendant Wilson failed to raise the issue of derivative jurisdiction in his Motion to Dismiss. Instead, he argues that Hamm's initial pleading fell under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Court of Federal Claims, as he demanded $60, 000, 000 in damages from the United States for breach of contract. (Mem. Supp. Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 4, at 3.) Accordingly, Defendant's removal of the case to this Court was improper. Nevertheless, because the Court, in fact, lacks subject matter jurisdiction, [16] the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 2) will be granted.

B. Remaining Motions

Because the Court lacks jurisdiction over the matter, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 3) will be denied. Hamm's Motion for Remand (ECF No. 6), Hamm's Motion to Amend[17] (ECF No. 8), and Hamm's Motion to Transfer[18] (ECF No. 9) will be denied as moot.

V. Conclusion

For the reasons set forth, Defendant Wilson's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 2) will be granted. Defendant Wilson's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 3), Hamm's Motion for Remand (ECF No. 6), Hamm's Motion to Amend (ECF No. 8), and Hamm's Motion to Transfer (ECF No. 9) will be denied. The action will be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

An appropriate Final Order will accompany this Memorandum Opinion.

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