United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
December 19, 2014
THOMAS M. BRADDY, JR., Plaintiff,
ERIC WILSON, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION (Granting Defendant's Motion to Dismiss)
HENRY E. HUDSON, District Judge.
Thomas M. Braddy, Jr. ("Braddy"), a federal inmate confined in the Federal Correctional Complex in Petersburg, Virginia, filed suit in the Circuit Court for Prince George County, Virginia (the "Circuit Court") against Defendants for breach of contract. Defendant Wilson removed the case to this Court. This matter is before the Court on Defendant Wilson's Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment ("Motion to Dismiss, " ECF No. 2; "Motion for Summary Judgment, " ECF No. 3); Braddy's Motion for Remand (ECF No. 6); Braddy's First Motion to Amend (ECF No. 9); and, Braddy's Second Motion to Amend (ECF No. 12). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Defendant Wilson's Motion to Dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
I. Procedural History
On March 28, 2014, Braddy, a federal inmate proceeding pro se, filed suit against Defendants in the Circuit Court. The Complaint alleges that Defendants breached contracts "in the first instance and as a third party beneficiary." (Compl. 1.)
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 11, 2014, Braddy filed a "Notice for Remand to State Court for Lack of Jurisdiction" ("Motion to Remand, " ECF No. 6), which the Court construes as a Motion to Remand. Defendant Wilson filed an Opposition to Motion to Remand (ECF No. 7). Braddy filed an "Opposition to Defendant's Filing Dated 9/15/14" ("Reply to Defendant's Opposition to Motion to Remand, " ECF No. 8).
On October 3, 2014, Braddy filed a First Motion to Amend (ECF No. 9). Defendant Wilson responded with an Opposition to the Motion to Amend (ECF No. 11). On October 29, 2014, Braddy filed his Second Motion to Amend (ECF No. 12).
II. Summary of Allegations
Braddy's Complaint alleges a variety of conditions at his correctional institution that he finds unsuitable. These conditions include "violating fire codes" (Compl. at. 4), "inmates being subjected to second hand smoke" (id. at 5), "officers stealing food from the kitchen" ( id. ), and "violating code regarding capacity of facilities buildings, currently at 1, 287... inmates" (id. at 4). It appears that Braddy alleges that 18 U.S.C. § 4002 and § 4042,  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 3-4.) Braddy seeks ad damnum in the form of $10, 000, 000 in real damages per defendant and $50, 000, 000 in punitive damages. (Id. at 7.)
III. Lack of Jurisdiction
"Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and are empowered to act only in those specific instances authorized by Congress." Goldsmith v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, 845 F.2d 61, 63 (4th Cir. 1988) (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). "[A] federal court is obliged to dismiss a case whenever it appears the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.... Determining the question of subject matter jurisdiction at the outset of the litigation is often the most efficient procedure." Lovern v. Edwards, 190 F.3d 648, 654 (4th Cir. 1999) (citations omitted). As explained below, because the Circuit Court lacked jurisdiction over Braddy'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 consent [by the United States] to be sued in any court define that court's jurisdiction to entertain the suit." FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475 (1994) (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 the regulation Braddy cites in his Complaint, 18 U.S.C. §§ 4002,  4042,  and 24 C.F.R. § 5.703 not create a private right of action against the United States for breach of contract. See 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 most closely applicable statute for Braddy's contract claims, where the United States has waived sovereign immunity, 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 Big Tucker Act, however, does not grant state courts jurisdiction over these claims. 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),  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)).
Although styled as a state law breach of contract claim, Braddy 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. Because the Circuit Court lacked jurisdiction over Braddy'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 Braddy'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 Braddy'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. Dismiss 3, ECF No. 4.) Accordingly, Defendant's removal of the case to this Court was improper. Nevertheless, because the Court, in fact, lacks subject matter jurisdiction,  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. Braddy's Motion for Remand (ECF No. 6), Braddy's Motion to Amend,  (ECF No. 9), and Braddy's Second Motion to Amend (ECF No. 12) will be denied as moot.
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), Braddy's Motion for Remand (ECF No. 6), First Motion to Amend (ECF No. 9), and Second Motion to Amend (ECF No. 12) will be denied. The action will be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.
An appropriate Final Order will accompany this Memorandum Opinion.