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Isenberg v. Wilson

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

April 2, 2015

ERIC WILSON, et al., Defendants.


HENRY E. HUDSON, District Judge.

Richard Ray Isenberg ("Isenberg"), 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 against Defendants[2] for breach of contract. Defendant Wilson[3] removed that 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). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Defendant's Motion to Dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

I. Procedural History

Isenberg, a federal inmate proceeding pro se, filed suit against Defendants in the Circuit Court of Prince George County, Virginia. The Complaint alleges that Defendants breached contracts "implied in fact, implied in law, [and] expressed based on the relationship of the parties, in the first instance and as a third party beneficiary of contracts herein."[4] (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 and Motion for Summary Judgment.

H. Summary of Allegations

Isenberg's Complaint alleges that a variety of conditions at FCC Petersburg are unsuitable. These conditions include "violating fire codes" (Compl. 6), "violating plumbing codes" (id. at 7), "officers violating their contracts with [Bureau of Prisons ("BOP")] by smoking out of designated areas" (id.), and "over capacity of the facilities and buildings"[5] (id. at 6). Isenberg alleges that his conditions of confinement constitute a breach of several alleged "contracts." First, Isenberg asserts that 18 U.S.C. § 4002[6] and § 4042[7] constitute a contract between the BOP and the United States, that he is a third party beneficiary to these "contracts, " and his conditions of confinement constitute a breach of these contracts. (Compl. 4.) Second, Isenberg claims that prison conditions constitute a breach of his plea agreement with the Government. (Id. at 5-6.) Finally, Isenberg alleges that the Defendants breached contracts between "USA and BOP" (id. at 5), contracts "implied between plaintiff and BOP, Low Petersburg" (id. at 6), and "contracts between BOP-Low and the State of Virginia, BOP-Low and Prince George County, BOP-Low and City of Hopewell..., contracts between the Plaintiff and Virginia, the Plaintiff and Hopewell, the contracts between Prince George County, etc..." ( id. ). To the extent, however dubious, these alleged contracts actually exist, Isenberg nonetheless fails to describe the content of these contracts, include any contractual terms, or describe how Defendants breached them.[8]

Although the vast majority of the Complaint attempts to allege breach of contract claims, Isenberg also attempts to include a Federal Tort Claims Act claim based upon premises liability and a breach of duty of care. (Id. at 7, 10.) Specifically, he alleges that he slipped and fell while walking on "unmarked and uneven broken pavement, " breaking a bone in his foot. (Id. at 7.) He states "What upon initial examination... medical staff failed to properly diagnose the broken bone, thus causing further pain and injury after plaintiff was walking with crutches for two to three days." (Id.)

Isenberg seeks ad damnum in the form of $1, 000, 000 in real damages per defendant and $2, 000, 000 in punitive damages. (Id. at 11.)

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 Prince George County Circuit Court lacked jurisdiction over Isenberg'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 Isenberg cites in his Complaint, 18 U.S.C. §§ 4002[9] and 4042, [10] do not create a private right of action against the United States. Cf. 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 Isenberg'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 Big Tucker Act does not, however, grant state courts jurisdiction over these claims.[11] See Bullock v. Napolitano, 666 F.3d ...

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