United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Northern Division
JOHN F. ROOKS, Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, Defendants.
TERRENCE W. BOYLE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on plaintiffs motions for entry of
default [DE 20, 21] and defendants' motion to dismiss [DE
24]. The motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for
disposition. For the reasons that follow, defendants'
motion to dismiss [DE 24] is GRANTED and plaintiffs motions
for entry of default [DE 20, 21] are DENIED AS MOOT.
is a former employee of the U.S. Postal Service. Plaintiff is
now retired, but during the time period relevant to this
action, he was a USPS Window Distribution Clerk at the
Emporia Post Office on 109 South Main Street in Emporia,
Virginia. In July 2017, the U.S. Postal Service hired a
contractor to replace old vestibule doors at the Emporia Post
Office. In order to install new doors, however, the old steel
door frames needed to be removed. When the contractor began
cutting the door frames, the office "filled with metal
dusts and fumes." [DE 12');">12, p. 2]. Plaintiff complained to
his supervisor on July 6, 2017 that the "dusts and
fumes" were making him sick, but the supervisor
allegedly ignored his complaints and allowed the cutting to
continue. Plaintiff complained again the following day, July
7, and then again on July 8. On July 10, plaintiff informed
his supervisor that he was going to see a doctor, and did so
on that day. He then left for a vacation on July 12');">12, and
alleges that he was sick for at least seven days during his
vacation. Plaintiff returned to work on July 27 and reported
experiencing a metal taste in his mouth; he again informed
his supervisor that he was leaving the post office to visit a
following day, July 28, plaintiff filed a claim for
Occupational Disease with the U.S. Department of Labor Office
of Workers' Comp Programs (OWCP). [DE 25-1]. Plaintiff
claimed that he had sustained an injury or medical condition
"as a result of [his] employment as a Window
Distribution Clerk with the U.S. Postal Service in Emporia,
Virginia." Id., OWCP denied plaintiffs claim on
September 25, 2017. Plaintiff requested reconsideration and,
upon review of plaintiff s additional documentation, vacated
the September 2017 denial and accepted plaintiffs claim. [DE
25-1, p. 5].
October 2017, plaintiff presented an administrative .tort
claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) to the U.S.
Postal Service for $40 million. [DE 25-2]. The U.S. Postal
Service denied plaintiffs claim, finding that the FTCA claim
was barred under the Federal Employees Compensation Act
(FECA), 5 U.S.C. §§ 8101 et seq., which
was applicable to plaintiffs claim given that plaintiff was
acting within the scope of his employment as a U.S. Postal
Service employee at all times relevant to the incident. [DE
25-3]. The claims examiner explained that "FECA
provisions clearly state that the benefits afforded under
that statute are exclusive, therefore, a claim for injury
arising out of federal employment may not be asserted on any
other basis." Id. The examiner further stated
that "an investigation failed to reveal evidence of any
negligent or wrongful act or omission on the part of any
Postal employee." Id.
2018, plaintiff filed the instant action against the U.S.
Postal Service and the United States of America. Plaintiff
seeks $30 million in damages and requests that
"disciplinary action [be] taken against all responsible
employees." [DE 12');">12, p. 3]. Plaintiff served the U.S.
Postal Service and U.S. Attorney General in December 2018,
and served the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of
North Carolina on January 7, 2019. [DE 14, 15, 23-1]. On
March 8, 2019, the Court extended defendants' time in
which to respond to plaintiffs amended complaint to March 22,
2019. [DE 19]. On March 12');">12, plaintiff moved for entry of
default against both defendants, arguing that neither had
timely responded to his amended complaint. [DE 20, 21]. On
March 22, defendants moved to dismiss plaintiffs amended
complaint under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12');">12(b)(1) and
12');">12(b)(6). [DE 24]. Plaintiff has responded in opposition. [DE
outset, plaintiffs motions for entry of default are denied as
moot. Defendants were not properly served under Rule 4(i)
until the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North
Carolina was served via certified mail on January 7, 2019.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(i). Defendants, as the United States and one
of its agencies, had 60 days to respond to plaintiffs amended
complaint following service. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12');">12(a)(2). But the
Court extended defendants' time to file a response from
March 8 to March 22. Plaintiff filed his motions for entry of
default on March 12');">12, prior to the expiration of
defendants' time to file a responsive pleading. As such,
those motions were premature, and must be denied as moot.
have moved to dismiss plaintiffs amended complaint for lack
of subject-matter jurisdiction under Rule 12');">12(b)(1). The
existence of subject-matter jurisdiction is a threshold
question that a court must address before considering a
case's merits. Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env
't, 523 U.S. 83, 88-89 (1998). "Subject-matter
jurisdiction cannot be forfeited or waived and should be
considered when fairly in doubt." Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 671 (2009) (citation omitted). When
subject-matter jurisdiction is challenged, the plaintiff has
the burden of proving jurisdiction to survive the motion.
Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., 166 F.3d 642');">166 F.3d 642, 647-50 (4th
Cir. 1999). When a facial challenge to subject-matter
jurisdiction is raised, the facts alleged by the plaintiff in
the complaint are taken as true, "and the motion must be
denied if the complaint alleges sufficient facts to invoke
subject-matter jurisdiction." Kerns v. United
States, 187');">585 F.3d 187, 192 (4th Cir. 2009). The Court can
consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting
the motion into one for summary judgment. See, e.g.,
Evans, 166 F.3d at 647.
have also moved to dismiss plaintiffs amended complaint for
failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted
under Rule 12');">12(b)(6). When considering a motion to dismiss
under Rule 12');">12(b)(6), "the court should accept as true
all well-pleaded allegations and should view the complaint in
a light most favorable to the plaintiff." Mylan
Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 1130');">7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir.
1993). A complaint must state a claim for relief that is
facially plausible. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Facial plausibility means that the
court can "draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged," as
merely reciting the elements of a cause of action with the
support of conclusory statements does not suffice.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The Court need not accept
the plaintiffs legal conclusions drawn from the facts, nor
need it accept unwarranted inferences, unreasonable
conclusions, or arguments. Philips v. Pitt County Mem.
Hosp., 176');">572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009).
amended complaint must be dismissed because this Court lacks
subject-matter jurisdiction over plaintiffs claims.
Generally, the United States and its agents, acting within
the scope of their official government employment, enjoy
sovereign immunity. United States v. Sherwood, 312');">12
U.S. 584, 586 (1941). But FECA provides a limited waiver of
sovereign immunity. FECA is the workers' compensation
program for federal employees. See Lockheed Aircraft
Corp. v. United States, 190');">460 U.S. 190, 193-94 (1983).
FECA is a federal employee's exclusive remedy against the
United States for workplace injuries. See 5 U.S.C.
§ 8116. "In enacting this provision, Congress
adopted the principal compromise-the 'quid pro
quo'-commonly found in workers' compensation
legislation: employees are guaranteed the right to receive
immediate, fixed benefits, regardless of fault and without
need for litigation, but in return they lose the right to sue
the Government." Lockheed Aircraft, 460 U.S. at
194; see also Borneman v. United States, 213 F.3d
819, 829 n.3 (4th Cir. 2000). A federal employee may
therefore pursue a claim under FECA for an on-the-job injury,
but may not sue the federal government for' that injury.
amended complaint is barred by FECA. U.S Postal Service
employees are federal employees for the purposes of FECA.
See 39 U.S.C. § 1005(c) ("Officers and
employees of the Postal Service shall be covered by
subchapter I of chapter 81 of title 5, relating to
compensation for work injuries."). For a federal
employee to state a claim against the federal government
outside of FECA, the employee must demonstrate that the
relevant injury was not sustained while the employee was
performing his or her duties as a federal employee.
Wallace v. United States, 669 F.2d 947, 952 (4th
Cir. 1982). Here, plaintiff alleges that he sustained his
illness at the Emporia Post Office, while he was fulfilling
his duties as a Window Distribution Clerk. As such, FECA is
plaintiffs exclusive remedy-and, indeed, plaintiff
successfully obtained benefits under FECA, as administered by
the Department of Labor's OWCP program. Because FECA is
plaintiffs exclusive remedy, the federal government retains
its sovereign immunity in this action, depriving the Court of
Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over plaintiffs
amended complaint and it must be dismissed. Given the lack of
subject-matter jurisdiction, there is no need for the Court
to, consider whether plaintiff has stated a claim upon which
relief can be granted under Rule 12');">12(b)(6). ...