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Granade v. United States

decided: February 9, 1966.

LOUIS H. GRANADE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE



Waterman, Hays and Anderson, Circuit Judges.

Author: Waterman

WATERMAN, Circuit Judge.

The plaintiff-appellant, Louis Granade, commenced this suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York seeking to recover damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act,*fn1 for personal injuries he allegedly received while confined in the Federal House of Detention in New York City awaiting sentence on a criminal charge to which he had entered a plea of guilty.

Appellant alleges that on September 13, 1962 he was assigned to operate the prison public address system. To perform this task he was obliged to sit at a table located directly underneath a shelf on which rested an emergency light. The light was not securely fastened to the shelf and while he was at work a door was slammed causing the light to topple forward and strike him on the head and the right hand. He alleges that the various injuries he sustained from this accident were caused solely by the negligence of the defendant United States and its employees.

The present suit was commenced in May 1964, prior to the appellant's release from prison.*fn2 In the fall of that year the Government moved for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. It pointed out that at the time of appellant's alleged injury he was lawfully in federal custody performing assigned work activities in a federal penal institution, and that Congress had made available a remedy in the nature of workmen's compensation for injuries incurred under these circumstances. See 18 U.S.C. § 4126. It argued that appellant's suit should be dismissed because the compensation system for federal prisoners injured in the course of performing duties assigned them in connection with the operation of a federal penal institution was appellant's exclusive remedy.

On January 25, 1965 the district court granted the Government's motion for summary judgment. In support of this result the lower court first observed it was "undisputed that the plaintiff's injury is compensable under 18 U.S.C. § 4126 . . . ." Granade v. United States, 237 F. Supp. 211, 212 (S.D.N.Y. 1965). The lower court went on to rule that:

The entire statutory scheme of remedies against the Government is based on the principle that where there is a remedy available in the form of a compensation system, there is no concurrent right to sue under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Ibid.

Granade's appeal from this order presents us with the narrow but important question whether the district court erred in ruling that compensation for plaintiff-appellant's injury under 18 U.S.C. § 4126 is his exclusive remedy against the United States.

I.

Appellant draws our attention to the fact that 18 U.S.C. § 4126, the statutory authorization for a system of federal prisoner compensation, contains no explicit indication that Congress intended this compensation system to be the exclusive remedy for prisoners injured while performing duties related to the operation of a federal penal institution. Appellant further notes, with equal accuracy, that the Federal Tort Claims Act does not in terms bar suit by prisoners for injuries also compensable under the federal scheme of prisoner compensation.*fn3 Since both statutes are silent on this crucial point, appellant argues that we should permit him to bring this present suit grounded upon the Federal Tort Claims Act.*fn4

In so arguing we believe appellant would have us overlook a principle of construction to which courts invariably advert when they attempt to fit disparate types of statutory remedies against the federal government into a "workable, consistent and equitable whole." Feres v. United States, 340 U.S. 135, 139, 95 L. Ed. 152, 71 S. Ct. 153 (1950). The principle can be put quite simply: When Congress has established a scheme of compensation to provide a remedy for personal injuries suffered in the course of federal employment, the compensation system is presumed to be the exclusive means of redress against the government for all persons eligible for the system's benefits, even if Congress has not stated that the compensation scheme should be exclusive.

This resilient principle of construction was clearly articulated in Johansen v. United States, 343 U.S. 427, 96 L. Ed. 1051, 72 S. Ct. 849 (1952), a case involving a civilian injured while employed on a United States Army transport vessel. As a civil service employee Johansen was concededly eligible to receive benefits under the Federal Employees' Compensation Act of 1916.*fn5 However, at the time of Johansen's injury the Act did not provide that it was the exclusive remedy against the federal government. Johansen elected to sue the Government under the Public Vessels Act of 1925.*fn6 No provision in the Public Vessels Act explicitly precluded suit by persons entitled to benefits under the Federal Employees' Compensation Act. In this setting the Supreme Court held that in passing the Federal Employees' Compensation Act Congress presumably intended it to be the exclusive remedy for those injured employees who came within its coverage. After exhaustively examining the rather inconclusive legislative history of the two federal acts the Court concluded in Johansen that when the " Government has created a comprehensive system to award payments for injuries, it should not be held to have made exceptions to that system without specific legislation to that effect." 343 U.S. at 441. Seven years later in Patterson v. United States, 359 U.S. 495, 3 L. Ed. 2d 971, 79 S. Ct. 936 (1959) the Court declined to reconsider the teaching of Johansen. And it would now seem to be well settled that if a remedy is available under the Federal Employees' Compensation Act for injuries sustained in the course of employment, this remedy is exclusive, and no concurrent remedy exists under the Federal Tort Claims Act, the Jones Act, the Suits in Admiralty Act, or the Public Vessels Act. Jarvis v. United States, 342 F.2d 799 (5 Cir.), cert. denied, 382 U.S. 831, 86 S. Ct. 70, 15 L. Ed. 2d 75 (1965); Somma v. United States, 283 F.2d 149 (3 Cir. 1960); Mills v. Panama Canal Co., 272 F.2d 37 (2 Cir. 1959), cert. denied, 362 U.S. 961, 4 L. Ed. 2d 876, 80 S. Ct. 877 (1960).

This same principle of construction is also regularly applied in tort liability suits brought against the federal government by persons eligible for benefits under federal compensatory schemes other than the Federal Employees' Compensation Act, even though these other compensation schemes also lack explicit indication that Congress intended them to be exclusive. See United States v. Forfari, 268 F.2d 29 (9 Cir.), cert. denied, 361 U.S. 902, 4 L. Ed. 2d 157, 80 S. Ct. 211 (1959); Aubrey v. United States, 103 U.S. App. D.C. 65, 254 F.2d 768 (D.C. Cir. 1958); Lewis v. United States, 89 U.S. App. D.C. 21, 190 F.2d 22 (D.C. Cir.), cert. denied, 342 U.S. 869, 96 L. Ed. 653, 72 S. Ct. 110 (1951).

In view of the unanimity with which courts have announced that injured persons entitled to receive benefits under a federal compensation scheme must look exclusively to that scheme for redress, we would be inclined to apply the principle in the present case even if the principle were logically unsupportable. Fortunately, however, the policy underlying the principle is both apparent and quite sensible. Courts hold that federal compensation acts, when applicable, are presumably intended to afford an exclusive remedy on the ground that this is one aspect of a quid pro quo whereby the federal government assumes a liability irrespective of fault and in return is relieved of the prospect of suffering large damage verdicts. See 2 Larson, Workmen's Compensation Law § 65.10 (1961). Of course, we recognize that Congress can legislate otherwise; but in the absence of evidence as to Congressional ...


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