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Redner v. United States

March 13, 2009

JESSICA REDNER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, ADAMS & ASSOCIATES, INC., AND GLENMONT JOB CORPS ACADEMY, DEFENDANTS.



MEMORANDUM- DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff filed the instant complaint on October 1, 2008, alleging negligence on the part of the Defendants stemming from Plaintiff's fall into a drainage hole on the property of the Glenmont Job Corps Academy. See Compl. (Dkt. No. 1). Presently before the Court is a Motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction brought by Defendant the United States of America ("the United States"). Mot. (Dkt. No. 10). For the reasons discussed below, the Motion is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

The Job Corps, a federally funded program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, is the nation's largest residential and educational training program for economically disadvantaged youth ages 16-24. Affidavit of Job Corps Regional Director Joseph Semanksy ¶ 1 ("Semansky Aff.) (Dkt. No. 10, Attach. 3). Effective December 1, 2004, the Department of Labor entered into a contract with Adams and Associates, Inc. ("Adams and Associates") to operate the Glenmont Job Corps Center in Albany County, New York. Semansky Aff. ¶ 5; Contract (Dkt. No. 10, Attach. 7). The contract calls for Adams and Associates to maintain the facilities at the Glenmont Job Corps Center, including the grounds and walkways. Semansky Aff. ¶ 11.

In December 2005, Plaintiff was enrolled in the Job Corps and attending their program at the Glenmont Job Corps Center. Pl.'s Mem. in Opp'n at 1 (Dkt. No. 12). Plaintiff alleges that on December 13, 2005, she sustained personal injuries after falling into an unguarded, unmarked drainage inlet on the Job Corps grounds. See id.; Compl. ¶¶ 40-44.

Plaintiff brought this action seeking recovery for her physical and emotional injuries resulting from her fall. Plaintiff invokes jurisdiction against the United States pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b). Compl. ¶ 2. Plaintiff invokes supplemental jurisdiction against Adams and Associates and Glenmont Job Corps Academy. Id. ¶ 3. The United States has moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing that as a Job Corps enrollee, Plaintiff's exclusive remedy rests within the provisions of the Federal Employees' Compensation Act ("FECA"), 5 U.S.C. § 8101 et seq.; and that in the alternative, to the extent that the Glenmont Job Corps is run by an independent contractor (Adams and Associates), the United States cannot be held liable under the FTCA.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

"It is a fundamental principle that federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. The limits upon federal jurisdiction, whether imposed by the Constitution or by Congress, must be neither disregarded nor evaded." Owen Equipment & Erection Co. v. Kroger, 437 U.S. 365, 374 (1978). "A case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) when the district court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate it." Makarova v. United States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir. 2000) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1)). "A plaintiff asserting subject matter jurisdiction has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that it exists." Makarova, 201 F.3d at 113 (citing Malik v. Meissner, 82 F.3d 560, 562 (2d Cir. 1996)).

In reviewing a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, a court "'must accept as true all material facts alleged in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor.'" Sharkey v. Quarantillo, 541 F.3d 75, 83 (2d Cir. 2008) (quoting Merritt v. Shuttle, Inc., 245 F.3d 182, 186 (2d Cir. 2001)).

III. DISCUSSION

A. The Federal Employees' Compensation Act

FECA provides that "[t]he United States shall pay compensation . . . for the disability or death of [a federal] employee resulting from personal injury sustained while in the performance of his duty . . . ." 5 U.S.C. § 8102(a). This compensation scheme is "the exclusive remedy for work-related injuries sustained by federal employees." Votteler v. United States, 904 F.2d 128, 130 (2d. Cir. 1990) (citing 5 U.S.C. § 8116(c))*fn1 (other citations omitted). "Because the FECA is an 'exclusive' remedy . . . it deprives federal courts of subject-matter jurisdiction to adjudicate claims brought under the FTCA for workplace injuries that are covered under the FECA." Mathirampuzha v. Potter, 548 F.3d 70, 81 (2d Cir. 2008) (citations omitted). Job Corps enrollees are considered to be federal employees for FECA purposes. 5 U.S.C. § 8143(a); 29 U.S.C. § 2897(a). Thus, if Plaintiff's claims fall within the purview of FECA, this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate her FTCA claims.*fn2

The Secretary of Labor has authority to administer FECA and to prescribe rules and regulations for the administration of the statute. 5 U.S.C. §§ 8145, 8149. The Secretary has delegated her authority to administer FECA to the Director of the Office of Workers' Compensation Program ("OWCP"). 20 C.F.R. § 10.1. When presented with a claim for benefits under FECA, OWCP determines whether the claimant's injuries are covered by the statute. The decision of the Secretary or her delegate, OWCP, as to the applicability of FECA is not subject to judicial review. See 5 U.S.C. § 8128(b); Mathirampuzha, 548 F.3d at 81.

Where a district court is faced with a FTCA claim that may be precluded by the plaintiff's coverage under FECA, the Second Circuit has summarized the appropriate analysis as follows:

[W]here there is a substantial question of FECA coverage--indeed, unless it is certain that the FECA does not cover the type of claim at issue--the district court may not entertain the FTCA claim. If there is a substantial question of FECA coverage, only the Secretary of Labor or her delegate may decide whether the FECA applies. If the Secretary determines that the plaintiff's claim is fundamentally outside the scope of the FECA, then the claim may proceed under the FTCA in ...


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