The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. WILLIAM DITTER, JR.
I. INTRODUCTION AND FACTS
Plaintiff brought the instant declaratory judgment action to ascertain its rights and liabilities under two leases for real property. The first lease was executed in 1962 between defendant and Sharon Hill Center, which is not a party to this suit. In April of 1992, the leased premises were sold at a tax sale to plaintiff. Mistakenly believing that this sale terminated defendant's lease, plaintiff and defendant entered into a second lease. A Delaware County court later determined that when plaintiff bought the property at the tax sale, it took title subject to defendant's lease. The underlying dispute involves three main questions: (i) what is the effect of the 1962 lease?; (ii) what is the effect of the 1992 lease?; and (iii) does defendant have any interest in the premises?
Defendant has filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. It argues that the 1992 lease falls under the Contract Disputes Act of 1978 (CDA), 41 U.S.C. §§ 601-13 (1988 & Supp. IV 1992), and, is therefore within the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States Court of Federal Claims.
Specifically, defendant refers to 41 U.S.C. § 609(a)(1) which states in part that, "a contractor may bring an action directly on the claim in the United States Court of Federal Claims." It argues further that although this court and the court of claims have concurrent jurisdiction over the 1962 lease, judicial efficiency mandates that both leases be considered as part of the same proceeding and, therefore, I should decline to adjudicate the question of whether the 1962 lease is still valid. For the reasons discussed below, I will deny defendant's motion.
Plaintiff alleges in his complaint that 28 U.S.C. § 1339 and 39 U.S.C. § 409(a) confer subject matter jurisdiction on this court.
Section 1339 of 28 U.S.C. grants district courts jurisdiction over "any civil action arising under any Act of Congress relating to the postal service." 28 U.S.C. § 1339 (emphasis added). The instant case is a declaratory judgment action involving two leases for real property. Plaintiff's claim does not arise under a congressional enactment but instead involves the application of common law principles. Therefore, 28 U.S.C. § 1339 cannot be the basis for this court's jurisdiction over the instant subject matter. See Prefab Prods. v. United States Postal Serv., 600 F. Supp. 89, 90 (S.D. Fla. 1984) (holding that § 1339 does not grant district court jurisdiction in contract action).
Section 409(a) of 39 U.S.C. provides that district courts shall have original, but not exclusive jurisdiction over all actions brought by or against the Postal Service.
The Third Circuit has found that absent a statutory bar, § 409(a) provides district courts with an independent basis for subject matter jurisdiction -- no other substantive legal framework is necessary to confer jurisdiction. Licata v. United States Postal Serv., 33 F.3d 259, 263 (3d Cir. 1994). The question, therefore, is whether § 609(a)(1) of the CDA is a "statutory bar" to § 409(a)'s independent jurisdictional grant. Id. at 262.
If the CDA is a statutory bar to § 409(a) jurisdiction, this court is not empowered to adjudicate questions arising out of the 1992 lease. If, on the other hand, the CDA presents no such bar, § 409(a) empowers this court to determine the viability of the 1992 lease.
The Courts of Appeals for the Ninth and Eleventh Circuits have concluded that the CDA does not preempt district court jurisdiction over governmental contract cases provided that the plaintiff asserts a jurisdictional ground independent of the CDA. See, e.g., Wright v. United States Postal Serv., 29 F.3d 1426, 1430 (9th Cir. 1994) (holding that CDA did not preempt PRA's jurisdictional grant codified at 39 U.S.C. § 409(a)); Marine Coatings v. United States, 932 F.2d 1370, 1377 (11th Cir. 1991) (holding that where Federal Tort Claim Act applies, CDA's jurisdictional limitation does not bar district court jurisdiction). These decisions hold that the CDA does not operate as a statutory bar to any other jurisdictional grant -- e.g., 39 U.S.C. § 409(a). The courts reason that the CDA merely provides one, non-exclusive avenue to federal court jurisdiction. Thus, where an independent basis for district court jurisdiction over a contract covered by the CDA exists, the CDA's jurisdictional limitation is of no consequence.
I agree with these cases and find that the CDA does not bar § 409(a) jurisdiction. This conclusion follows from the CDA's language. The words on which defendant relies are found in section 609(a)(1) of Title 41 where it states in part that:
. . . in lieu of appealing the decision of the contracting officer under section 605 of this title to an agency board, a contractor may bring an action directly on the claim in ...