A. 28 U.S.C. § 1339
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).
B. 39 U.S.C. § 409(a)
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 the United States Court of Federal Claims . . ..
In some contexts it might be argued that when Congress said "a contractor may bring" it meant "a contractor must bring" its action before either the agency board
or the court of claims. That interpretation would be required to support defendant's position that the CDA is a statutory bar to § 409(a) jurisdiction. In the context of the CDA, however, no such interpretation is possible. The CDA plainly demonstrates that when Congress intended a provision to be mandatory it used the word "shall," and when it intended a provision to be permissive or discretionary it used the unmodified word "may."
For example, one section of the CDA provides that "With respect to the Tennessee Valley Authority, the provisions of this chapter shall apply only to those contracts which contain a disputes clause." 41 U.S.C. § 602(b) (emphasis added). In another section, the CDA provides that a fraudulent contractor "shall be liable." Id. at § 604 (emphasis added). Indeed, in the very section that contains the language that defendant contends divests district courts of jurisdiction, Congress stated that, "Any action under paragraph (1) or (2) shall be filed . . . and shall proceed de novo in accordance with the rules of the appropriate court." Id. at § 609(a)(3) (emphasis added).
On the other hand, in drafting the CDA, Congress used the unmodified, permissive word "may" on a number of occasions to give the adjudicative body discretion. For example, Congress stated that a court "may remand," id. at § 609(c), or "may consolidate," id. at § 609(d), cases. In these instances, it is clear that Congress did not intend to command courts to remand or consolidate cases. Such a result would be absurd. Rather, it provided courts with the discretion to remand or consolidate cases by using the word "may." Common sense and the basic rules of statutory construction require that consistent interpretation follow from a consistent choice of words.
Viewing the overall language of the CDA through the lens of reason, it is clear that the word "may" in § 609(a)(1) is not a statutory bar to district court jurisdiction where an independent jurisdictional basis can be asserted. Congress did not suddenly forget how to compel a result when it came to draft § 609(a)(1). If it had intended the court of claims to be the exclusive court of jurisdiction, Congress would have used words like "shall" or "may only" as it did in other sections of the CDA where it wished to command a particular outcome.
Section 409(a) unambiguously bestows subject matter jurisdiction on the district court "over all actions brought by or against the Postal Service." If Congress had intended to alter this clear and unambiguous jurisdictional grant, the CDA would have contained equally clear and unambiguous language. Where the district courts have been explicitly given jurisdiction over particular subject matter, they should not lightly conclude that another statute bars that jurisdictional grant.
For these reasons, I find that the CDA does not bar § 409(a) jurisdiction. Thus, where a contract falls under both the CDA and the PRA, § 409(a) empowers district courts to hear disputes arising out of that contract. As there is subject matter jurisdiction over the 1992 lease, I need not consider whether the 1962 lease should be transferred to the court of claims. An appropriate order follows.
AND NOW, this 24th day of May, 1995, it is hereby ordered that:
1. defendant's motion to dismiss is DENIED and defendant's motion to transfer to the United States Court of Federal Claims is DENIED;
2. defendant shall file its answer on or before June 13, 1995;
3. On or before July 7, 1995, Mr. Silberman will provide to Ms. Overton, with a copy to me, a proposed stipulation of facts. If there is no objection to these facts, he will file his motion for summary judgment on or before August 4. If the defendant contends that there is a material issue of fact, Ms. Overton will arrange for a telephone conference call on or before July 17. Unless I hear from counsel to the contrary, I will assume that there is no disagreement as to the material facts;
4. If counsel wish to meet to discuss settlement, they will contact me to arrange for a conference time.
BY THE COURT: