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Hamlet v. U.S.

Decided: August 17, 1995.

LOUISE J. HAMLET, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
THE UNITED STATES, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appealed from: U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Hodges, Jr.

Before Archer, Chief Judge, Michel and Clevenger, Circuit Judges.

Clevenger

CLEVENGER, Circuit Judge.

Louise J. Hamlet appeals from the judgment of the United States Court of Federal Claims*fn1 dismissing her action for lack of jurisdiction. Hamlet v. United States, No. 281-86C (Fed. Cl. Mar. 23, 1994). We affirm.

I

Since the pertinent facts in this case are set forth in detail in Hamlet v. United States, 14 Cl. Ct. 62, 63-64 (1988) (CFC Hamlet I), and in Hamlet v. United States, 873 F.2d 1414, 1415 (Fed. Cir. 1989) (CAFC Hamlet I), only a summary of the facts is necessary.

Hamlet was employed as a program assistant in the Charlotte County, Virginia office of the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS) from November 19, 1956, until her removal on November 4, 1985. This ASCS county office, like all such offices, operated under the aegis of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as set forth in the ASCS organic statute, the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act, Pub. L. No. 46, 49 Stat. 1148 (1935) (codified as amended at 16 U.S.C. § 590h (1988)).

After her removal, Hamlet requested and received appeal hearings before the Virginia State ASCS Committee and the National ASCS office. Her removal was upheld. Subsequently, on May 5, 1986, Hamlet filed suit in the Court of Federal Claims, claiming that she was entitled to relief under the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1491(a)(1) (1988 & Supp. V 1993).*fn2 She alleged that her removal (1) violated her rights under the First and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution; (2) breached her employment contract; and (3) did not comply with the rules and regulations of the USDA and the ASCS rules found in the ASCS Handbook: County Office Personnel Management, 22-PM (Rev. 1) (1985) (22-PM Manual). Hamlet sought reinstatement and backpay.

The Court of Federal Claims dismissed Hamlet's action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim. CFC Hamlet I, 14 Cl. Ct. at 67-68. This court vacated the judgment of the Court of Federal Claims and remanded the case "for further consideration or for trial." CAFC Hamlet I, 873 F.2d at 1417. We held that, under United States v. Hopkins, 427 U.S. 123, 49 L. Ed. 2d 361, 96 S. Ct. 2508 (1976), Hamlet's claim for breach of contract was sufficient under the Tucker Act to withstand a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, reasoning that Hamlet might be able to prove facts entitling her to relief based on her allegations that an implied-in-fact contract had been created by the 22-PM Manual provisions covering her employment and that this contract was breached as a result of her removal. CAFC Hamlet I, 873 F.2d at 1417. We also held that the Court of Federal Claims erred in dismissing Hamlet's regulatory claim for reinstatement and backpay since the court did not consider the 22-PM Manual provisions governing her employment. Id. We further held that Hamlet's constitutional claim should not have been dismissed because, unlike the situation in United States v. Connolly, 716 F.2d 882 (Fed. Cir. 1983) (en banc), cert. denied, 465 U.S. 1065, 79 L. Ed. 2d 740, 104 S. Ct. 1414 (1984), where the plaintiff's claim was based solely on the First Amendment, Hamlet relied additionally upon the backpay, compensation and reinstatement rights contained in the 22-PM Manual. CAFC Hamlet I, 873 F.2d at 1416-17.

Upon remand, the Court of Federal Claims conducted an initial proceeding concerning the implied-in-fact contract issue on February 14, 1992, and held a trial on the merits on July 13, 1992. After Hamlet presented her case, the Government moved to dismiss the action. The Court of Federal Claims dismissed the action, holding that (1) Hamlet did not prove that an express or implied contract, if one existed, had been breached; (2) Hamlet did not prove that the 22-PM Manual regulations had been violated; and (3) she did not prove that her constitutional rights were violated by any government policies or procedures. Hamlet v. United States, No. 281-86C, slip op. at 4-5 (Cl. Ct. Oct. 2, 1992) (CFC Hamlet II). After her motion for reconsideration was denied, Hamlet again appealed to this court. This court explained that the Government's motion to dismiss was actually a motion under Rule 52(c) of the Rules of the United States Claims Court and, therefore, the Court of Federal Claims was required to make adequate findings of fact and Conclusions of law to support its judgment. This court vacated and remanded the case because the Court of Federal Claims' "findings of fact and Conclusions of law [were] insufficient to enable meaningful appellate review." Hamlet v. United States, No. 93-5075, slip op. at 2, at *2 (Fed Cir. Nov. 23, 1993) (CAFC Hamlet II).

Upon remand, the Court of Federal Claims held that Hamlet did not satisfy her burden of proof in establishing the existence of a contract or the breach of that contract. Hamlet v. United States, No. 281-86C, slip op. at 4 (Fed. Cl. Mar. 21, 1994) (CFC Hamlet III). The court also held that the 22-PM Manual does not have the "force and effect of law" under Chrysler Corp. v. Brown, 441 U.S. 281, 60 L. Ed. 2d 208, 99 S. Ct. 1705 (1979), and thus could not be interpreted to mandate the payment of money damages for purposes of the Tucker Act, under United States v. Testan, 424 U.S. 392, 400, 47 L. Ed. 2d 114, 96 S. Ct. 948 (1976). CFC Hamlet III, slip op. at 4-6. The Court of Federal Claims then sua sponte examined its jurisdiction over Hamlet's cause of action and concluded that jurisdiction was lacking under the Tucker Act. Id. at 6-8.

II

This court reviews de novo a dismissal by the Court of Federal Claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Transamerica Ins. Corp. v. United States , 973 F.2d 1572, 1576 (Fed. Cir. 1992). "The Tucker Act, of course, is itself only a jurisdictional statute; it does not create any substantive right enforceable against the United States for money damages." United States v. Testan, 424 U.S. 392, 398, 47 L. Ed. 2d 114, 96 S. Ct. 948 (1976). In order to invoke jurisdiction under the Tucker Act, a plaintiff must point to a substantive right to money damages against the United States. Id. Hamlet's complaint contained three counts, each alleging a substantive right to compensation from the United States: (1) a breach of contract claim; (2) a violation of agency regulation claim; and (3) a claim that her ...


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