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Green v. Winter

July 7, 2009

DAVID L. GREEN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DR. DONALD C. WINTER, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Buckwalter, S. J.

MEMORANDUM

In December 2008, Plaintiff David Green filed a Complaint against Defendant Donald C. Winter, in his official capacity as Secretary of the Navy. Defendant filed a Motion to Transfer Green's Complaint to the Court of Federal Claims asserting that the Tucker Act [28 U.S.C. § 1491(a)(1)] provides the Court of Federal Claims with exclusive jurisdiction to hear breach of contract claims brought against the federal government. After consideration of the parties' briefings, and for the reasons discussed below, Defendant's Motion to Transfer is granted.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

In 1998, Plaintiff David Green entered into a Settlement Agreement with his employer, the Department of Navy ("Navy"). As part of that settlement, the Navy agreed that, among other things, it would provide Green with work evaluations at the midpoint of each employee evaluation period. Green alleges that the Navy engaged in a retaliatory "Breach of Contract" when, contrary to the Settlement Agreement, it failed to provide him with a "midpoint evaluation" for two time periods: (1) December 2005 - April 2006, and April 2006 - September 2006.*fn1 (Compl. 1; Def's Mot. to Transfer, Ex. 3.) As a result, Green alleges that he has suffered $1.5 million in damages. (Compl. 2.)

The Settlement Agreement stipulated that "Complainant understands and agrees that any claimed violation, breach, or failure to perform any of the commitments described in this agreement by the Agency shall be raised in writing within 30 calendar days of the date the Complainant knew, or should have known of the alleged non-compliance." (Def.'s Mot. to Transfer, Ex. 2, 2.) As the EEOC noted, Green was aware of the Navy's non-compliance with the Settlement Agreement by at least October 2006, as that was 30 days after the Navy terminated him. (Id. at Ex. 4, 2) ("Complainant had an obligation to notify the agency of his belief that the breach had occurred, within 30 days of his separation on September 2006.").

Green did not comply with the Settlement Agreement's time limits, and first notified the Navy's equal employment office of the alleged breach on January 17, 2008, more than two years after his termination. The Navy, after reviewing Green's claims, rejected his allegations, finding no breach of the Settlement Agreement. (Id.) Green appealed the Navy's decision to the EEOC, but the EEOC affirmed the Navy's decision stating that "complainant's breach claim was untimely raised." (Id. at 2.) The EEOC's decision stated that "[y]ou have the right to file a civil action in an appropriate United States District Court within ninety (90) calendar days from the date that you receive this decision." (Id. at 2-3) (emphasis in original.) Green filed the present Complaint in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on December 21, 2008. Defendant now seeks to have this Complaint transferred to the Court of Federal Claims.

II. LEGAL BACKGROUND AND ANALYSIS

This Court's rational for transferring Green's Complaint is clear-cut: only the Court of Federal Claims, has jurisdiction to hear this suit. Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. Absent a statutory waiver of immunity, this Court is barred from hearing suits against the federal government. Congress has waived the federal government's sovereign immunity for Title VII suits where the federal government is the employer. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(d) (providing that district courts have jurisdiction over Title VII suits where the federal government is the employer). This statutory waiver, however, "does not extend to monetary claims for breach of a settlement agreement that resolves a Title VII suit." Frahm v, United States, 492 F.3d258, 262 (4th Cir. 2007). See Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375 (1994) (holding that a settlement agreement is an independent claim requiring its own basis for jurisdiction).

The Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1491, grants the Court of Federal Claims sole "jurisdiction to render judgment upon any claim against the United States founded . . . upon any express or implied contract with the United States" in excess of $10,000. 28 U.S.C. § 1491(a)(1).*fn2 This jurisdictional grant has been interpreted to include the breach of settlement agreements. While the Third Circuit has not addressed the matter specifically, a majority of circuits have held that violation of a settlement agreement sounds in contract and that when the claim is in excess of $10,000, the Court of Federal Claims possesses exclusive jurisdiction over such a claim.*fn3

Green asserts that Defendant mis-characterizes his case as a "simple breach of contract action" even though his Complaint also "asserts a Title VII cause of action for retaliation." (Pl.'s Resp. 6.) Further, Green argues that Defendant misapplies two appellate cases - from other circuits, Lindstrom v. United States, 510 F.3d 1191 (10th Cir. 2007) and Frahm v. United States, 492 F.3d 258 (4th Cir. 2007), which actually support his claim. This Court will first analyze Green's claim that his Complaint includes a viable retaliation claim, and then it will examine his arguments as to Frahm and Lindstrom.

A. Green's Retaliation Claim

It is not clear that Green's Complaint asserts a retaliation claim separate from his breach of contract claim. Plaintiff's Complaint simply states that:

Plaintiff brought this discrimination complaint/suit against defendant by filing a complaint in U.S.D.C. Eastern District of PA, alleging "Breach of Contract", intentional retaliation against Plaintiff by Defendants which violated plaintiff civil rights. As a consequence of Defendants action, Plaintiff sustained pain and suffering, mental distress and humiliation, incurred monetary loss, subjected to other adverse employment actions, disparate treatment, etc.

(Compl. 1.) The most plausible interpretation of this passage is that Green is not referencing two separate actions. After discussing the breach of contract and retaliation, the next sentence of the Complaint states that "[a]s a consequence of Defendants action" Green suffered various injuries. If the contract and retaliations claims were separate and distinct, Green would have used the plural referring to ...


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