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THOMAS v. BARRY

July 9, 1982

Carolyn THOMAS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Marion BARRY, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREENE

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiffs challenge their transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor to the D.C. Department of Employment Services. They seek an injunction which either would reinstate them to the federal competitive service or would grant them all the rights, benefits, and privileges available to federal employees in the competitive service. Defendants' motions to dismiss or for judgment on the pleadings will be granted on both jurisdictional and substantive grounds.

 I

 28 U.S.C. § 1364 provides that "for purposes of this chapter, references to the laws of the United States or Acts of Congress do not include laws applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia." Plaintiffs' statutory claims have their alleged jurisdictional basis in 28 U.S.C. § 1331 which is, of course, part of the chapter *fn1" referred to in section 1364. Thus, if the statutes upon which plaintiffs principally rely are laws "applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia," there is no jurisdictional basis for this action in this Court.

 While the issue is not free from doubt, it is the Court's conclusion that sections 204(g), 713(d), and 422(3) of the D.C. Home Rule Act, *fn2" which form the basis of plaintiffs' suit, are in that category.

 Section 204 created a local governmental agency to provide the District of Columbia with its own public employment service, and it transferred to that agency the functions formerly performed by the U.S. Department of Labor, subsection (g) specifying that employees transferred pursuant to the section shall retain the competitive service rights they held prior to the transfer. Section 713 deals generally with the transfer to the District of personnel, property, and funds, and subsection (d) of that section provides that employees being transferred shall not by reason of the transfer be deprived of the civil service rights, benefits, and privileges they held prior to the transfer. And section 422(3) similarly mandates that the newly-established D.C. personnel system shall provide to the employees benefits at least equal to those which they enjoyed immediately prior to the establishment of that system.

 All of these provisions deal with the organization of the new District of Columbia government and the status of the employees being transferred thereto. To be sure, these provisions also have an indirect effect on the preexisting federal rights of the employees but, in the opinion of the Court, that collateral consequence is not enough to remove the sections from the category of laws applicable exclusively to the District.

 In short, the sensible construction of section 1364 is to hold that, absent extraordinary circumstances, it does not vest jurisdiction over District of Columbia Home Rule Act controversies in the federal courts, and the Court therefore concludes that defendants' jurisdictional point is well taken. See Palmore v. United States, 411 U.S. 389, 93 S. Ct. 1670, 36 L. Ed. 2d 342 (1973); Key v. Doyle, 434 U.S. 59, 98 S. Ct. 280, 54 L. Ed. 2d 238 (1977). *fn3"

 The same result is reached by application of the doctrine of abstention. Federal courts will generally abstain when important issues of state and local policy are at stake. See Colorado River Water Cons. District v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 96 S. Ct. 1236, 47 L. Ed. 2d 483 (1976); Alabama Public Service Commission v. Southern R. Co., 341 U.S. 341, 71 S. Ct. 762, 95 L. Ed. 1002 (1941); Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 96 S. Ct. 598, 46 L. Ed. 2d 561 (1976). It can hardly be doubted that a case involving consideration of the District of Columbia charter directly and intimately involves the District, its laws, and its policy. It should also be noted in this connection that Judge James Belson, then of the D.C. Superior Court, not long ago issued an opinion which exhaustively treated many of the issues raised by the instant action. Barry v. Public Employee Relations Board, Civil Action No. 15364-80. *fn4"

 It is thus entirely appropriate that this Court abstain from deciding issues which in essence are matters of District of Columbia law and public policy and which have in large measure already been decided by the District of Columbia courts.

 II

 In order to avoid unnecessary delay, the Court has also considered the substance of plaintiffs' claims, and it finds them to be without merit.

 Plaintiffs' basic contention is that under sections 204(g) and 713(d) of the Home Rule Act they are entitled to enjoy the status of federal employees even though they and their functions were transferred to the District of Columbia government. This position defies not only the ...


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