United States District Court, D. Columbia
September 26, 2005.
VANESSA BAILEY, Plaintiff,
JOHN POTTER, Defendant.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: HENRY KENNEDY, District Judge
Before the court is plaintiff's motions to enforce the
settlement agreement (## 50, 53). Upon consideration of the
motion and the record of this case, the court concludes that
plaintiff's motion must be denied because this court lacks
subject matter jurisdiction to address it.
I. BACKGROUND INFORMATION
Vanessa Bailey, an African American woman formerly employed as
a clerk with the United States Postal Service, brought this
action against her former employer alleging that she suffered
sex, race, and disability discrimination in her employment in
violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 701
et seq.*fn1 A jury trial commenced on July 9, 2001, on the
only claim that survived summary judgment, Bailey's Title VII
claim of a sex-based hostile work environment.*fn2 During jury selection, the parties informed the court that a
settlement agreement had been reached.*fn3 After the terms
of the agreement were set forth on the record in open court, the
court stated "[w]ith that the case will be dismissed," July 7,
2001 Trial Tr. 31:10-13, and the case was closed the same day.
Almost three months later, on September 28, 2001, Bailey filed a
motion to enforce the settlement agreement. The motion was
referred to United States Magistrate Judge John Facciola for his
report and recommendation. However, after making efforts to
resolve the dispute through mediation, Magistrate Judge Facciola
recused himself from the case.
It is a basic principle of American jurisprudence that federal
courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and possess solely the
power authorized by the Constitution and federal statute. Exxon
Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Servs., ___ U.S. ___, 125 S. Ct. 2611,
2616 (2005); Willy v. Coastal Corp., 503 U.S. 131, 136-37
(1992); Bender v. Williamsport Area School Dist., 475 U.S. 534,
541 (1986). For this reason a federal court has a "special
obligation" to raise, sua sponte, the issue of its jurisdiction.
FW/PBS, Inc. v. Dallas, 493 U.S. 215, 231 (1990) (overruled on other grounds). See also Mansfield, Coldwater & Lake Michigan
Ry. v. Swan, 111 U.S. 379 (1884) (the court should raise the
question of a federal court's subject-matter jurisdiction sua
sponte); Doe v. District of Columbia, 93 F.3d 861, 871 (D.C.
Cir. 1996) ("A claim that the court lacks jurisdiction under
Article III of the Constitution may not be waived, since the
jurisdiction at issue goes to the foundation of the court's power
to resolve a case, and the court is obliged to address it sua
sponte.") (citation omitted).
Over a decade ago, in Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co.,
511 U.S. 375 (1994), the Supreme Court addressed the precise issue of
when a federal district court has subject matter jurisdiction
over a motion to enforce a settlement agreement. In Kokkonen,
in the midst of trial, the parties informed the court that they
had reached agreement and the district court signed a stipulation
and order dismissing the case with prejudice. Thereafter, the
defendant successfully moved to enforce the settlement agreement.
In granting the enforcement motion, the district court referred
to its "inherent power" to do so. The Supreme Court held that the
district court had erred because it did not have subject matter
jurisdiction over the motion.
The Court explained that the basis upon which the district
court determined that it had jurisdiction, the doctrine of
ancillary jurisdiction, was unavailing. The ancillary
jurisdiction doctrine provides a basis for a federal court to
assert jurisdiction over claims that are sufficiently related or
subordinated to an action properly within the court's subject
matter jurisdiction. See generally 13 CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT &
ARTHURR. MILLER, FEDERALPRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 3523. In
Kokkonen, the Court observed that historically the doctrine has
provided a basis for asserting jurisdiction in two circumstances:
(1) "to permit disposition by a single court of claims that are,
in varying respects and degrees, factually interdependent"; and
(2) "to enable a court to function successfully, that is to manage its
proceedings, vindicate its authority, and effectuate its
decrees." 511 U.S. at 379-80. The Court held that neither
circumstance was presented by that case. The facts underlying the
dismissed claim and the facts underlying the claim for breach of
the settlement agreement had "nothing to do with each other" and
therefore adjudicating both claims together was neither
"necessary nor even particularly efficient." Id. at 380. The
second circumstance supporting ancillary jurisdiction likewise
did not apply because the district court's dismissal order did
nothing more than dismiss the case. Accordingly, its dismissal
order was in no way "flouted or imperiled by the alleged breach
of the settlement agreement." Id. As in Kokkonen, here the
facts underlying the dismissed claim and the facts underlying
Bailey's claim for breach of the settlement agreement are
unrelated and no issue is presented regarding this court's
authority or ability to effectuate a decree.
Moreover, this case does not present other circumstances that
have lead federal courts to determine that their ancillary
jurisdiction might properly be exercised over a motion to enforce
a settlement agreement. For example, the court did not make the
terms of the settlement agreement part of the order of dismissal
nor did it retain jurisdiction over the settlement agreement.
See Kokkonen, 511 U.S. at 381 (noting that in situations where
the terms of the settlement agreement are either embodied in the
order of dismissal or in a separate provision, a district court
may properly exercise ancillary jurisdiction in order to enforce
the agreement). Nor were any pending matters properly before this
court at the time the motion to enforce was filed. See Foretich
v. Am. Broad. Cos., 198 F.3d 270 (D.C. Cir. 1999) (holding that
the district court has ancillary jurisdiction to enforce a
settlement agreement when a fees motion is still pending at the
time the court ruled on the enforcement motion). Finally, no other basis for this court's assertion of
jurisdiction exists in this case. A voluntary settlement
agreement is a binding contract whose enforceability is
determined under state law. Makins v. District of Columbia,
277 F.3d 544, 547-78 (D.C. Cir. 2002) (state contract law governed
question of enforceability of settlement agreement between
District of Columbia and former employee in discrimination case).
Therefore Bailey's motion does not present a federal question.
The fact that federal laws and federal regulations involving
disability retirement and worker's compensation are implicated
here, primarily in connection with defendant's illegality
defense, is not a sufficient basis for finding that Bailey's
contract claim "aris[es] under the Constitution, laws, or
treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (emphasis
added). See Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc. v. Thompson,
478 U.S. 804, 813-14 (1986) ("[T]he mere presence of a federal issue in a
state cause of action does not automatically confer
federal-question jurisdiction."); see also id. at 808 (noting
that a defense that raises a federal question is inadequate to
confer federal jurisdiction) (citing Louisville & Nashville Ry.
Co. v. Mottley, 211 U.S. 149 (1908)).
Nor does it appear that diversity jurisdiction exists in this
case. Federal agencies are not citizens for purposes of
establishing diversity. Texas v. ICC, 258 U.S. 158, 160 (1922);
Commercial Union Ins. Co. v. United States, 999 F.2d 581,
584-85 (D.C. Cir. 1993). Accordingly, it is the predominant view
that when, as here, a government official is sued in his official
capacity, he is considered to be an alter ego of the government
and therefore, for diversity purposes, is not a citizen of any
state. See, e.g., General Ry. Signal Co. v. Corcoran,
921 F.2d 700, 703-05 (7th Cir. 1990); Morongo Band of Mission Indians v.
California State Bd. of Equalization, 858 F.2d 1376, 1382 n. 5
(9th Cir. 1988); Culebras Enterprises Corp. v. Rivera Rios, 813 F.2d 506, 516 (1st Cir. 1987). While it is true that
the D.C. Circuit long ago expressed the view, in dicta, that
the residence of a cabinet Secretary sued in her official
capacity is the District of Columbia for the purpose of
establishing diversity jurisdiction, its cursory treatment of the
issue does not control here. Trans-Bay Eng'rs & Builders, Inc.
v. Hills, 551 F.2d 370, 376-77 (D.C. Cir. 1976). In any event,
Bailey has not to this point invoked this court's diversity
jurisdiction, doubtless because she did not anticipate the
jurisdictional issue when she filed the instant motion.*fn4
Without such an invocation, the court is not empowered to assert
jurisdiction on the basis of diversity because a party seeking to
invoke federal court jurisdiction must allege its existence.
Cameron v. Hodges, 127 U.S. 322 (1888); Loughlin v. United
States, 393 F.3d 155 (D.C. Cir. 2005).
For the foregoing reasons, it is this 26th day of
September, 2005, hereby
ORDERED that Bailey's motions to enforce the settlement
agreement (##s 50 and 53) are DENIED.
© 1992-2005 VersusLaw Inc.