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Bethea v. Holder

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

March 6, 2015

MARVIN BETHEA, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
ERIC H. HOLDER, JR., Attorney General of the United States, Defendant

For MARVIN BETHEA, MICHAEL L. ROBERTS, BONNIE J. GIEBFRIED, Plaintiffs: Jonathan G. Axelrod, Regina M. Markey, BEINS, AXELROD, P.C., Washington, DC.

For ERIC H. HOLDER, JR., Attorney General of the United States, Defendant: Wynne Patrick Kelly, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Washington, DC.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY, United States District Judge.

Presently before the Court are Defendant's [9] Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction and Plaintiffs' [10] Motion to Stay Proceedings and Transfer the Complaint to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Defendant did not file a response to Plaintiffs' Motion to Stay Proceedings and Transfer the Complaint and, accordingly, the Court shall treat the motion as unopposed. LCvR 7(b). Upon consideration of the pleadings,[1] the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Plaintiffs' [10] Motion to Stay Proceedings and Transfer the Complaint to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. For the reasons described herein, the Court shall transfer this matter, including Defendant's [9] Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The Court shall not grant Plaintiff's request to stay the proceedings.

I. BACKGROUND

The Public Safety Officers' Benefit Act (" PSOBA" ), 42 U.S.C. § § 3796 et seq., provides benefits for public safety officers who have either died or been permanently and totally disabled as the direct and proximate result of a personal injury sustained in the line of duty. 42 U.S.C. § 3796(a)-(b). On October 26, 2001, Congress enacted the United and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act (" USA PATRIOT Act" ). Pub. L. No. 107-56, 115 Stat. 272 (2001). Section 611 of the USA PATRIOT Act, codified at 42 U.S.C. § 3796c-1, known as " Fast Track," set an expedited schedule for payment of benefits to public safety officers involved in prevention, investigation, rescue, or recovery efforts related to a terrorist attack. Id. at § 611, 115 Stat. at 369. Specifically, the Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance (" BJA" ) was required to authorize payment to qualified beneficiaries within 30 days of the receipt of certification by a public agency that a public safety officer employed by a public agency was killed or suffered a catastrophic injury producing permanent and total disability as a direct and proximate result of a personal injury sustained in the line of duty in connection with the prevention, investigation, rescue, or recovery efforts related to a terrorist attack. Id.

The process for reviewing disability claims under the PSOBA is dictated by 28 C.F.R. § 32.1 et seq. Pursuant to 28 C.F.R. § 32.24, the PSOB Office shall either approve or deny a disability benefit claim brought under the PSOBA by issuing an initial determination. If a claimant's claim is denied by the PSOB Office, he or she may request a Hearing Officer determination of the claim. Id. at § 32.29. If a claimant's claim is denied by the Hearing Officer, the claimant may appeal to the BJA Director. Id. at § 32.46. If the PSOB Office, the Hearing Officer, or the BJA Director denies a claim, they are required to specify factual findings and legal conclusions that support such a finding and provide information as to the next step in the review process in writing. Id. at § § 32.24(a), 32.44(b), 32.54(a). The BJA Director's determination constitutes the final agency determination and is judicially appealable pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3796c-2. Id. at § 32.55(a).

Plaintiffs, Marvin Bethea, Michael Roberts, and Bonnie Giebfried, are three former employees of private hospitals participating in the New York City Voluntary Hospital system. Compl. ¶ 6, ECF No. [1]. On September 11, 2001, Plaintiffs were dispatched by the Fire Department of New York (" FDNY" ) to assist victims of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Id. Plaintiffs in their Complaint allege that they were severely physically and emotionally injured that day while performing their official duties. Id. On December 1, 2006, four U.S. Congress members sent to the BJA a letter containing applications for PSOBA benefits for the three Plaintiffs in this action and two other emergency responders to the September 11th attacks. Id. ¶ 37. On July 3, 2014, Plaintiffs filed the instant action requesting that the Court compel Defendant to timely process Plaintiffs' applications for disability benefits brought under the PSOBA. See generally id. At the time that the Complaint was filed, Plaintiffs alleged that the PSOB Office still had not yet issued initial determination letters related to their claims. Id. ¶ ¶ 37-93.

Plaintiffs in their Complaint requested that the Court: (1) issue a finding that Defendant violated the federal statutes by failing to timely process Plaintiffs' Fast Track applications; (2) compel Defendant to issue initial determination letters within 15 days; (3) after the issuance of the initial determination letters, compel Defendant to timely process their applications on a defined schedule until the claim process is exhausted; (4) declare that the Court retains jurisdiction to enforce its orders; and (5) award Plaintiffs all attorney fees and costs expended in relation to bringing the instant action. Id. ¶ 2.

On October 28, 2014, Defendant filed its Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction, alleging in part that some of Plaintiffs' claims were moot because the PSOB Office issued initial determinations after Plaintiffs' Complaint was filed. Def.'s Memo. at 1, 4-5. Defendant attached to its motion the PSOB Office determinations dated October 14, 2014, indicating that the disability claims for each of the three Plaintiffs were denied on the basis that Plaintiffs were not public safety officers under the PSOBA and implementing regulations. Def.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (PSOB Office Determination for Marvin Bethea); Id. at Ex. 2 (PSOB Office Determination for Bonnie Jean Giebfried); Id. at Ex. 3 (PSOB Office Determination for Michael L. Roberts).

Defendant further asserts in its motion that Plaintiffs' other claims are premature because Plaintiffs still have the right to request that a Hearing Officer make a de novo review of their claims and to appeal such a determination to the BJA Director. Def.'s Memo. at 5. Finally, Defendant argues that this Court lacks jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' claims once they are ripe because 42 U.S.C. § 3796c-2 assigns exclusive jurisdiction over appeals of the final agency determination related to PSOBA claims to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Id.

In response, Plaintiffs filed their Motion to Stay Proceedings and Transfer the Complaint to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, indicating that after a review of Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiffs agreed that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has exclusive jurisdiction over the claims in their Complaint. Pl.'s Memo. at 5-6. Plaintiffs in their Motion also request that the Court stay the proceedings. Id. at 10. Defendant did not file a responsive pleading to Plaintiffs' Motion. However, Plaintiffs in their Motion indicated that they had conferred with Defendant and " the Agency communicated that it has not taken a position on this matter." Id. at 2. The Court shall treat Plaintiffs' Motion as unopposed because Defendant has not filed a response. LCvR 7(b). The Court now turns to the merits of Plaintiffs' request to transfer and stay these proceedings.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1631, courts have authority to transfer a civil action filed in the wrong jurisdiction, " if it is in the interest of justice" to do so. When a case is transferred pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1631, it " proceed[s] as if it had been filed in . . . the court to which it is transferred on the date upon which it was actually filed in . . . the court from which it is transferred." Id. " There are three elements to a section 1631 transfer: (1) there must be a lack of jurisdiction in the district court; (2) the transfer must be in the interest of justice; and (3) the transfer can be made only to a court in which the action could have been brought at the time it was filed or noticed." Fasolyak v. The Cradle Soc'y, Inc., No. 06-1126, 2007 WL 2071644, at *11 (D.D.C. July 19, 2007) (quoting Ukiah Adventist Hosp. v. FTC, 981 F.2d 543, 549, 299 U.S.App.D.C. 54 (D.C. Cir. 1992)). As the party requesting transfer, Plaintiffs bear the burden of establishing that the elements of a § 1631 transfer have been met. See Osage Tribe of Indians of Okla. v. U.S., No. 04-283, 2005 WL 578171, at *2 (D.D.C. Mar. 9, 2005) (rejecting defendants' transfer request under § 1631 because defendants failed to make the necessary threshold showing that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1631, " federal ...


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