United States District Court, District of Columbia
STEVEN H. HALL, Plaintiff,
DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, et al., Defendants.
A. Howell, Chief Judge
se plaintiff, Steven H. Hall, a former employee of the
Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), seeks
judicial review of a decision, originally made by the
Department of Labor's (“DOL”) Office of
Workers' Compensation (“OWCP”), rescinding
the plaintiff's benefits under the Federal Employees'
Compensation Act (“FECA”), 5 U.S.C. § 8101
et seq. Pl.'s First Amended Compl.
(“FAC”) at 1-3, ECF No. 14. The plaintiff
initially obtained compensatory benefits for a claim that his
four weeks of work as an administrative assistant at St.
Elizabeth's construction site in Southeast, Washington,
D.C., caused him to develop a respiratory illness.
Id. ¶¶ 1-2. Having pursued this claim
unsuccessfully through no less than six rounds of review by
both OWCP and DOL's Employee's Compensation Appeals
Board (“ECAB”), see Id. ¶¶
2-5, the plaintiff now asks this Court to review the
administrative decision on the single claim that remains from
his First Amended Complaint, Pl.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Not to
Dismiss (“Pl.'s Mem.”) at 3, 14-16, ECF No.
18. He contends “OWCP and [ECAB] abused [their]
authority and were not in compliance with internal procedures
[and] FECA, ” and, as a result, the plaintiff is
entitled to damages for “retaliation, obstruction of
justice, perjury, and prohibited personnel practices.”
Id. at 16. DOL now moves, pursuant to Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), to dismiss the plaintiff's
remaining claim, arguing that FECA precludes judicial review,
under 5 U.S.C. § 8128(b), and the plaintiff's
“attempts to circumvent FECA's judicial
preclusion” are unavailing. See Defs.'
Mot. Dismiss at 1, ECF No. 15; Defs.' Reply Mot. Dismiss
(“Defs.' Reply”) at 1-2, ECF No. 19. For the
reasons set forth below, DOL's Motion to Dismiss is
BACKGROUND The plaintiff's claims and underlying
allegations have evolved over four iterations of his filings
labeled as “complaints, ” see generally
Compl., ECF No. 1; Amended Compl., ECF No. 6; Amendment to
Compl., ECF No. 12; FAC, and thus present a moving target of
factual assertions that are difficult to parse or understand
in places, especially in conjunction with the FAC's
224-page attachment with fifty separate exhibits, see
generally FAC, Attach. 1 (“FAC Attach.”),
Exs. A-AX, ECF No. 14-1. Nonetheless, to the extent
intelligible, the plaintiff's allegations are assumed to
be true for the purpose of resolving the pending motion.
Summarized below are the factual allegations made in the FAC,
followed by the relevant procedural history.
August 1, 2012, the plaintiff, who has “diagnosed and
documented preexisting respiratory issues, anxiety and
depression, and sleep apnea, ” was assigned to work as
an administrative assistant at the St. Elizabeth's
Construction site. FAC at 2-3. According to the plaintiff,
his employment at St. Elizabeth's required him “to
rinse and wipe down golf carts and perform escorts throughout
the [St. Elizabeth's] campus, ” which was
“hot and dusty.” Id. ¶¶ 1- 2.
In early August 2012, he “became ill on DHS premises,
” and his existing “respiratory issues”
were “exacerbated.” Id. ¶ 1. Over
the next almost six months, “[f]rom August 29, 2012 to
February 18, 2013, [he] recuperated from his respiratory
issues at home, ” only returning to St. Elizabeth's
for a brief one week period, from February 19 to 26, 2013,
before he “became ill” again. Id. ¶
1-2. The plaintiff did not return to work and was removed
from the position in November 2013. Id. ¶ 2.
plaintiff first filed a claim under FECA to obtain
compensation benefits for his respiratory issues on November
20, 2012. Pl.'s Mem. at 4; FAC ¶ 1. The
plaintiffs supervisor controverted the claim,
“indicating that there was no difference in the outside
and inside air quality” at St. Elizabeth's such
that the conditions on the premises would have aggravated the
plaintiffs preexisting respiratory issues. FAC
¶ 1. The supervisor's comments
appear to be based on an Air Quality Test (“AQT”)
performed on the premises, beginning in September 2012.
Id. In September 2012, the plaintiff began providing
OWCP with “medical documentation and recommendations
from attending physicians to remove Plaintiff from a dusty
working environment.” Id. DHS offered the
plaintiff accommodations, including a dust mask and air
purifier, which the plaintiff initially rejected and then
said did not work upon trying them in February 2013.
Id. ¶ 2.
January 9, 2013, OWCP accepted the plaintiffs claim for
compensation benefits based on his respiratory issues,
authorizing the plaintiff to receive almost $30, 000 in
workers' compensation for the period of September 23,
2012, through March 29, 2013. Id. ¶ 2. The
plaintiff was assigned to a Field Nurse who provided reports
to OWCP Claims Examiners and Consultant Nurses about the
plaintiffs condition from February 2013 through June 2013.
Id. On May 8, 2013, OWCP informed the plaintiff that
an Air Quality Sample Report (“AQSR”) indicated
“no difference in the air quality inside or outside
Plaintiff['s] workplace” and that the plaintiff had
“30 days to submit documentation in support of his
respiratory claim.” Id. After the plaintiff
“provided OWCP medical documentation and a
recommendation to remove Plaintiff from [St.
Elizabeth's], ” OWCP rescinded the plaintiff's
benefits on June 10, 2013. Id.
plaintiff unsuccessfully attempted to reverse the June 10,
2013, decision at least six times through the administrative
review process afforded under FECA. Specifically, the
plaintiff asked OWCP to reconsider the June 10, 2013 decision
on June 24, 2013, and October 8, 2014. Id.
¶¶ 2, 4; see also S.H. and Dep't Homeland
Sec., No. 15-0539, 2015 WL 6074170, at *4 (E.C.A.B.
Sept. 21, 2015) (providing dates for claims). Both times OWCP
denied the requests as “not sufficient to
warrant” reopening the case because the evidence
submitted was “cumulative.” See FAC
¶¶ 2, 4; Pl.'s Mem. at 9; see also
Defs.' Mot. Dismiss, Ex. 1, Decl. Julia Tritz, Deputy
Director for Federal Employees' Compensation, OWCP
(“Tritz Decl.”) ¶¶ 8, 11, ECF No. 15-3.
plaintiff appealed both of the reconsideration denial
decisions to ECAB, on January 13, 2014, and January 20, 2015,
respectively, and, in both cases, ECAB found that OWCP
properly declined to re-open the case. See S.H.,
2015 WL 6074170, at *1, 4; FAC ¶¶ 3, 5; Pl.'s
Mem at 8-9. ECAB made non-merits decisions in both cases
because “the 180 days allotted by 20 C.F.R. [§]
501.3 to appeal OWCP's June 10, 2013 decision had
elapsed.” FAC ¶¶ 3, 5; Pl.'s Mem. at 8;
see also S.H., 2015 WL 6074170, at *1. With respect
to both decisions, the plaintiff sought at least one
additional and unsuccessful review, through reconsideration
in one case and an appeal, for which ECAB concluded it had no
jurisdiction, in the other. See FAC ¶¶ 3,
5; see also Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss
(“Defs.' Mem.”) at 4, ECF No. 15-1
(summarizing claim history).
plaintiff brought the instant lawsuit against DOL in May
2016, initially by “mistakably invok[ing] a variety of
statu[t]es in five separate claims.” FAC at
The plaintiff sought a total of $295, 542.00 in damages for
loss of salary, emotional abuse and mental stress, and
workers' compensation benefits. Compl. ¶¶ 6-14.
As noted, the plaintiff confusingly filed a total of four
documents captioned as “complaints, ” which
prompted DOL to file three motions to dismiss in this
litigation. After the third “complaint, ” the
Court ordered the plaintiff to clarify his claims and provide
notice of whether he was “seek[ing] to amend his
complaint or . . . instead [file] his opposition to
Defendants' motion to dismiss.” Min. Order (dated
Nov. 23, 2016). In response to the Court's order, the
plaintiff filed the FAC, which essentially sets out the same
scattered claims against DOL as in the original complaint. At
the same time, the plaintiff clarifies in his memorandum that
he is asserting a single FECA claim against DOL for his
denial of benefits for his respiratory illness. Pl.'s
Mem. at 14-16 (asserting a “FECA claim” and
clarifying plaintiff does “not seek damages under 5
U.S.C. [§] 8151 . . . [or] under the FTCA, ” and
he “is not stating a claim under the Americans with
Disabilities Act [or] . . . the Rehabilitation Act”).
seeks to dismiss the plaintiff's remaining claim,
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(1). To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule
12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating the
court's subject-matter jurisdiction over the claims
asserted. Arpaio v. Obama, 797 F.3d 11, 19 (D.C.
Cir. 2015). “‘Federal courts are courts of
limited jurisdiction, ' possessing ‘only that power
authorized by Constitution and statute.'” Gunn
v. Minton, 133 S.Ct. 1059, 1064 (2013) (quoting
Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S.
375, 377 (1994)). Indeed, federal courts are “forbidden
. . . from acting beyond our authority, ”
NetworkIP, LLC v. FCC, 548 F.3d 116, 120 (D.C. Cir.
2008), and, therefore, have “an affirmative obligation
‘to consider whether the constitutional and statutory
authority exist for us to hear each dispute, '”
James Madison Ltd. ex rel. Hecht v. Ludwig, 82 F.3d
1085, 1092 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (quoting Herbert v. Nat'l
Acad. of Scis., 974 F.2d 192, 196 (D.C. Cir. 1992)).
Absent subject matter jurisdiction over a case, the court
must dismiss it. Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 546
U.S. 500, 506-07 (2006); Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3) (requiring
dismissal of action “at any time” the court
determines it lacks subject matter jurisdiction).
considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), the
court must accept as true all uncontroverted material factual
allegations contained in the complaint and
“‘construe the complaint liberally, granting
plaintiff the benefit of all inferences that can be derived
from the facts alleged' and upon such facts determine
jurisdictional questions.” Am. Nat'l Ins. Co.
v. FDIC, 642 F.3d 1137, 1139 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (quoting
Thomas v. Principi, 394 F.3d 970, 972 (D.C. Cir.
2005)). The court need not accept inferences drawn by the
plaintiff, however, if those inferences are unsupported by
facts alleged in the complaint or amount merely to legal
conclusions. See Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235,
242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). In resolving the motion to dismiss for
lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the court may consider
materials outside the pleadings. Am. Freedom Law Ctr. v.
Obama, 821 F.3d 44, 49 (D.C. Cir. 2016); Settles v.
U.S. Parole Comm'n, 429 F.3d 1098, 1107 (D.C. Cir.