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Ferguson v. U.S. Postal Service

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 11, 2019

TRACY FERGUSON, Plaintiff,
v.
U.S. POSTAL SERVICE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          BERYL A. HOWELL, CHIEF JUDGE.

         The plaintiff, Tracy Ferguson, proceeding pro se, filed a statement of claim against the United States Postal Service (“Postal Service”) in the Small Claims and Conciliation Branch of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia alleging that the Postal Service, her former employer, has either over-deducted money from her workers' compensation benefits or has not properly refunded her for over-deductions of health benefits. Notice of Removal, Ex. 1, Statement of Claim (“Compl.”), ECF No. 1. After removing the action to federal district court, the Postal Service filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction or for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss (“Def.'s Mot.”), ECF No. 5. After being advised of her opportunity to respond and of her obligations under the applicable procedural rules, see Order (July 18, 2019), ECF No. 6 (citing Fox v. Strickland, 837 F.2d 507, 509 (D.C. Cir. 1988); Neal v. Kelly, 963 F.2d 453, 456 (D.C. Cir. 1992)), plaintiff filed a memorandum in opposition to the motion to dismiss, see Pl.'s Mem. in Opp., ECF No. 7. The Postal Service's motion is GRANTED for the reasons stated below.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Statement of Claim

         The plaintiff's statement of claim begins by alleging that she is “on disability from the U.S. Postal Service” and is “being discriminated against because of [her] disability.” Compl. at 5. More specifically, the plaintiff claims both that “[t]he U.S. Postal Service has not properly paid back . . . money from [her] health insurance, ” id. at 3, and that “[t]he Postal Service has taken extra money out of [her] disability check, for years, ” id. at 5. “Sometimes, ” plaintiff states, the Postal Service has “giv[en] a little [money] at a time back.” Id. at 3. As a remedy, the plaintiff seeks money damages in the amount of $3, 000. Id. at 3.

         B. Statutory and Regulatory Background

         Plaintiff's pro se complaint “is ‘to be liberally construed.'” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 US. 97, 106 (1976)). So construed, the claims relate to the federal workers' compensation program or to health benefits.

         1. Federal Workers' Compensation

         The Federal Employees' Compensation Act (“FECA”) governs workers' compensation benefits for federal employment. Workers' compensation is owed “for the disability or death of an employee resulting from personal injury sustained while in the performance of his duty.” 5 U.S.C. § 8102(a). By statute, the Secretary of Labor administers and decides “all questions arising under” FECA. Id. § 8145. By regulation, the Secretary of Labor has delegated authority and assigned responsibility for administering FECA to the Director of the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (“OWCP”). 20 C.F.R. § 1.2.

         2. The Postal Service's Health Benefits Refund Program

         The Health Benefits Refund Program (the “Program”) is a Postal Service program to reimburse injured employees for over-deductions of health benefits premiums. See U.S. Postal Service, Employee and Labor Relations Manual (“ELM”) § 525.132. “For the first year of compensable disability, OWCP deducts health benefits premiums at the Postal Service rate.” Id. In future years, the premium deduction is made at the standard rate for federal employees, which is higher than the Postal Service rate. Id. As a result, under the Program, Postal Service employees who are receiving OWCP compensation may be owed a refund for over-deduction of health benefits premiums. Id. The ELM directs the Postal Service to calculate the refund by “subtract[ing] the difference between the [standard federal employee] health benefits premium rate and the Postal Service rate of the health benefits plan chosen by the employee.” Id.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(1)

         In reviewing a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1), “[i]t is to be presumed that a cause lies outside [the federal court's] limited jurisdiction, and the burden of establishing the contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994) (internal citation omitted). The court must accept as true all uncontroverted factual allegations contained in the complaint and must “construe the complaint liberally, granting plaintiff the benefit of all ...


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