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Nurriddin v. Acosta

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 30, 2018

ALEXANDER ACOSTA et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Ahmad B. Nurriddin, proceeding pro se, is a former employee of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (“NASA”). He previously filed two separate lawsuits against NASA for unlawful employment discrimination, neither of which was ultimately successful. While pursuing his discrimination claims, Nurriddin also sought workers' compensation from the federal government under the Federal Employees' Compensation Act (“FECA”), 5 U.S.C. § 8101, et seq. He filed the instant action against the Secretary of Labor and the Director of the Office of Personnel Management (“OPM”), in their official capacities, bringing various claims concerning his FECA benefits. Defendants have moved to dismiss the amended complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, or in the alternative, for failure to state a claim. ECF No. 13. Nurriddin has moved for preliminary injunctive relief, ECF No. 27, and to file under seal an exhibit in support of the preliminary-injunction motion, ECF No. 35. For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant Defendants' motion, dismiss the amended complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and deny Nurriddin's motions as moot.

         I. Background

         A. FECA

         Under FECA, the United States must “pay compensation . . . 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). The Secretary of Labor is authorized to administer FECA, to prescribe necessary rules and regulations thereunder, and to delegate his powers under FECA to Department of Labor (“DOL”) employees. Id. §§ 8145, 8149. The Secretary has delegated the administration of FECA to DOL's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (“OWCP”). 20 C.F.R. § 10.1. When a claim for compensation is submitted, OWCP determines whether the claimant is entitled to such compensation. See Id. § 10.125. The claimant must, among other things, submit evidence establishing that the claimed medical condition is “causally related” to an alleged workplace injury. Id. § 10.115(e).

         After deciding to grant or deny an award for payment of compensation, OWCP's Director may decide to “review” its compensation decision sua sponte at any time, regardless of “whether there is new evidence or information.” Id. § 10.610. Upon review, the Director may “modify, rescind, decrease or increase compensation previously awarded, or award compensation previously denied.” Id. For example, the Director may terminate compensation where “[a] partially disabled employee . . . refuses to or neglects to work after suitable work is offered to or arranged for him or her.” Williams v. Tapella, 658 F.Supp.2d 204, 213 n.4 (D.D.C. 2009) (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 10.517(a)); accord 5 U.S.C. § 8106(c). OWCP may also suspend or terminate compensation where a claimant “refuses to submit to, ” or “obstructs” a medical examination. 5 U.S.C. § 8123(d); see also Id. § 8123(a) (requiring claimants to submit to a medical examination “after the injury and as frequently and at the times and places as may be reasonably required”).

         If a claimant disagrees with a formal decision by OWCP, such as a denial of a claim for compensation or a termination of existing benefits, he has three ways to challenge that decision: “reconsideration by the district office [of OWCP]; a hearing before an OWCP hearing representative; and [an] appeal” to the Employees' Compensation Appeals Board (“ECAB”). 20 C.F.R. § 10.600. “A claimant may also challenge an ECAB decision by petitioning for reconsideration.” Hall v. DOL, 289 F.Supp.3d 93, 99 (D.D.C. 2018) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 501.6, 501.7).

         Significantly for purposes of this case, “[j]udicial review of determinations under FECA [is generally] precluded under 5 U.S.C. § 8128(b).” Id.; see also Lockheed Aircraft Corp. v. United States, 460 U.S. 190, 194 (1983) (“[Through FECA, ] employees are guaranteed the right to receive immediate, fixed benefits, regardless of fault and without need for litigation, but in return they lose the right to sue the Government.”).

         In addition to providing for workers' compensation, FECA provides certain “[c]ivil service retention rights” to federal employees who have recovered from a compensable injury. 5 U.S.C. § 8151. Depending on when the employee recovers from his injury, the federal employer is required either to restore the employee to “his former or an equivalent position, ” Id. § 8151(b)(1), or to “make all reasonable efforts” to do so, Id. § 8151(b)(2). These rights are governed by regulations issued by OPM. Id. § 8151(b). Under these regulations, to challenge alleged violations of these rights, an employee must file an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board (“MSPB”). See 5 C.F.R. § 353.304. The Federal Circuit “has sole statutory authority to review most MSPB final decisions.” Grant v. Dep't of Treasury, 272 F.Supp.3d 182, 184 (D.D.C. 2017) (citing 5 U.S.C. § 7703(b)(1)).

         B. Factual Background

         In 1999, Nurriddin sued NASA, alleging that from 1991 to 1996 his employer had discriminated against him based on race, sex, and religion, created a hostile work environment, and retaliated against him. See Nurriddin v. Goldin, 382 F.Supp.2d 79 (D.D.C. 2005), aff'd sub nom Nurriddin v. Griffin, 222 Fed.Appx. 5 (D.C. Cir. 2007). The district court granted summary judgment for NASA on all claims. Id. at 109. In 2004, Nurriddin filed a second lawsuit against NASA, advancing similar allegations for the period from 1996 and 2004. See Nurriddin v. Bolden, 40 F.Supp.3d 104 (D.D.C. 2014), aff'd, 818 F.3d 751 (D.C. Cir. 2016). The district court dismissed some of his claims on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion and granted summary judgment for NASA on his remaining claims. Id. at 110.

         While pursuing his employment discrimination lawsuits, Nurriddin also sought workers' compensation from the federal government under FECA. There is some factual overlap between the two lawsuits, because some of Nurriddin's discrimination allegations are also relevant to his workers' compensation claims. See generally Nurriddin, 40 F.Supp.3d at 111-14 (summarizing facts underlying Nurriddin's discrimination claims).

         In 1999, Nurriddin filed a claim with OWCP seeking compensation and other benefits for depression allegedly caused by “work-related stress.” ECF No. 12 (“Am. Compl.”) ¶ 3. In March 2000, OWCP denied the claim. ECF No. 20-1 (“Nurriddin Decl.”) ¶ 4.[1] In June 2000, after Nurriddin requested a hearing, an OWCP hearing representative set aside the denial. Id. ¶ 7. Six months later, in December 2000, OWCP approved the depression claim. Id. ¶ 10. Around that time, Nurriddin stopped going to work. ECF No. 19 (“Tritz Decl.”), Attach. J at 2.[2]In March 2001, he began to receive periodic disability payments and benefits. Tritz Decl. ¶ 6.

         In March 2001, Nurriddin's treating physician concluded that he could resume work, albeit with certain restrictions. Am. Compl. ¶ 6. One such restriction was that he could not be returned to the same work environment. See Id. ¶ 8; ECF No. 21-1, Attach. 12. In October 2001, NASA offered to transfer Nurriddin to another position, but he turned it down. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 7, 15. Concluding that Nurriddin had rejected an offer for suitable work, OWCP decided to terminate his benefits in December 2001. Id. ¶ 16. But before the termination went into effect, in February 2002, OWCP vacated the decision on sua sponte review by the Director. Id. ¶ 23; Tritz Decl. ¶ 8. The Director determined that the job Nurriddin had been offered was in fact not suitable for him. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 20-22.

         At some point, Nurriddin also filed a separate claim with OWCP, alleging that work-related stress had caused injuries to his neck and back. Tritz Decl. ¶ 7; id, Attach. I at 1. OWCP initially denied this claim in September 2003. Nurriddin Decl. ¶ 29. But, after a hearing held at Nurriddin's request, an OWCP hearing representative set aside the denial. Id. ¶¶ 29, 33. In January 2005, OWCP again denied the claim, and Nurriddin subsequently filed an appeal with ECAB. Id. ¶¶ 35-36; Am. Compl. ¶ 28. At OWCP's request, ECAB remanded the case back to OWCP to further develop the factual record. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 29-30; Nurriddin Decl. ¶ 36.

         In August 2007, OWCP denied Nurriddin's neck-and-back claim for a third time, finding that the alleged medical condition was not caused by work-related stress. Tritz Decl., Attach. I at 3. Moreover, in the same decision, OWCP terminated Nurriddin's existing benefits because it found that, at least with respect to his depression, he was now capable of working without restriction. Id.; Nurriddin Decl. ¶ 41. Nurriddin appealed this decision to ECAB. Nurriddin Decl. ¶ 42. In April 2008, ECAB affirmed the denial of Nurriddin's neck-and-back claim, but overturned the termination of benefits, on the grounds that Nurriddin was not given proper notice and that OWCP had not adequately proven that he no longer suffered any residual effects of his depression. See Tritz Decl. ¶ 13; id., Attach. J at 7-10. On remand, OWCP restored his benefits, and compensated him for the nine months he was without benefits. Id. ¶ 14. OWCP also notified Nurriddin that it would schedule a medical examination to obtain a second opinion regarding his depression. Id. ¶ 17; id., Attach. M.

         OWCP scheduled a medical examination for Nurriddin on March 25, 2013, but he failed to attend. Id. ¶ 18; see id., Attach. N. On April 12, 2013, OWCP notified Nurriddin that his benefits would be suspended, unless he had a valid reason for his absence. Id., Attach. N. Nurriddin replied that he had been busy serving as a “medical proxy for [an] elderly relative living in New York City.” Nurriddin Decl. ¶ 60. Although OWCP did not accept this as a valid reason, rather than suspend his benefits, it scheduled another examination for him on June 13, 2013. Tritz Decl. ¶ 18; ECF No. 21-1, Attachs. 22-23. Nurriddin again failed to attend. Tritz Decl. ¶ 18. As a result, in a letter dated June 24, 2013, OWCP found that Nurriddin “failed to attend, or obstructed an examination directed by [OWCP], ” and suspended his benefits, effective June 30, 2013. Tritz Decl., Attach. N (citing 5 U.S.C. § 8123(d)). The letter included a description of Nurriddin's appeal rights and a form that he could complete and send to either OWCP or ECAB if he sought to challenge the suspension. Id. Nurriddin alleges that he made requests for reconsideration, a hearing, and an appeal to ECAB, but his requests were improperly denied. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 39-42. Ultimately, his benefits were restored after he attended an examination with Dr. Anthony Bardinelli on October 9, 2013. Tritz Decl. ¶ 19.

         As of July 23, 2016, OWCP had paid Nurriddin $822, 721.07 in compensation and $22, 681.03 for medical costs related to his depression, all under FECA. Id. ¶ 6.

         C. Procedural Background

         On June 2, 2016, Nurriddin brought the instant action. ECF No. 1.[3] A year later, and with the Court's leave, he filed an amended complaint. Am. Compl. The amended complaint asserts various claims against DOL and OPM pursuant to FECA, the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), 5 U.S.C. § 551 et seq. Am. Compl. at 1. The complaint alleges that Nurriddin's workers' compensation benefits were improperly suspended on multiple occasions, Id. ¶¶ 19, 27, and that he was not properly restored to work, Id. ¶¶ 25-26. The complaint also identifies various requests from Nurriddin to DOL or OPM that he alleges went ignored or unfulfilled, including one request for a complete copy of his claim record, Id. ¶¶ 51-53, and another for a log of the health insurance and life insurance deductions taken from his monthly compensation, Id. ¶¶ 47-48.

         By way of relief, Nurriddin requests that the Court compel Defendants to: (1) provide “complete, accurate, and thorough” responses to all of Nurriddin's previous requests; (2) provide an “accounting” of his FECA compensation, including a log of all health insurance and life insurance deductions; (3) explain Defendants' failure to ensure that he received “credible” work restoration offers; (4) provide “an Advisory Memorandum regarding the impact of the decision in Nurriddin v. Bolden upon the efforts of agencies to credibly restore injured employees”; (5) provide a “cost estimate of the benefits” that Nurriddin lost “due to the improper termination after a credible work restoration opportunity was not presented”; and (6) provide Nurriddin “a complete copy of his claim file.” Id. at 8 (Conclusion).

         On February 10, 2017, Defendants moved to dismiss Nurriddin's amended complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, or in the alternative, for failure to state a claim. ECF No. 13 at 1. Nurriddin then filed a motion for preliminary injunctive relief, ...

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