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Willoughby v. United States

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

September 17, 2013

JOHN E. WILLOUGHBY; WENDY WILLOUGHBY, Plaintiffs - Appellants
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, on behalf of the United States Department of the Army, Defendant-Appellee

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas

Before DeMOSS, DENNIS, and PRADO, Circuit Judges.

PER CURIAM:

Plaintiffs-Appellants John and Wendy Willoughby (together, "the plaintiffs" or "Willoughby") appeal from dismissal of their Federal Tort Claims Act claim against the United States Army. John Willoughby, an employee of a private Army contractor, was injured on the job when he tripped and fell. Willoughby received workers' compensation benefits through his employer's policy. The employer's contract with the Army required the employer to provide workers' compensation benefits for employees, which were then treated as an expense that the Army would reimburse. Because Willoughby found the benefits he received to be insufficient to cover his needs, he sued the Government for negligence and premises liability.

The Government moved to dismiss, invoking Texas' workers' compensation exclusive-remedy rule. Under Texas law, general contractors who require subcontractors to provide workers' compensation insurance to their employees and who pay for that coverage are "statutory employers" protected by the exclusive-remedy provision. The plaintiffs argued that the Government was unlike a "statutory employer" because the Government did not follow certain Texas regulations governing statutory employers. The district court granted the motion to dismiss, and Willoughby appealed. Finding no error, we affirm.

I.

The plaintiffs allege that on June 8, 2007, John Willoughby was injured while working at the federal Red River Army Depot ("RRAD") when he tripped over a bundle of cables and fell onto the floor of the Depot, requiring significant medical treatment.[1] At the time of the accident, Willoughby was employed by a government contractor, Lear Siegler Services, Inc. ("LSI"), as a mechanic at RRAD. LSI had contracted with the U.S. Army to provide additional workforce to support the Army's mission at RRAD. Willoughby received workers' compensation benefits for his injury through LSI's workers' compensation insurance plan, which the Government required LSI to provide to its employees working at RRAD. However, because Willoughby found the benefits he received to be insufficient to cover his needs, he sued the Government for negligence and premises liability.

Willoughby filed suit against the Government in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. The Government moved to dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), arguing that it was entitled to assert the state-law defense that recovery against it was precluded by Texas' Workers' Compensation Act's exclusive remedy rule because the Government, through LSI, had already paid Willoughby the workers' compensation benefits he was due.[2] After a hearing, the district court concluded that the Government was entitled to raise the exclusive-remedy defense as a Texas "statutory employer, "[3] and granted the motion to dismiss. The plaintiffs appealed.

II.

The district court had jurisdiction over this suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"). 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b), 2674. Willoughby timely exhausted his administrative remedies by submitting a claim for personal injury with the Department of the Army, which the Army denied. The question of whether the United States has waived sovereign immunity pursuant to the FTCA goes to the court's subject-matter jurisdiction, see, e.g., In re FEMA Trailer Formaldehyde Prods. Liab. Litig. (Miss. Plaintiffs), 668 F.3d 281, 289 (5th Cir. 2012); Spotts v. United States, 613 F.3d 559, 566-67, 573 (5th Cir. 2010), and may therefore be resolved on a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, see, e.g., Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001).

This Court has jurisdiction to review the final decisions of district courts. 28 U.S.C. § 1291. The district court entered final judgment in favor of the defendant on July 19, 2012, and the plaintiffs filed their notice of appeal on August 13, 2012, making the appeal timely. See Fed. R. App. P. 4(a)(1)(A).

III.

We conduct a de novo review of orders granting the Government's motion to dismiss an FTCA complaint under Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). E.g., Ramming, 281 F.3d at 161. The plaintiffs, as the parties asserting federal subject-matter jurisdiction, bear the burden of proving that its requirements are met. See id. "When a Rule 12(b)(1) motion is filed in conjunction with other Rule 12 motions, the court should consider the Rule 12(b)(1) jurisdictional attack before addressing any attack on the merits." Id. (citation omitted).

"In applying Rule 12(b)(1), the district court has the power to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on any one of three separate bases: (1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts. Here, the district court did not resolve any disputed facts, so we . . . consider the allegations in the plaintiff's complaint as true. Our review is limited to determining whether the district court's application of the law is correct and, to the extent its decision was based on undisputed facts, whether those ...


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