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Munn v. U.S. Department of Labor

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division

February 15, 2017




         BEFORE THE COURT is Defendants' [28] Motion to Dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12. Plaintiff Stephen Munn has filed an Opposition to the Motion, and Defendants have filed a Reply. For the reasons discussed herein, the Court is of the opinion (1) that it lacks jurisdiction over Plaintiff's First Cause of Action allegedly brought pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) against the United States Department of Labor (DOL) and various DOL officials in their official capacities and, (2) that Plaintiff's Second Cause of Action against the DOL officials individually under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureaus of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.


         Munn has sued the DOL and various DOL officials in their official and individual capacities. His allegations all arise out of a claim that he made in 2013 pursuant to the Federal Employees' Compensation Act (FECA) to the DOL, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP), for an injury that occurred in 1998 while he was employed by the federal government as a Special Agent, Diplomatic Security Service. (See Compl. 9-10 (¶¶ 28-41), ECF No. 1). Munn's initial claim was denied by a Notice of Decision issued by Defendant Claims Examiner Sharon Dawkins in February 2014, citing the untimeliness of the claim. Munn appealed that decision to the OWCP, which vacated the Notice of Decision based on timeliness and remanded the case “for complete review of the evidence of record to address whether the remaining four basis elements for a traumatic injury have been met and to issue a de novo decision.” (See Letter and Decision of the Hearing Representative, ECF No. 1-6; see also Compl. 15 (¶52), ECF No. 1).

         Munn's claim was denied again by a second Notice of Decision issued by Dawkins in December 2014. Dawkins found that “the medical evidence is not sufficient to establish that a medical condition was diagnosed in connection with the claimed event and/or work factor. The requirements have not been met for establishing that you sustained an injury as defined by the FECA.” (Dec. 16, 2014 Notice of Decision, ECF No. 1-7). Munn appealed this denial, as well, which the OWCP affirmed in September 2015 with the modification that “causal relationship has not been established.” (See Letter and Decision of the Hearing Representative, ECF No. 1-10; Compl. 16-17 (¶57), ECF No. 1).

         Munn alleges that in February 2016, he submitted additional medical information to establish causation. (See Compl. 18 (¶63), ECF No. 1). Following the submission of that evidence, on February 22, 2016, Defendant Ramona Brown issued a third Notice of Decision denying Munn's claim. Brown stated: “I have reviewed your case file in its entirety and do not find the evidence on file, including the new evidence[, ] is sufficient to support the conditions that you are claiming were due to the 1998 work event as claimed.” (Feb. 22, 2016 Notice of Decision, ECF No. 1-12; see also Compl. 2 (¶1), ECF No. 1).


         Munn states that he is “seeking both declaratory and injunctive relief vacating the ‘denial' issued by Defendant Brown and approval and award of the claim submitted by Plaintiff under the [APA] and damages for constitutional violations under Bivens . . . .” (Compl. 2-3 (¶5), ECF No. 1). Defendants have moved to dismiss all claims, on both jurisdictional and substantive grounds.

         First Cause of Action; Plaintiff's APA claim with respect to denial of FECA benefits against the DOL and DOL officials in their official capacities

         Defendants raise multiple grounds for dismissal of Plaintiff Munn's First Cause of Action, including dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1), challenging the Court's subject-matter jurisdiction. See Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001). “The burden of proof for a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss is on the party asserting jurisdiction.”[1] Id. Because the Court finds that Munn has not met this burden and that the Court therefore lacks jurisdiction over the First Cause of Action, it will not address Defendants' alternative arguments for dismissal of this claim. See id.

         “FECA provides compensation for a federal employee's personal injuries ‘sustained while in the performance of his duty.'” White v. United States, 143 F.3d 232, 234 (5th Cir. 1998) (citing 5 U.S.C. § 8102(a)). An employee is also entitled to medical services following such an injury. See 5 U.S.C. § 8103. “FECA vests with the Secretary of Labor the power to ‘administer, and decide all questions arising under [FECA], ' 5 U.S.C. § 8145, and the Secretary's action in allowing or denying an award under FECA is final and conclusive and not subject to review by a court of law, 5 U.S.C. § 8128(b).” White, 143 F.3d at 234.

         Munn states that he is not seeking review under FECA, but, rather, is seeking review “under the APA for the arbitrary failure of Defendants' [sic] to follow their own guidelines, rules and regulations in evaluating” his FECA claim. (Munn Opp. Mem. 7-8, ECF No. 34). However, the APA does not apply where a statute (in this case, FECA) precludes judicial review. See 5 U.S.C. § 701. Moreover, “the APA does not afford an implied grant of subject-matter jurisdiction permitting federal judicial review of agency action.” See Califano v. Sanders, 430 U.S. 99, 107 (1977). Accordingly, this Court agrees with other courts in rejecting Munn's jurisdictional argument premised on the APA. See, e.g., Staacke v. U.S. Sec'y of Labor, 841 F.2d 278, 282 (9th Cir. 1988); Galluci v. Chao, 374 F.Supp.2d 121, 128 (D.C. Cir. 2005); Wacks v. Reich, 950 F.Supp. 454, 458 (D. Conn. 1996).

         The Court is not persuaded by Munn's citation to a non-FECA case, Texas v. United States, 787 F.3d 733 (5th Cir. 2015), to argue otherwise. Additionally, while Munn's Complaint also mentions jurisdiction premised on 28 U.S.C. §§ 1361, 2201, and 2002, § 8128(b) precludes relief under those statutes, as well. See, e.g., Staacke, 841 F.2d at 280; Meade v. U.S. Gov't, No. 87-CV-681, 1988 WL 83176, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. July 22, 1988).

         Nonetheless, courts have “recognized a limited exception to FECA's preclusion of judicial review - courts are not precluded from considering substantial constitutional claims. . . . Merely affixing a constitutional label to an otherwise precluded claim, however, will not suffice.” See Ramirez v. Walker, 199 F. App'x 302, 307 (5th Cir. 2006); see also, e.g., Duncan v. Dep't of Labor, 313 F.3d 445, 446 (8th Cir. 2002) (“Because [FECA] precludes judicial review of workers' compensation decisions made by the [DOL], [a plaintiff] must allege a substantial, cognizable constitutional claim to have the ...

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