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National Air Traffic Controllers Association v. United States

November 06, 1998

NATIONAL AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS ASSOCIATION, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Before Clevenger, Schall, and Bryson, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Per Curiam.

Appealed from: United States Court of Federal Claims

Judge Bohdan A. Futey

Plaintiff-appellant National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), the collective bargaining representative of the federal air traffic controllers, is currently engaged in an arbitration proceeding with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The issue before the arbitrator is whether air traffic controllers employed by the FAA are entitled to Sunday premium pay for hours of annual or sick leave taken on Sundays. While the arbitration was pending, NATCA filed suit in the Court of Federal Claims seeking a ruling that the air traffic controllers are entitled to premium pay for Sunday leave notwithstanding legislation purporting to affect the employees' right to premium pay. The court, however, dismissed NATCA's complaint, ruling that it did not have jurisdiction to grant the request for declaratory and injunctive relief. NATCA has appealed that dismissal to this court. We agree that the Court of Federal Claims may not grant the relief requested and we therefore affirm the dismissal of the complaint.

I.

In 1993, this court held in Armitage v. United States, 991 F.2d 746 (Fed. Cir. 1993), that the Sunday premium pay statute, 5 U.S.C. § 5546(a), required that federal police officers receive Sunday premium pay for hours of annual or sick leave taken on Sundays. Congress subsequently enacted the Department of Transportation and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for fiscal year 1995, which contained a provision forbidding any of the appropriated funds to be used to provide premium pay under 5 U.S.C. § 5546(a) "to any Federal Aviation Administration employee unless such employee actually performed work during the time corresponding to such premium pay." Pub. L. No. 103-331, 108 Stat. 2471, 2475 (1994). Identical language was included in the Department of Transportation and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for 1996. See Pub. L. No. 104-50, 109 Stat. 436, 440 (1995).

NATCA's collective bargaining agreement with the FAA provides that disputes under the agreement must be submitted for arbitration. In 1995, NATCA sought arbitration of its claim that the FAA was improperly denying Sunday premium pay to air traffic controllers who took sick or annual leave on Sundays. After the arbitration began, NATCA filed this action in the Court of Federal Claims, requesting a declaratory judgment that the language in the pertinent Appropriations Acts did not authorize the FAA to deny Sunday premium pay to the air traffic controllers. The arbitrator stayed the arbitration pending a decision from the court.

The Court of Federal Claims dismissed the complaint on the ground that it was not authorized to grant equitable relief in a case, such as this one, in which the claim for monetary relief was not before the court but was pending in another forum. NATCA appealed to this court, arguing that the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1491, authorizes the Court of Federal Claims to grant injunctive or declaratory relief in a case involving a request for monetary relief, even though the underlying claim for monetary relief is not before the court, but is legally committed to arbitration.

II.

Although the issue in this case is technically one of first impression, the outcome is governed by well-established principles. The Tucker Act defines the jurisdiction of the Court of Federal Claims and grants that court jurisdiction to

render judgment upon any claim against the United States founded either upon the Constitution, or any Act of Congress or any regulation of an executive department, or upon any express or implied contract with the United States, or for liquidated or unliquidated damages in cases not sounding in tort.

28 U.S.C. § 1491(a). That statutory language has been interpreted to require that a plaintiff seeking to invoke the court's jurisdiction must present a claim for "actual, presently due money damages from the United States." United States v. King, 395 U.S. 1, 3 (1969). Although the Tucker Act has been amended to permit the Court of Federal Claims to grant equitable relief ancillary to claims for monetary relief over which it has jurisdiction, see 28 U.S.C. §§ 1491(a)(2), (b)(2), there is no provision giving the Court of Federal Claims jurisdiction to grant equitable relief when it is unrelated to a claim for monetary relief pending before the court. See Katz v. Cisneros, 16 F.3d 1204, 1208 (Fed. Cir. 1994). It is not enough that the court's decision may affect the Disposition of a monetary claim pending elsewhere, or that the court's decision will ultimately enable the plaintiff to receive money from the government. See King, 395 U.S. at 4 ("cases seeking relief other than money damages from the Court of Claims have never been `within its jurisdiction'").

The basic rule that the Supreme Court announced in King is still in effect and has not been changed by subsequent legislation. See New York Life Ins. Co. v. United States, 118 F.3d 1553, 1556 (Fed. Cir. 1997), cert. denied, 118 S. Ct. 1559 (1998), quoting from Eastport SS. Corp. v. United States, 372 F.2d 1002, 1007 (Ct. Cl. 1967) ("[I]t is not every claim involving or invoking the Constitution, a federal statute, or a regulation which is cognizable here. The claim must, of course, be for money."); Overall Roofing & Constr. Inc. v. United States, 929 F.2d 687, 689 (Fed. Cir. 1991) ("[T]he word `claim' [in the Tucker Act] carries with it the historical limitation that it must assert a right to presently due money."). Although, as noted, Congress has authorized the Court of Federal Claims to grant equitable relief in certain limited circumstances, those circumstances do not include the general authority to grant equitable relief whenever a declaratory judgment or an injunction would assist a claimant in obtaining monetary benefits in another forum.

NATCA argues that the distinction between this case and Armitage, in which the Court of Federal Claims adjudicated a claim for Sunday premium pay by federal police officers, is "a purely procedural one." That is, the collective bargaining agreement in this case requires the claim for premium pay to be submitted to arbitration and not brought in the Court of Federal Claims, see Carter v. Gibbs, 909 F.2d 1452 (Fed. Cir. 1990), while in Armitage the claim for monetary damages could properly be brought before the Court of Federal Claims. The distinction between the two cases may indeed be "procedural," but it is important. The Court of Federal Claims has never been granted general authority to issue declaratory judgments, and to hold that the Court of Federal Claims may issue a declaratory ...


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