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Sattlefieldd v. Office of Personnel Managment

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

February 20, 2018

MADELAINE SATTLEFIELD, Plaintiff,
v.
OFFICE OF PERSONNEL MANAGEMENT, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          HERNDON, District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Pending before the Court is defendant Office of Personnel Management's (hereinafter “defendant” or “OPM”) motion to dismiss plaintiff Madelaine Sattlefield's (hereinafter “plaintiff” or “Sattlefield”) second amended complaint (“complaint”) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) (Doc. 34). In her response to OPM's motion to dismiss (Doc. 37), plaintiff contends that this court has subject matter jurisdiction over her claim pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”). OPM filed a reply arguing that dismissal is warranted because the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has exclusive jurisdiction over plaintiff's claim. For the reasons explained below, the Court GRANTS defendant's motion to dismiss.

         II. Background

         Plaintiff Madelaine Sattlefield in her complaint alleges that she began working as a mail handler for the U.S. Postal Service at its St. Louis branch on September 9, 2000 (Doc. 32, ¶ 7). On August 26, 2009, she suffered a torn rotator cuff in the course of her employment as a mail handler. Id. at ¶ 8. She sought medical attention and subsequently began physical therapy while working night shifts. Id. at ¶ 9. When physical therapy proved unsuccessful, she underwent shoulder surgery on February 1, 2010. Id. at ¶ 10. Plaintiff's doctors predicted that it would take six to eight weeks for her to recover, but in fact complications delayed her return to work for four months. Id. Sattlefield alleges that her supervisors pressured her into returning to work before she was fully recovered and failed to adequately accommodate her injury. Id. at ¶¶ 11-12. She attempted to work through the pain, but ultimately needed to take additional time off to manage the pain and continue her recovery from surgery. Id. at ¶ 13. Sattlefield was eventually terminated from her employment at the U.S. Postal Service, apparently for poor attendance. Id. at ¶ 14-15; Doc. 37, Ex. A.

         On April 12, 2012, Sattlefield filed an application with OPM for disability retirement based on a rotator cuff injury, as well as several other medical conditions. Doc. 37, Ex. A; Doc. 37, Ex. B. On June 28, 2012 OPM issued a decision denying her application. Doc. 37, Ex. B. On February 8, 2013, Sattlefield requested OPM to reconsider its initial decision to deny her application. Doc. 37, Ex. B. OPM denied her request to reconsider its initial decision. Doc. 37, Ex. A; Doc. 37, Ex. B. On September 9, 2013, she appealed OPM's denial of her reconsideration request to the Merit Systems Protection Board (“MSPB”). Doc. 37, Ex. B. The MSPB upheld OPM's denial of her reconsideration request. Id. Sattlefield petitioned for Board Review of the MSPB decision, and on October 7, 2014, an MSPB panel issued a Final Order denying her petition for review and affirming OPM's initial decision to deny her application for disability retirement. Doc. 37, Ex. A. The panel's Final Order contained detailed findings and concluded that the evidence was insufficient to establish that Sattlefield's various medical conditions, alone or together, rendered her disabled for purposes of disability retirement eligibility. Doc. 37, Ex. A. The MSPB's Final Order stated that Sattlefield had the right to request review of the Final Order by the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Doc. 37, Ex. A. It does not appear that Sattlefield appealed the MSPB's Final Order.

         On October 20, 2014, Sattlefield filed a second application with OPM for disability retirement resulting from a torn rotator cuff and other medical conditions. Doc. 37, Ex. B. OPM denied her second application because “the medical evidence [did] not support a new or different condition” from those listed on her initial application for disability retirement. Doc. 37, Ex. B. In its July 14, 2015 correspondence to Sattlefield, OPM also refers to the “U.S. Court of Appeals” as the means to appeal the MSPB's Final Order. Doc. 37, Ex. B.

         III. Motion to Dismiss

         Jurisdiction is “the ‘power to declare law, ' and without it the federal courts cannot proceed.” Hay v. Indiana State Bd. Of Tax Com'rs, 312 F.3d 876, 879 (7th Cir. 2002) (quoting Ruhrgas v. Marathon Oil Co., 526 U.S. 574, 577, 583 (1999)). As courts of limited jurisdiction, federal courts “possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute, which is not to be expanded by judicial decree.” United States v. Wahi, 850 F.3d 296, 299 (7th Cir. 2017) (quoting Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)). Subject matter jurisdiction is the court's constitutional or statutory power to adjudicate a particular dispute or type of dispute. Lightfoot v. Cendant Mortg. Corp., 137 S.Ct. 553, 560 (2017).

         OPM's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction is made pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). A Rule 12(b)(1) motion challenges the court's subject matter jurisdiction over the case. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). A party may challenge subject matter jurisdiction at any point, and the court must dismiss the action if it determines that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3). On a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), the burden of proof rests on the plaintiff. Commodity Trend Serv., Inc. v. Commodity Futures Trading Comm'n, 149 F.3d 679, 685 (7th Cir. 1998). In determining whether subject matter jurisdiction exists, the Court is “not bound to accept the truth of the allegations in the complaint” but “may properly look to evidence beyond the pleadings.” Id.; Hay, 312 F.3d at 879 (stating that district court had “not only the right, but the duty to look beyond the allegations of the complaint to determine that it had jurisdiction to hear the [case].”).

         With these principles in mind, the Court now turns to address merits of OPM's motion to dismiss.

         IV. Analysis

         A. Sattlefield's Allegations

         Sattlefield's complaint contains a single count, which appears to allege that OPM's denial of her application for disability retirement violated her constitutional due process rights in several respects.[1] Doc 32, ¶¶ 18-20. First, she claims that OPM and the MSPB failed to send her a copy of the MSPB Final Order explaining her appeal rights and the procedures for filing a petition with the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.[2]Id. at ¶ 18. Second, she contends that OPM and the MSPB relied on evidence of her poor attendance which was actually attributable to authorized maternity leave. Id. at ¶ 19(1). Third, she claims that OPM and the MSPB failed to properly consider documentation from certain physicians. Id. at ΒΆ 19(2). Fourth, she alleges that OPM and the MSPB failed to consider her grant of disability benefits from the ...


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