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James v. U.S. Coast Guard

United States District Court, D. Kansas

May 23, 2019




         Plaintiff Christopher Neal James filed this civil action against Defendants United States Coast Guard, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. James has asserted both federal-question jurisdiction under a myriad of federal statutes and regulations, and diversity jurisdiction for his numerous claims, all of which arise out of either his discharge from the Coast Guard or his claim for VA benefits. Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss under Rules 8(a)(1), 12(b)(1), and 12(b)(6). Doc. 21.

         Because James has not established any valid basis for jurisdiction, including the requisite waiver of sovereign immunity, the Court grants Defendants' motion to dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         James's complaint is short on factual details. But it appears this case arises from James's discharge from the Coast Guard in 2005. See Doc. 1 at 19. The discharge was based on a diagnosis of schizoid personality disorder, which James disputed and for which he sought a second opinion. Id. at 4, 17-18; Doc. 26 at 2. He was denied a second opinion because the diagnosis had come from an approved professional. Doc. 1 at 4. James also alleges problems with the manner and process of his discharge proceedings. Id. at 4-7. He alleges certain regulations were violated in his “final year of AD, ” and that Defendants violated other regulations after his discharge when he sought review through the “DRB” and “BCMR.”[1] Id. at 5-9. James also alleges various tort claims related to his discharge, including false statements, libel, slander, malice, and injury to and seizure of his “mentality/psyche” and “sheut, ” as well as a breach of his 2003 service contract with the Coast Guard. Id. at 8-13.

         After his discharge in 2005, James was issued a DD-214 that he says stigmatized him. Accordingly, he claims has been prevented from obtaining other “jobs of greater potential” and was only able to obtain civilian employment with the Coast Guard. Id. at 4-5. James also challenges the denial by the Department of Veterans Affairs of his request for benefits. Id. at 13-19.

         James's complaint lists 35 constitutional provisions, federal statutes, federal and military regulations, and state statutes that he says are at issue in this case, in addition to 22 separate claims for relief. But his complaint does not tie any of those provisions to any specific claim, or to any of particular facts. Id. at 2. James's purported claims include “restriction to legal counsel”; “restriction to licensed experts (additional opinions)”; “restriction to employment”; “neglect/violation to federal regulation”; “neglect/violation to agency regulation”; “neglect/violation to reasonable proceedings”; “neglect to good faith efforts”; “providing false statement”; “libel defamation”; “slander defamation”; “malice”; injury to James's “mentality/psyche” and “sheut”; “seizure of property”; “breach of contract”; “refusing to accept documents of fact for evidence”; and “gross negligence by U.S. Governing bodies and Agencies.” See generally id. For these claims, James seeks damages in excess of $75, 000 on most claims, lost VA benefits, and “the Commissioning to O-6 (specifics of said promotion to be negotiated); PCS Orders to attend the Graduate School of the plaintiff's selection (pending acceptance to said school); and a return to service under the aforementioned commission (specifics to be negotiated).” Id. at 20.[2]

         II. STANDARD

         The Court may dismiss a complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1). “[A] facial attack on the complaint's allegations as to subject matter jurisdiction questions the sufficiency of the complaint.” Holt v. United States, 46 F.3d 1000, 1002 (10th Cir. 1995). Defendants challenge James's complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) and Rule 8(a)(1), in additional to Rule 12(b)(1). Based on that, it appears Defendants are mounting such a facial attack.

         In a facial attack, a court accepts the allegations in the complaint as true.[3] Holt, 46 F.3d at 1002. But that acceptance does not extend to conclusory allegations, unwarranted inferences, or legal conclusions. Turner v. United States, 501 Fed.Appx. 840, 842 (10th Cir. 2012).

         It is a plaintiff's burden to establish subject-matter jurisdiction. Id. at 843. In cases against the United States or its agencies, like this one, a plaintiff's burden is twofold. First, the plaintiff must show that the claim is one over which a federal court has jurisdiction. Pueblo of Jemez v. United States, 790 F.3d 1143, 1151 (10th Cir. 2015). Second, the plaintiff must identify the waiver of sovereign immunity that allows him to sue the government. Id. This is because the United States, as sovereign, is generally immune from suit. F.D.I.C. v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475 (1994). The United States-or its agencies, like Defendants here-can only be sued where it has consented to be sued, and then only under the terms of that consent. Id.; Weaver v. United States, 98 F.3d 518, 520 (10th Cir. 1996). Any such waiver must be explicit and unequivocal. Weaver, 98 F.3d at 520. If there is no waiver of sovereign immunity for the claims against the government, the court lacks jurisdiction. Id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         The Court has reviewed James's complaint. James asserts jurisdiction under both diversity (28 U.SC. § 1332) and federal question (28 U.S.C. § 1331). Doc. 1 at 2. With regard to federal-question jurisdiction, the complaint contains a table listing 35 federal and state statutes, regulations, and federal constitutional provisions that James contends are at issue, though none of the actual claims specifically reference or incorporate any of those listed statutes or regulations. James also appears to assert various tort claims. At least one claim alleges a breach of contract. The remaining claims relate to the denial of James's VA benefits. Each of these potential jurisdictional bases is addressed in turn.

         A. Diversity jurisdiction is not proper in suits ...

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