WALTON v. USA, No. 1:2015cv01486 - Document 4 (Fed. Cl. 2015)
Court Description: UNREPORTED ORDER granting 3 Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis and dismissing plaintiff's complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. No costs. The Clerk is directed to enter judgment. Signed by Chief Judge Patricia E. Campbell-Smith. (dls) Copy to parties.
WALTON v. USA Doc. 4 0R[&[NAl. lJntbe @niteb btates @ourt of JfeDersl @lsims No. l5-1486C (Filed: December 23. 201 5) NOT FOR PUBLICATION FILED t)EC 2 3 2015 U.S. COURT OF FEDERAL CLAIMS MILTON THOMAS WALTON, Pro Se Complaint; Sua Sponte Dismissal for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction under RCFC 12(hX3); Not in Interest ofJustice to Transfer Under 28 u.s.c. $ 1631. Plaintiff, THE LJNITED STATES, Defendant. Milton Thomas Walton, Lexington, OK, pro se. ORDER AND ORDER OF DISMISSAL CAMPBELL-SMITH, Chief Judge On December 8, 2015, plaintiff in the above-captioned case, Mr. Milton Thomas Walton, appearing p4je, filed a complaint in this court "pursuant to 28 USCA $ 1491 Medical Malpractice." ECF No. 1. On that same date, plaintiff filed an application to appear in forma pauperis, seeking permission to proceed without paying the court's filing fee. ECF No. 3. For the reasons explained more fully below, the court GRANTS the IFP application and finds that it lacks jurisdiction over Mr. Walton's complaint. The court further finds that it is not in the interest ofjustice to transfer the complaint to a district court. Accordingly, the court sua sponte DISMISSES plaintiff s complaint for lack of jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(h)(3) ofthe Rules ofthe United States Court ofFederal Claims (RCFC). I. Plaintiff s Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis With his complaint, Mr. Walton also filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP). Appl. IFP, Dec. 8, 2015, ECF No. 3. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. $ 1915, a "court of the United States" is permitted to waive filing fees and security under certain Dockets.Justia.com circumstances.r See 28 U.S.C. $ l9l5(aX1). As explained by the website maintained by the court regarding pro se information, "in forma pauoeris" is defined as "[p]ermission to sue without prepayment offees, given by the court to a person who does not have financial means to pay." See Pro Se Information, http://www.uscfc.uscourts.gov/pro-seinformation (last visited Dec. 22,2015). motion, an affidavit affirming that he has no access to assets, and his prison account statement dating back to May 24,2015. Id. Mr. Walton is a prisoner of the Lexington Correctional Center in Lexington, Oklahoma. See Appl. IFP 1.2 A prisoner who brings suit in a federal court is subject to a limitation on proceeding in forma pauperis-commonly known as the "three strikes rule." Mr. Walton's application consisted of a In no event shall a prisoner bring a civil action or appeal a judgment in a civil action or proceeding under this section if the prisoner has, on 3 or more prior occasions, while incarcerated or detained in any facility, brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States that was dismissed on the grounds that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, unless the prisoner is under imminent danger of serious physical injury. 28 U.S.C. $ 1915(9)(2012). On review, the court does not find any civil action brought by Mr. Walton in forma pauperis that was dismissed on the ground that it was frivolous, malicious, or failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted' Thus, Mr. Walton is not precluded from requesting that the filing fee be waived. As of November 9, 2015, Mr. Walton's only assets amounted to $315.34, the sum in his prison account largely accumulated from gifts. Appl' IFP, 1, 4' The court concludes that Mr. Walton does not have sufficient resources to satis$ the court's filing fee. "[A]lthough [a] litigant need not be absolutely destitute, granting IFP status calls for showing that paying for the costs of the suit would make it difficult to afford the 'bastc necessities of life."' See Murphy v. United States, No. 14-536C, 2014 WL 3510222, at * I n.1 (Fed. Cl. July 16,2014) (quoting Williams v. Court Servs. & Offender Supervision Agency for D.C., 878 F. Supp. 2d 263,266 (D.D.C.2012)), recons. denied' No. 14-536C, 2014 WL 3841874 (2014). I The Court ofFederal Claims, while not generally considered to be a "court ofthe United States" within the meaning of Title 28 the United States Code, is deemed to be a ,,court ofthe United States" for purposes of this statute, and thus has jurisdiction to grant or deny IFP applications. See 28 U.S.C. S 2503(d) (deeming the Court of Federal Claims to be "a court ofthe United States" for the purposes of28 U.S.C' S 1915). 2 A prisoner is defined as "any person incarcerated . . . in any facility who is . . . convicted ofl, [and] sentenced for. . . violations of criminal law." 28 U.S.C. $ 1915(h). Having made the requisite showing, Mr. Walton's IFP application is GRANTED. II. Legal Standards A. Evaluating Subject Matter Jurisdiction "subjecrmatter jurisdiction may be challenged at any time by the parties or by the courr sua sponte." Folden v. United States ,379 F .3d 1344, 1354 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (citing Fanning. Phillips & Molnar v. West, 160 F.3d 7 17, 720 (Fed. Cir. I 998)); see also Metabolite Labs. Inc. v. Lab. Com. of Am. Holdings,370 F.3d 1354, 1369 (Fed. Cir' 2004) ("Subject matter jurisdiction is an inquiry that this court must raise sua sponte, even where, as here, neither party has raised this issue."). "In deciding whether there is subject-matter jurisdiction, "the allegations stated in the complaint are taken as true and jurisdiction is decided on the face of the pleadings."' Folden, 379 F.3d at 1354 (quoting Shearin v. United States,992F.2d 1 195, 1195-96 (Fed. Cir. 1993)). Complaints filed by pro se plaintiffs are often held to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Haines v. Kemer, 404 U.S. 519' 520 (1972); see Vaizburd v. United States, 384 F.3d 1278, 1285 n.8 (Fed. Cir.2004) (stating that pleadings drafted by pro se parties "should . . . not be held to the same standard as pro se plaintiffs must [pleadings drafted by] parties represented by counsel"). However, siill meet jurisdictional requirements. Bernard v. United States, 59 Fed. Cl. 497,499 (2004), affd, 98 F. App'x 860 (Fed. Cir.2004); see also Kelley v' Dep't ofLabor, 812 F.2d 1378, 1380 (Fed. Cir. 1987) ("[A] court may not similarly take a liberal view of [a] jurisdictional requirement and set a different rule for pro se litigants only."). If the court determines that it does not have subject matter jurisdiction, it must dismiss the claim. Rules of the United States Court of Federal Claims (RCFC) 12(h)(3). The Tucker Act provides for this court's jurisdiction over "any claim against the United States founded either upon the Constitution, or any Act of Congress or any regulation ofan 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. $ 1a91(a)(l) (2012) (emphasis added). A plaintiff must "identiff a substantive right for money damages against the United States separate from the Tucker Act itself' foi the court to exercise jurisdiction over a claim. Todd v. United States' 386 F.3d 1091' 1094 (Fed. Cir. 2004). The substantive source of law allegedly violated must "'fairly be interpreted as mandating compensation by the Federal Govemment."' United States v. Navajo Nation, 556 U.S. 28'7,290 (2009) (quoting United States v' Testan,424 U 'S' 392, 400 (1976)). B. Discussion As set forth below, plaintiff s complaint must be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to RCFC 12(hX3), and the court finds that a transfer of plaintiff s case to another federal court is not appropriate. 1. The Court Does Not Have Jurisdiction Over Plaintiff s Claims Plaintiffs "tort ctaim of medical malpractice for negligence and or breach of contract" falls outside this court's jurisdiction. Pl.'s Compl. 1; 28 U.S.C. $ la91(aXl). Plaintiff s demand for compensation is based on allegations that a Dr. Charles R' Kuhn, Major in the United States Air Force, performed a different surgery on Mr. Walton than a what Mr. Walton had requested. Pl.'s Compl. passim. With his complaint, Mr. Walton also submitted a copy of a July 17, 2015 decision of the Board of Veteran's Appeals (The Board). Pl.'s Compl. l0-13. The Board determined that although no service treatment records ofany surgery were available, there was sufficient evidence to show that Mr. Walton underwent surgery based on later physical examination records and the existence of a military travel order showing Mr. Walton was transferred to a hospital near the alleged date of his surgery. Pl.'s Complaint 12 (" I'he Board thus finds that the evidence wcighs in t'avor of a linding that the Veteran underwent surgery on the base of his penis while in service, and any residuals of that stlrgery are therefore eligible fbr service connection."). The Board remanded Mr. Walton's case to the Department of Veterans Affairs Regional Office in Muskogee, Oklahoma, ibr further proceedings. Mr. Walton states that he filed a clairn in this court because he believes that "the [Veteran's Affairs] compensation clairn was filed erroneously ...and ...that the claim on rcvicw will be denied again in the final analysis." Pl.'s Compl. 13. Mr. Walton seelns to argue that upon his revieu'of the records produced while his claim rvas on appeal. he now has a claim for Medical Malpractice fbr consideration by this court. Id. Plaintiff "invokes jurisdiction under, (28 $ l49l) Medical Malpractice." Pl.'s Compl. 1. But, plaintiff s claim sounds in tort, see Zhengxins v. United States, 7l Fed. Cl. 732,739 (2006), affd, 204 F. App'x 885 (Fed. Cir' 2006), and the Tucker Act plainly excludes tort claims lrom the court's jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. $ 1491(a)(l); Keene Corp. v. United States, 508 U.S. 200,214 (1993). Accordingly, plaintiff s complaint must be dismissed pursuant to RCFC 12(hX3) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. 2. Transfer of the Case to Another Court Is Not Appropriate The court now considers whether "it is in the interest ofjustice" to transfer plaintiff s complaint to another court of the United States under 28 U.S'C. $ 1631' See Tex. Peanut Farmers v. United States, 409 F.3d 1370,137415 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (stating that the Court of Federal Claims should consider whether transfer is appropriate once the court has determined that it lacks jurisdiction). Section 163 I states in pertinent part: Whenever a civil action is filed in a court as defined in section 610 of this title or an appeal, including a petition for review of administrative action, is noticed for or filed with such a court and that court finds that there is a want ofjurisdiction, the court shall, if it is in the interest ofjustice, transfer such action or appeal to any other such court in which the action or appeal could have been brought. . . . 28 U.S.C. $ 163 l;see 28 U.S.C. $ 610 (defining courts as "courts of appeals and district courts of the United States, the United States District Court for the District of the Canal Zone, the District Court of Guam, the District Court of the Virgin Islands, the United States Court of Federal Claims, and the Court of Intemational Trade"). "The phrase 'if it is in the interest ofjustice' relates to claims which are nonfrivolous and as such should be decided on the merits." Gallowav Farms. Inc. v. United States,834F.2d 998, 1000 (Fed. Cir. 1987); see id. (stating that "[f]rivolous claims include 'spurious and specious arguments"' (quoting Devices for Med.. Inc. v. Boehl,822F.2d 1062, 1068 (Fed. Cir. 1987)). rests within the sound discretion of the transferor court, and the court may decline to transfer the case '[i]f such transfer would nevertheless be futile given the weakness of plaintiff s case on the merits."' Spencer v. United States, 98 Fed. C|.349,359 (2011) (alteration in original) (quoting Faulkner v. United States, 43 Fed. Cl. 54, 56 (1999). "The basic test ... for determining ifa case should be transferred is whether it would be in 'the interest ofjustice' to do so." Busby School of N. Cheyenne Tribe v. united states, 8 cl. ct. 588, 595 (1985). "A decision to transfer Because Mr. Walton has previously brought his claim to the Department of Vctcrans Affairs, sc<: supra Part II.B.1, and thc appeal ofthat claim appears to be ongoing. it is not in the interest of.justice to transl-er this casc to another venue for duplicative proceedings.3 Thus, transfer of this case is not appropriate. III. Conclusion For the foregoing reasons, the court GRANTS the IFP application and finds that it lacks jurisdiction over plaintiff s claims. The Clerk of Court is directed to DISMISS plaintifls complaint for lack of jurisdiction. The Clerk of Court will enter judgment for defendant. No costs. ' The current status of Mr. Walton's Veterans' Affairs claim is unknown as the most recent information orovided bv Mr. Walton is from Julv 2015. See Pl.'s Comol. l0-13. IT IS SO ORDERED. ATRICIA E. CAMPB ChiefJudge