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Halliburton v. United States Department of Labor Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation

United States District Court, D. Colorado

March 12, 2018

JULIA MAE HALLIBURTON, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR DIVISION OF ENERGY EMPLOYEES OCCUPATIONAL ILLNESS COMPENSATION; and RACHEL P. LEITON, DIRECTOR OF DIVISION OF ENERGY EMPLOYEES OCCUPATIONAL ILLNESS COMPENSATION, Defendants.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS FOR LACK OF SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION (DOCKET NO. 18)

          Michael J. Watanabe United States Magistrate Judge.

         This case is before the Court on the consent of the parties to magistrate judge jurisdiction. (Docket No. 12.) Now before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction (Docket No. 18), to which Plaintiff filed a response (Docket No. 21), and Defendants filed a reply. (Docket No. 22.) The Court has carefully considered the motion. The Court has taken judicial notice of the Court's file and has considered the applicable Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and case law. The Court now being fully informed makes the following findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff's husband was employed at the U.S. Department of Energy's Rocky Flats plant for over a decade, where he was exposed to toxic chemicals that caused him to sustain various serious health conditions. (Docket No. 1 at ¶ 4.) After his death in 2012, Plaintiff filed series of claims for survivor benefits under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (the “EEOICPA”). (Id. at ¶¶ 5-6.) The Denver District Office of United States Department of Labor's Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation (the “Department”) recommended that Plaintiff's original claim be denied, even though the Department's Contract Medical Consultant (“CMC”) opined that it was at least as likely than not that Mr. Halliburton's exposure to harmful toxic substances was a substantial factor in aggravating, contributing to, or causing his health conditions. (Id. at ¶¶ 7-8.) The Department's Final Adjudication Board (“FAB”) rejected the recommendation and remanded the case back to the Denver District Office for “additional development.” (Id. at ¶ 9.) A second CMC report found that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that Mr. Halliburton's exposure to harmful toxins contributed to his health conditions and/or his death, and Plaintiff's claim was again denied. (Id. at ¶¶ 10-11.) After an administrative hearing was held, the Department issued a final decision on September 22, 2015, denying Plaintiff's claims for benefits under the EEOICPA. (Id. at ¶¶ 12-15.) Plaintiff alleges that she was unable to file an action for administrative review of the denial because, despite numerous written and oral requests, neither Plaintiff nor her counsel ever received the claims file maintained by the Department. (Id. at ¶¶ 17-23.)

         Plaintiff brings this action under the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. § 552a. She alleges that the Department “intentionally and willfully” withheld the claims file, and requests that the Court “compel the Department to produce an accurate copy of the Claims File in its entirety forthwith; award Mrs. Halliburton compensatory damages, reasonable attorneys fees and costs pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552a(g); [and] order the statute of limitations for administrative review be equitably tolled.” (Id. at ¶¶ 29-30.)

         On August 16, 2017, Defendants filed the subject motion. (Docket No. 18.) Defendants argue that because the claim file has been produced, Plaintiff's claim is moot, and the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this action. The Court agrees, and dismisses Plaintiff's case.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Under Rule 12(b)(1), a court may dismiss a complaint for “lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). The burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction is on the party asserting jurisdiction. See Basso v. Utah Power & Light Co., 495 F.2d 906, 909 (10th Cir. 1974). Motions to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) take two forms. First, a party may attack the facial sufficiency of the complaint, in which case the court must accept the allegations of the complaint as true. Holt v. United States, 46 F.3d 1000, 1002-03 (10th Cir. 1995). Second, if a party attacks the factual assertions regarding subject matter jurisdiction through affidavits and other documents, the Court may make its own findings of fact. See Id. at 1003. A court's consideration of evidence outside the pleadings will not convert the motion to dismiss to a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56. See Id. Dismissal for lack of jurisdiction must be without prejudice. Brereton v. Bountiful City Corp., 434 F.3d 1213, 1216 (10th Cir. 2006).

         Mootness

         Article III of the Constitution requires that the federal courts render decisions only where there is a live case or controversy between parties. U.S. Const. art. III, § 2. An “actual controversy must be extant at all stages of review, not merely at the time the complaint is filed.” Alvarez v. Smith, 558 U.S. 87, 130 (2009). If circumstances change during the pendency of the case that extinguish a party's legally cognizable interest in the action, the case is moot. Green v. Haskell Cnty. Bd. of Comm'rs, 568 F.3d 784, 794 (10th Cir. 2009) (quotations omitted). Mootness is an issue of subject matter jurisdiction which can be raised at any stage of the proceedings. Kennedy v. Lubar, 273 F.3d 1293, 1301-02 (10th Cir. 2001).

         Mootness has two aspects: (i) whether the issues are live; and (ii) whether the parties have a legally cognizable interest in the outcome. See Lucero v. Bureau of Collection Recovery, Inc., 639 F.3d 1239, 1242 (10th Cir. 2011). The critical question is “whether granting a present determination of the issues offered will have some effect in the real world.” Kennecott Utah Copper Corp. v. Becker, 186 F.3d 1261, 1266 (10th Cir. 1999). When circumstances change such that the court is unable to grant effective relief that has some effect in the real world, a live case or controversy no longer exists and the case is, therefore, moot. See McKeen v. U.S. Forest Serv., 615 F.3d 1244, 1255 (10th Cir. 2010). Demonstrating that a case is moot is a heavy burden and lies with the party alleging that the action is moot. See id.

         There are exceptions to the mootness doctrine. Thus, even if an action appears moot on its face, a court will refrain from dismissing the action when certain circumstances are present. The four generally recognized exceptions are: (1) the plaintiff continues to have secondary or collateral injuries even after resolution of the primary injury; (2) the issue is deemed a wrong capable of repetition yet evading review; (3) the defendant voluntarily ceases an alleged illegal practice, but is free to ...


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