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CSX Transportation, Inc. v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division

September 30, 2014

CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

ORDER

WILLIAM T. MOORE, Jr., District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction (Doc. 17), to which Plaintiff has filed a response (Doc. 18). Both parties have also filed numerous replies and sur-replies. (Doc. 22; Doc. 32; Doc. 38; Doc. 40; Doc. 42.) For the reasons that follow, Defendant's motion is GRANTED. However, the alternative relief sought in Plaintiff's response is also GRANTED and the Clerk of Court is DIRECTED to TRANSFER this case to the Court of Federal Claims. Because this action is transferred pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1631, the Court makes no ruling on the factual arguments presented in Defendant's motion. Upon transfer, the Clerk of Court is DIRECTED to close this case. All other pending motions in this case are DISMISSED AS MOOT.

BACKGROUND

On or about October 8, 2010, Plaintiff, an interstate rail carrier, delivered forty-four railcars to Defendant.[1] (Doc. 18 at 3.) Contained within the railcars were pieces of equipment necessary for their use and operation. (Id.) After receiving the railcars, Defendant eventually moved twenty-two of them to a railcar storage area known as "Shaw Road" in Hinesville, Georgia. (Id.) A further eleven railcars were moved to a storage area known as the "Beer Joint, " also in Hinesville, Georgia. (Id.) Neither area was fenced off, and crimes of theft and vandalism had previously been reported in both areas. (Id.)

Prior to Defendant's acceptance of the railcars, Plaintiff and Defendant entered into a contract whereby Defendant assumed responsibility for any damages that may occur to the railcars or their contents, even if such damages were caused by third parties. (Id. at 5.) On or about April 14, 2011, however, Plaintiff discovered that some of its equipment had been stolen from the railcars stored at both the Shaw Road and Beer Joint locations. (Id. at 4.) Plaintiff reported the theft to Defendant, but the railcars were not relocated. (Id.) Further thefts occurred in or around May of 2011. (Id.)

On October 3, 2012, Plaintiff filed an administrative claim with Defendant, seeking damages for losses caused by the prior thefts. (Id. at 5.) Defendant denied Plaintiff's claim on March 13, 2013. (Id.) Thereafter on September 12, 2013, Plaintiff filed suit in this court. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on December 20, 2013, pursuing relief in both contract and tort. (Doc. 14.) Both claims request damages in the amount of $267, 238.14 for Defendant's failure to protect Plaintiff's railcars from theft. (Id.) On January 3, 2013, Defendant moved to dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing that the action is time-barred and that the dispute is one of contract, rather than tort, and thus under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Court of Federal Claims. (Doc. 17.)

ANALYSIS

I. STANDARD OF LAW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires a complaint to contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." "[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Aschroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).[2] "A pleading that offers labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678 (internal quotations omitted). "Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement." Id.

Normally, when the Court considers a motion to dismiss, it accepts the well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true. Sinaltrainal v. Coca-Cola Co. , 578 F.3d 1252, 1260 (11th Cir. 2009). However, this Court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678. Moreover, "unwarranted deductions of fact in a complaint are not admitted as true for the purpose of testing the sufficiency of plaintiff's allegations." Sinaltrainal , 578 F.3d at 1268. That is, "[t]he rule does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage, ' but instead simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element." Watts v. Fla. Int'l Univ. , 495 F.3d 1289, 1295-96 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 545).

II. PLAINTIFF'S CONTRACT CLAIM IN COUNT TWO

In its motion, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's contract claim should be dismissed because the Court of Federal Claims has exclusive jurisdiction for contract claims in excess of $10, 000. (Doc. 17 at 11.) Plaintiff responds that the action was first brought without the contract claim, and its addition in Plaintiff's amended complaint cannot divest the Court of jurisdiction over this case. (Doc. 18 at 19-21.) In the alternative, Plaintiff contends that, if the Court finds it does not have jurisdiction over Plaintiff's contract claim, it should transfer this case to the Court of Federal Claims. (Id. at 21-22.)

Normally, "[t]he United States, as sovereign, is immune from suit save as it consents to be sued." United States v. Sherwood , 312 U.S. 584, 586, (1941). Pursuant to the Tucker Act, the United States has waived this immunity for claims based "upon any express or implied contract with the United States, or for liquidated damages in cases not sounding in tort." 28 U.S.C. § 1491(a)(1). However, the Court of Federal Claims has exclusive jurisdiction for such contract claims seeking in excess of $10, 000. Begner v. United States , 428 F.3d 998, 1002 (11th Cir. 2005). District courts, such as this one, are limited to hearing contract claims against the United States involving damages of only $10, 000 or less. 28 U.S.C. § 1346(a)(2).

Here, Plaintiff's contract claim seeks damages in the amount of $267, 238.14 and, accordingly, clearly falls within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Court of Federal Claims. Plaintiff's argument to the contrary relies on the general principle that jurisdiction is dependent on the state of things at the time of the action brought.' (Doc. 18 at 19 (quoting Mullen v. Torrance , 22 U.S. 537, 539 (1824)).) Plaintiff argues that its addition of a contract claim in the amended complaint does ...


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