Jonathan R. Siegel, F. Elwood and Eleanor Davis Research Professor of Law, filed an amicus brief that helped result in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversing and remanding a judgment of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (CFC) in Beberman v. United States, a pro se appeal. The lower court had dismissed a claim for compensation against the government for lack of jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1500.
"It was gratifying to be able to help a real plaintiff overcome the artificial and unjust barrier of § 1500," said Professor Siegel. "I also was happy to have the opportunity to put my expertise regarding § 1500, which I gained in academic and law reform settings, to work in an actual case."
The plaintiff, a U.S. Department of State employee, is challenging her treatment by the department in multiple lawsuits. In the first lawsuit, she claims she was subjected to age discrimination when she worked at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela, and in the second lawsuit, she claims that a transfer from the U.S. Embassy in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, back to Washington, D.C., was less favorable than that of a comparably situated male employee. She is pursuing the first claim in the U.S. District Court and the second claim in the CFC.
Professor Siegel explained that the plaintiff is bringing separate lawsuits partly because her claims arose at different times, but also because federal statutes often prevent a plaintiff suing the United States from bringing all the claims together in one court, as no one court may have jurisdiction over all of them.
The plaintiff's gender discrimination CFC case ran into an obstacle to jurisdiction: 28 U.S.C. § 1500. This statute provides that the CFC shall not have jurisdiction over any claim that is pending in another court. The CFC dismissed the plaintiff’s claim because it ruled it was the same as her District Court age discrimination claim, which at the time was on appeal in the Third Circuit. She then appealed the CFC dismissal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
Using his previous experience working on a research project into § 1500 while he was at the Administrative Conference of the United States, Professor Siegel wrote an amicus brief explaining why he believed the CFC's dismissal of the plaintiff's case was erroneous.
According to Professor Siegel, the case raised two issues. First, was the plaintiff's case really pending in another court? At the time the plaintiff filed in the CFC, the Third Circuit had ruled on her appeal but had not yet issued its mandate. So there was a question of whether her case was really pending in that court. Also, were the plaintiff's two cases about the same claim or different claims?
The Federal Circuit ruled that the plaintiff's Third Circuit case was not about the same claim as her CFC case. That made it unnecessary for the court to rule on the first question, whether the plaintiff's case was still pending in the Third Circuit at the time of her CFC filing. Professor Siegel said that the appellate ruling does not mean that the plaintiff ultimately wins her case, but it does remove the jurisdictional obstacle that she faced. The case now returns to the CFC for further processing.