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Exception to a Rule

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Strictly research, my question is there an exception to the rule of 28 US.C 1491(a)(1) that a claim sounding in tort can't be maintained the court of federal claims? 

The reason I ask is because I believe I found an exception to the rule see e.g.,  Awad v. United States, 301 F.3d 1367, 1372 (Fed. Cir. 2002) ("If an action arises `primarily from a contractual undertaking,' jurisdiction lies in the [Court of Federal Claims] `regardless of the fact that the loss resulted from the negligent manner in which defendant performed its contract.'" (quoting San Carlos Irrigation and Drainage Dist. v. United States, 877 F.2d 957, 960 (Fed. Cir. 1989))).(See internal citations)  

 Do I understand that if the injured party is able to sufficiently prove that injuries they sustained would have not occurred or could not occur except through breach of contract then they could then a tort claim can be maintained becuase the injuries are attributtable to the breach?  or claims sounding in tort?    

 

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The Awad case does not represent an exception allowing tort claims in Claims Court. It does not address that circumstance. It addresses the opposite issue, whether a contract case that the plaintiff brought also had tort claims that could be litigated in district court. The problem the courts face is determining what the real cause of action is: a contract claim, a tort claim, or whether there are both independent tort and contract claims. As the Awad case points out, if the duty that gives rise to the claim is a contractual one, then the case is really a contract case not withstanding that the reason the defendant breached the contract is because he or she did the performance called for in the contract negligently. And if it is a contract claim against the government then it has to go to the Court of Claims.

 

The rule in the case law is clear and reinforces the statute: tort cases cannot be brought in the Court of Claims. "The limited statutory jurisdiction of the court cannot be expended beyond the bounds established by Congress. Soriano v. United States, 352 U.S. 270, 273, 77 S.Ct. 269, 1 L.Ed.2d 306 (1957); Carney v. United States, 462 F.2d 1142, 1144, 199 Ct.Cl. 160, 162 (1972). The court specifically lacks jurisdiction in cases sounding in tort. Somali Development Bank v. United States, 508 F.2d 817, 205 Ct.Cl. 741 (1974)." Tree Farm Dev. Corp. v. United States, 585 F.2d 493, 498 (Ct. Cl. 1978).

 

Consider the case of King v. United States,  That case is a curious one in that the Court of Claims decided that it had the power to hear declaratory judgments involving contract claims. On the face of it, that seemed reasonable since all a declaratory judgment involves is basically an advance determination of whether a particular situation would breach the contract, and the Claims Court has jurisdiction over contract claims. But on appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected that expansion of the Claims Court jurisdiction, saying that for the Claims Court to have jurisdiction, that jurisdiction must be expressly stated in the statute:
 

Quote

 

We think that this approach runs counter to the settled propositions that the Court of Claims' jurisdiction to grant relief depends wholly upon the extent to which the United States has waived its sovereign immunity to suit and that such a waiver cannot be implied but must be unequivocally expressed. United States v. Sherwood, 312 U.S. 584, 61 S.Ct. 767, 85 L.Ed. 1058. This was precisely the position taken by the Court of Claims in a line of its own decisions beginning with Twin Cities Properties, Inc. v. United States, 81 Ct.Cl. 655 (1935). In that case, decided soon after the passage of the Declaratory Judgment Act, the Court of Claims held that it would require a specific and express statute of Congress to give the Court of Claims the power to issue declaratory judgments. The Court of Claims said in Twin Cities that:

 

‘If Congress had intended to extend the scope of this court's jurisdiction and subject the United States to the declaratory judgment act, we think express language would have been used to do so, and the court is not warranted in assuming an intention to widen its jurisdiction from the general provisions of the act which concerns a proceeding equitable in nature and foreign to any jurisdiction this court has heretofore exercised.’ 81 Ct.Cl., at 658.

 

We think that the earlier decisions of the Court of Claims and those that have consistently followed them were correct. There is not a single indication in the Declaratory Judgment Act or its history that Congress, in passing that Act, intended to give the Court of Claims an expanded jurisdiction that had been denied to it for nearly a century. In the absence of an express grant of jurisdiction from Congress, we decline to assume that the Court of Claims has been given the authority to issue declaratory judgments.

 


United States v. King, 395 U.S. 1, 4–5, 89 S. Ct. 1501, 1502–03, 23 L. Ed. 2d 52 (1969). Based on the holding there, in order for the Claims Court to hear a tort case, the statute must expressly provide for that. It doesn't, and thus exceptions allowing tort claims to be brought would not be allowed. The Supreme Court did not reverse another part of the King case, however, that speaks to a common rule regarding jurisdiction in that court — one cannot get into Claims Court by refashioning the claim as one that is permitted in the Claims Court: "Claimants with tort claims against the Government, or other causes of actions over which we have no power, cannot evade the subject-matter limitations on our jurisdiction by refashioning their actions in the terms of a declaratory proceeding." King v. United States, 390 F.2d 894, 909 (Ct. Cl. 1968), rev'd on other grounds, 395 U.S. 1, 89 S. Ct. 1501, 23 L. Ed. 2d 52 (1969). Remember, at the time the court made this statement it had held it had jurisdiction to hear declaratory relief cases. So the statement can be understand to mean more generally that one cannot get into the Court of Claims by refashioning a tort claim to be a claim that the court could hear, like a contract case.

 

So it is not about an exception to the tort rule. It is about looking under the claims as plead to determine what the real cause of action is. If it's a tort claim, it cannot be brought in the Court of Claims. If it is a contract claim against the federal government, it cannot be brought in district court.

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