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Brott v. United States

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

May 31, 2017

Kevin Brott, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
United States of America, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued: February 2, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan at Grand Rapids. No. 1:15-cv-00038-Janet T. Neff, District Judge.

         ARGUED:

          Mark F. Hearne II, ARENT FOX LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellants.

          Brian C. Toth, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Mark F. Hearne II, ARENT FOX LLP, Washington, D.C., Matthew L. Vicari, Stephen J. van Stempvoort, MILLER, JOHNSON, SNELL & CUMMISKEY, P.L.C., Grand Rapids, Michigan, for Appellants.

          Brian C. Toth, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

          John M. Groen, Ethan W. Blevins, PACIFIC LEGAL FOUNDATION, Sacramento, California, Steven J. Lechner, MOUNTAIN STATES LEGAL FOUNDATION, Lakewood, Colorado, Robert H. Thomas, DAMON KEY LEONG KUPCHAK HASTERT, Honolulu, Hawaii, Shelley Ross Saxer, PEPPERDINE SCHOOL OF LAW, Malibu, California, C. Thomas Ludden, LIPSON, NIELSON, COLE, SELTZER & GARIN, P.C., Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, for Amici Curiae.

          Before: BATCHELDER, ROGERS, and WHITE, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          ALICE M. BATCHELDER, Circuit Judge.

         Twenty-three Michigan landowners filed suit in federal district court seeking compensation in excess of $10, 000 for the United States's alleged taking of their land for use as a public recreational trail. The landowners assert that they are entitled to have their claims considered in an Article III court and by a jury. However, Congress has acted constitutionally in bestowing on the Court of Federal Claims, an Article I court, exclusive jurisdiction over the landowners' compensation claims and removing the right to a jury trial for claims brought in the Court of Federal Claims and in the district court under the Little Tucker Act. Therefore, we must affirm the district court's dismissal of the landowners' complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         I.

         The landowners filed suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan, alleging three claims: (1) a Fifth Amendment claim for just compensation, brought under the Little Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1346; (2) a Fifth Amendment claim for just compensation, brought under 28 U.S.C. § 1331; and (3) a declaratory judgment claim requesting that the court determine that it has jurisdiction to hear the landowners' compensation claims.[1]

         The district court determined that Congress, via the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1491, and the Little Tucker Act, "vested the Court of Federal Claims with exclusive jurisdiction to hear all claims against the United States founded upon the Constitution where the amount in controversy exceeds $10, 000." The court found no constitutional infirmity in this statutory framework, despite the fact that the Tucker Act prevents the landowners from filing their claims for damages exceeding $10, 000 in an Article III court, and litigants bringing claims in the Court of Federal Claims[2] or in the district court under the Little Tucker Act[3] are deprived of a jury trial. Further, because the landowners had failed to demonstrate that the Tucker Act and the Little Tucker Act were unconstitutional, the district court found that they had failed to demonstrate any basis for a declaratory judgment. The court therefore dismissed the complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). This appeal followed.[4]

         II.

         "We review questions of subject-matter jurisdiction and statutory interpretation de novo." Williams v. Duke Energy Int'l, Inc., 681 F.3d 788, 798 (6th Cir. 2012) (citation and quotation marks omitted). "The party opposing dismissal has the burden of proving subject matter jurisdiction." Elgharib v. Napolitano, 600 F.3d 597, 600 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Charvat v. GVN Mich., Inc., 561 F.3d 623, 627 (6th Cir. 2009)). We also review de novo a district court's decision to dismiss a declaratory judgment count for failure to state a claim. See Tyler v. Hillsdale Cty. Sheriff's Dep't, 837 F.3d 678, 685 (6th Cir. 2016) (en banc).

         The landowners assert that the district court has federal question jurisdiction, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, to consider their Fifth Amendment claims. Alternatively, the landowners argue that, to the extent that the Tucker Act and the Little Tucker Act establish that the Court of Federal Claims has exclusive jurisdiction over the landowners' just-compensation claims, those Acts are unconstitutional because they deprive the landowners of review in an Article III court and by a jury.

         III.

         Federal district courts do not have subject matter jurisdiction to consider just-compensation claims for money damages in excess of $10, 000 against the United States. Rather the Tucker Act vests jurisdiction over such claims in the Court of Federal Claims. In pertinent part, the Tucker Act states that

The United States Court of Federal Claims shall have jurisdiction to render judgment upon any claim against the United States founded either upon the Constitution, or any Act of Congress or any regulation of an 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. § 1491(a)(1). The Little Tucker Act grants federal district courts concurrent jurisdiction for non-tort claims for money damages under $10, 000 against the United States. Under the Little Tucker Act,

The district courts shall have original jurisdiction, concurrent with the United States Court of Federal Claims, of: . . . (2) Any other civil action or claim against the United States, not exceeding $10, 000 in amount, founded either upon the Constitution, or any Act of Congress, or any regulation of an executive department, or upon any express or implied contract with the ...

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