May 24, 2019

Tenth Circuit: State Employment and Tort Claims Barred by Federal Enclave Doctrine

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Allison v. Boeing Laser Tech. Servs. on Friday, August 10, 2012.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. Petitioner “was a civilian employee of [Respondent], a federal contractor located on Kirtland Air Force Base. Kirtland Air Force Base is a federal enclave: it is located on land that New Mexico ceded to the federal government in 1952 and 1954. Since that time the federal government has exercised exclusive jurisdiction within the boundaries of the Base. [Petitioner] was terminated . . . [and] filed suit in state court, alleging that [Respondent] discharged him in retaliation for reporting corporate fraud to the Air Force. His claims were all based on state law theories—wrongful discharge, breach of implied contract, breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing, retaliatory discharge, prima facie tort, and defamation.”

“It is well-established that after a state has transferred authority over a tract of land creating a federal enclave, the state may no longer impose new state laws on these lands. But state laws enacted before the cession continue to apply unless Congress specifically overrides them. The question here is whether state common law causes of action recognized after the state ceded the enclave to the federal government are available on federal enclaves. This question is governed by a long string of Supreme Court precedent that makes it clear that the law on a federal enclave is the state law that governed the land at the time the federal government established the enclave, not state law enacted thereafter—unless that law was expressly adopted by the enclave’s new sovereign, the federal government.”

“[Petitioner]’s causes of action arose from conduct on Kirtland Air Force Base, a federal enclave established in 1954. Because [Petitioner]’s state law claims are based on legal theories created by common law after that date, they are barred unless federal statutory law allows them to go forward. Because no federal statute authorizes state employment and tort claims of the sort here to be asserted against federal contractors, [Petitioner]’s suit is barred by the federal enclave doctrine.”

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