July 18, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Court Did Not Have Subject Matter Jurisdiction Over Plaintiff’s Claims Against Federal Officers

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Ingram v. Faruque on Friday, September 6, 2013.

Delbert Ingram is an employee at the Oklahoma City Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center (“VAMC”). At the time of the incidents resulting in this appeal, VAMC police received a report from one of Mr. Ingram’s coworkers stating that Mr. Ingram had said he had been thinking about killing his supervisor.  Mr. Ingram was taken to an emergency room. An emergency room physician found Mr. Ingram to be was sufficiently ill “that immediate emergency action [was] necessary.” When Mr. Ingram attempted to leave the emergency room, Lt. Stevenson informed him that, although he was not under arrest, he was not free to leave the emergency room. Mr. Ingram stated that Lt. Stevenson said this with his hand on his firearm, and that after making this statement, Lt. Stevenson shut and locked the door to the padded isolation room. After conversations with physicians and being transported to a psychiatric ward, Mr. Ingram was held in the ward for over twenty-four hours before being medically cleared and released.

Mr. Ingram sued Defendants in their individual capacities claiming they violated his rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution by holding him in the psychiatric ward without his consent. Defendants filed motions to dismiss, arguing that, among other things, the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the action, because the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) provided the sole remedy for Mr. Ingram’s claims, and that the court therefore should not authorize a remedy under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). In Bivens, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized for the first time an implied private action for damages against federal officers alleged to have violated a citizen’s constitutional rights.

The district court agreed and granted Defendants’ motions to dismiss. Specifically, the court concluded that Mr. Ingram had a remedy available under 38 U.S.C. § 7316 (“VA Immunity Statute”), which applies the remedy available against the United States under the FTCA to damages arising from the provision of medical services by health care employees of the Veteran’s Administration (“VA”). Because of the availability of that remedy, the district court concluded Mr. Ingram did not have a cause of action under Bivens. Mr. Ingram appealed.

The Tenth Circuit held that the text of the VA Immunity Statute created an exclusive remedy that precluded a Bivens claim. The court also concluded that Mr. Ingram’s claims fell within the scope of the VA Immunity Statute, such that he was precluded from bringing a cause of action under Bivens. Because Mr. Ingram had an adequate alternative remedy available through the VA Immunity Statute and the FTCA, it was not appropriate to authorize a Bivens remedy for Mr. Ingram. Accordingly, the Tenth Circuit held the district court did not err in ruling that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Mr. Ingram’s claims.


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