Giordano v. Roudebush

Decision Date26 March 1980
Docket Number79-1331,Nos. 79-1189,s. 79-1189
Citation617 F.2d 511
PartiesRobert P. GIORDANO, M. D., Cross-Appellee, v. Richard L. ROUDEBUSH, Administrator of Veterans' Affairs; Veterans' Administration; John Chase, Eugene Caffey, Jr., Louis Polumbo; T. E. Corcoran; Richard Bjork; Robert Pepiot; and the United States of America; M. D. Pareira, Cross-Appellants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

Richard G. Santi, Ahlers, Cooney, Dorweiler, Haynie & Smith, Des Moines, Iowa, argued, Lance A. Coppock, Des Moines, Iowa, on brief, for Robert P. Giordano.

Robert S. Greenspan, Atty., Dept. of Justice, Civil Division, Appellate Staff, Washington, D. C., argued, Stuart E. Schiffer, Acting Asst. Atty. Gen., Washington, D. C., Roxanne Barton Conlin, U. S. Atty., Des Moines, Iowa and William Kanter and Robert S. Greenspan, Washington, D. C., on brief, for Richard L. Roudebush, et al.

Lawrence Speiser, Speiser & Kolker, Washington, D. C., for amicus curiae, Nat. Ass'n of VA Physicians.

Before LAY, Chief Judge, * HEANEY and HEANLEY, Circuit Judges.

LAY, Chief Judge.

Two basic issues are involved in this appeal from the federal district court: (1) whether the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1491, gives the Court of Claims exclusive jurisdiction of plaintiff's claim for reinstatement to his position with the Veterans' Administration when the back pay sought against the United States exceeds $10,000; and (2) assuming the district court had jurisdiction whether it correctly construed the statutory authority under which the Chief Medical Director discharged the plaintiff. 1

On February 21, 1976, Dr. Robert P. Giordano was discharged as Assistant Chief of Urology from the Veterans' Administration (VA) Hospital in Des Moines where he had been serving as a probationary employee. Only two days earlier, he was informed that the Chief Medical Director of the VA had approved the recommendation of the Professional Standards Review Board that he be separated from service for failure to perform satisfactorily. Dr. Giordano filed suit in federal district court, 2 alleging inter alia a denial of due process in the review proceedings surrounding his discharge. The district court originally ordered a rehearing before the Professional Standards Review Board in Washington, D.C. so that Dr. Giordano would have a fair opportunity to present his case. 3 No appeal was taken from this order. After a rehearing, the Board voted 2-1 to retain Dr. Giordano. Notwithstanding this determination, the VA's Chief Medical Director ordered his discharge. Thereafter Dr. Giordano sought redress in the district court. The district court entered a judgment for back pay in excess of $70,000. Defendants filed a motion to vacate the judgment, asserting for the first time that the district court was without jurisdiction to grant a judgment against the United States in excess of $10,000. The district court agreed that it did not have jurisdiction to award back pay in excess of $10,000 and held that jurisdiction to award back pay lies exclusively in the Court of Claims. It ultimately ordered the entire damage claim transferred to the Court of Claims. However, at the same time, the district court recited that Dr. Giordano's initial discharge was arbitrary and capricious; and that his second discharge by the Chief Medical Director, overruling the Professional Standards Review Board, was not authorized under 38 U.S.C. § 4106. It also ordered reinstatement of Dr. Giordano as a probationary employee.

On appeal, neither Dr. Giordano nor defendants challenge the district court's transfer of the back pay question to the Court of Claims. However, defendants argue that once the claim for money damages exceeded $10,000 the district court lost jurisdiction of the entire subject matter and that it was required to transfer the entire case. Defendants also argue that the district court erred in finding that the Chief Medical Director lacked authority to discharge the plaintiff after the Professional Standards Review Board had recommended his retention. We uphold the conclusion of the district court that it had jurisdiction to grant reinstatement; we also agree with the district court's construction of 38 U.S.C. § 4106 that the Chief Medical Director of the VA lacked authority to overrule the Board's determination that Dr. Giordano should not be discharged.

Defendants claim that 28 U.S.C. § 1491 4 grants exclusive jurisdiction over this matter to the Court of Claims. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1346(a)(2) 5 the district courts have concurrent jurisdiction with the Court of Claims under certain circumstances.

We hold the Court of Claims' exclusive jurisdiction over monetary damages exceeding $10,000 does not deprive a federal district court of jurisdiction over all equitable claims asserted in a complaint; nor does it require a party to waive his claim for monetary damages in excess of $10,000.

In an opinion outlining the history of the Tucker Act and its 1972 amendment, 6 the court in Bruzzone v. Hampton 433 F.Supp. 92 (S.D.N.Y.1977) was faced with an identical jurisdictional issue. Bruzzone, a former Deputy United States Marshal claimed that he had been illegally discharged and brought suit in federal district court for back pay and reinstatement. In his complaint he sought $75,000 for back pay and other damages. Because Bruzzone's claim exceeded the amount which would have allowed the district court to retain jurisdiction, the United States urged that his entire case should be transferred to the Court of Claims.

The court held that Bruzzone's monetary claim against the United States for more than $10,000 could be heard only by the Court of Claims. The district court went on to hold, however, that it was not necessary to transfer the nonmonetary claims. The court acknowledged that the Tucker Act had been amended in 1972 to allow the Court of Claims to order reinstatement, but ruled that the amendment did not compel the transfer of the entire case. See also Sherar v. Harless, 561 F.2d 791 (9th Cir. 1977); Sherar v. Cullen, 481 F.2d 945 (9th Cir. 1973); Crawford v. Cushman, 531 F.2d 1114 (2d Cir. 1976); Neal v. Secretary of the Navy, 472 F.Supp. 763 (E.D.Pa.1979); Melvin v. Laird, 365 F.Supp. 511 (E.D.N.Y.1973); cf. Lewis v. Carter, 436 F.Supp. 958 (D.D.C.1977) (non-monetary relief sought was in the form of a preliminary injunction).

Defendants argue that this court's opinion in Polos v. United States, 556 F.2d 903 (8th Cir. 1977), dictates that this case be decided by the Court of Claims. We disagree. In Polos we stated that:

It is evident that Polos' principal claims are for back pay (an amount the District Court found to be $79,939.36) and for participation in the Civil Service Retirement program. While Polos contends he was entitled to reinstatement, he concedes that he could not retain the civilian technician position, because he is no longer a member of the Arkansas Air National Guard. See 32 U.S.C. § 709(b). He does not seriously dispute that, even if reinstated, he could be discharged on thirty days' notice. 32 U.S.C. § 709(e) (6).

Polos' claim, then, is essentially one against the United States for the payment of damages. Such a claim, when in excess of $10,000, is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Court of Claims.

Id. at 905 (emphasis added) (footnote omitted).

In contrast to Polos, Dr. Giordano has stated from the outset of this case that his claims are primarily nonmonetary. He is seeking reinstatement and wants to clear his name. When his suit was first filed, his back pay claim was worth only $6,000, and monetary relief was clearly not his principal motive. If it had not been for the substantial delay between the time the case was first filed and its appeal to this court, the monetary claim, which is not before us, would not be so large. We thus find the Polos decision distinguishable.

Defendants urge that if the district court retains jurisdiction over the equitable claim, plaintiff must waive all damages over $10,000 since to do otherwise would in effect allow him to split his claim for relief. They contend case law precludes him from doing so. We disagree. We would agree, that plaintiff would be splitting his monetary claim, if the district court retained jurisdiction over the first $10,000 and transferred the remainder to the Court of Claims. See Washington v. Udall, 417 F.2d 1310, 1320-21 (9th Cir. 1969); Sutcliffe Storage & Warehouse Co. v. United States, 162 F.2d 849 (1st Cir. 1947). However, here, the district court has transferred the entire monetary claim to the Court of Claims. Plaintiff has acquiesced in that transfer. The argument that concurrent jurisdiction taxes judicial economy and provides potential tension are not compelling. Defendants' belated jurisdictional attack, made for the first time after three years of litigation, strongly indicates they have long accepted jurisdiction of the district court over the equitable claim. Questions facing the Court of Claims, such as collateral estoppel, are not before us. In any event, we find the district court did not err in retaining jurisdiction over the issue of reinstatement.

The Legality of the Discharge.

The Chief Medical Director dismissed Dr. Giordano after the Professional Standards Review Board had recommended his retention. The controlling statute governing dismissal of probationary employees is 38 U.S.C. § 4106 which provides in pertinent part:

(a) Appointments of physicians, . . . shall be made only after qualifications have been satisfactorily established in accordance with regulations prescribed by the Administrator, without regard to civil-service requirements.

(b) Such appointments as described in subsection (a) of this section shall be for a probationary period of three years and the record of each person serving under such appointment in the Medical, . . . Services shall be reviewed from time to time by a board, appointed in accordance with...

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