SANDERS v. U.S.

Decision Date12 June 2001
Citation252 F.3d 1329
Parties(Fed. Cir. 2001) JAMES H. SANDERS, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES, Respondent. 01-5035 DECIDED:
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Federal Circuit

James H. Sanders, of Portland, Oregon, pro se.

Allison A. Page, Attorney, Commercial Litigation Branch, Civil Division, Department of Justice, of Washington, DC, argued for defendant-appellee. With her on the brief were Stuart E. Schiffer, Acting Assistant Attorney General; David M. Cohen, Director; and Harold D. Lester, Jr., Assistant Director.

Before MICHEL, SCHALL, and DYK, Circuit Judges.

DYK, Circuit Judge.

This case presents the question of whether the United States government's alleged breach of an agreement with a criminal defendant concerning his release on bail after trial gives rise to a claim for money damages cognizable in the Court of Federal Claims. We hold that such a claim is cognizable only if the agreement clearly and unmistakably subjects the United States to monetary liability for any breach. The agreement here - a court-approved stipulation that released the defendant on bail pending sentencing and appeal of his criminal conviction - did not clearly and unmistakably signal the government's intent to be subject to such monetary liability. We accordingly affirm the decision of the Court of Federal Claims dismissing the complaint sua sponte for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Sanders v. United States, No. 00-528C (Fed. Cl. Oct. 10, 2000).

BACKGROUND

This case arises from the conviction (following a jury trial) of Mr. James H. Sanders ("petitioner") in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California on several counts of mail fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341. The record does not disclose the date of petitioner's conviction. There were post-trial proceedings in the district court, including the imposition of a 51-month sentence, after which petitioner appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Following petitioner's conviction, counsel for petitioner and Assistant United States Attorney ("AUSA") Daniel Linhardt, on or about May 30, 1996, entered into a stipulated agreement regarding petitioner's post-trial bail status. That agreement, titled "STIPULATION & ORDER RE: RELEASE," provided, in pertinent part, that "Mr. Sanders may continue on release pending further post trial proceedings in this court subject to the same conditions as heretofore and to the following additional special conditions . . . ."1 The "additional special conditions" set forth in the stipulation apparently related to the charges of mail fraud brought against petitioner. Those conditions: (1) required petitioner, in his capacity as the Chief Executive Officer of Shippers Dispatch Association, to "notify all of the agents currently enrolled and participating in that [Association's] agency program that all `In house Motor Carrier' lease activity shall be discontinued;" (2) required petitioner, in his capacity as the Chief Executive Officer for the administrative contractor for Specialty Freight, Inc., to "cancel all existing insurance coverage and filings presently in force;" and (3) required petitioner to provide the United States Attorney's Office with "copies of the communications" relating to the cancellation of the lease activities and insurance contracts. The government does not dispute that Mr. Sanders fulfilled these requirements under the agreement. The stipulated agreement was entered as an order by United States District Court Judge Lawrence K. Karlton on June 3, 1996.

During the pendency of Mr. Sanders' appeal of his conviction, the district court held a bail revocation hearing on March 30, 1999. At that hearing, the court revoked Mr. Sanders' bail and ordered him into custody "partly because of [the court's] belief that the delay in Sanders' appeal was due to Sanders intentionally clogging the Ninth Circuit's docket . . . ." Sanders v. United States, No. CV-99-1314-ST, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9329, at *5 (D. Or. May 18, 2000) (unpublished disposition). Three days later, on April 2, 1999, the district court held another hearing at which Mr. Sanders was released "on his own recognizance because [the court] determined that the delay with Sanders' appeal was due in large part to the Ninth Circuit." Id. Petitioner alleges that AUSA Linhardt objected at both hearings to petitioner's continued release on bail (apparently due at least in part to petitioner's alleged practice of law without a license in Oregon), and it is those objections that form the basis for this appeal. On June 22, 1999, the Ninth Circuit affirmed Mr. Sanders' sentence and his underlying conviction, and his release on bail pending that appeal was accordingly revoked. United States v. Sanders, No. 97-10056, 1999 U.S. App. LEXIS 14076 (9th Cir. June 22, 1999) (unpublished disposition).

Mr. Sanders subsequently brought a pro se breach of contract action in the United States District Court for the District of Oregon against the United States and AUSA Linhardt. In his complaint, petitioner alleged, inter alia, that AUSA Linhardt's alleged objections at the revocation hearings to petitioner's continued release on bail breached the stipulation agreement and sought at least $18 million in unspecified damages.

The government subsequently moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. On May 18, 2000, a magistrate judge recommended that the case be transferred to the Court of Federal Claims. Sanders v. United States, No. CV-99-1314-ST, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9329, at *17 (D. Or. May 18, 2000) (unpublished disposition). On June 21, 2000, the district court adopted the magistrate judge's recommendation and transferred the case to the Court of Federal Claims. Sanders v. United States, No. CV-99-1314-ST, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9326 (D. Or. June 21, 2000) (unpublished disposition).

Following the transfer, Mr. Sanders amended his complaint, inter alia, to seek "not less than Twenty-Four Million Dollars ($24,000,000) nor greater than Two Hundred and Eighty Million Dollars ($280,000,000) in compensatory damages" for the alleged breach of the stipulated agreement.

On October 10, 2000, the Court of Federal Claims concluded that the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1491(a)(1), did not provide jurisdiction over petitioner's complaint, and accordingly dismissed the amended complaint sua sponte for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Sanders v. United States, No. 00-528C (Fed. Cl. Oct. 10, 2000). In reaching that conclusion, the court reasoned, in pertinent part, that "[a] stipulated judicial sentencing release order in a criminal case is not an express or implied proprietary contract with the United States for a sum certain which invokes the Court's Tucker Act jurisdiction; it is more in the nature of a criminal plea or cooperation agreement." Id., slip op. at 2. The court further noted that any remedies for the alleged breach may accordingly be sought only in United States district courts:

Simply put, this suit rests on the [petitioner's] false assumption that a criminal sentencing release order can transcend the criminal justice arena and create independent rights in a civil context. Since this agreement, however, is clearly the creation of the criminal justice system, it follows that the remedies, if any, for the alleged breach of this must be found within that system. [Petitioner's] release agreement, standing alone, does not provide him with any independent substantive rights enforceable against the United States for money damages.

Id., slip op. at 2-3 (internal citations omitted).

The court also dismissed petitioner's claims against AUSA Linhardt, noting that "this Court does not have jurisdiction to hear allegations against private parties. The Court's jurisdiction extends only to suits against the United States." Id., slip op. at 3. This timely pro se appeal followed.

DISCUSSION
I

A decision of the Court of Federal Claims "to dismiss a complaint for lack of jurisdiction is a question of law subject to . . . independent review by this court." Shearin v. United States, 992 F.2d 1195, 1195 (Fed. Cir. 1993). The petitioner (Mr. Sanders) bears the burden of proving that the Court of Federal Claims possessed jurisdiction over his complaint. Rocovich v. United States, 933 F.2d 991, 993 (Fed. Cir. 1991). We have jurisdiction over this appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1295(a)(3).

II

On this appeal, Mr. Sanders does not challenge the Court of Federal Claims' dismissal of AUSA Linhardt as an improperly named defendant. He urges, however, that he has properly stated a claim for money damages against the United States that is cognizable under the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1491(a)(1).

The Tucker Act gives the Court of Federal Claims jurisdiction over:

[A]ny 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) (1994). That statute constitutes a waiver of sovereign immunity as to those claims. See United States v. Mitchell, 463 U.S. 206, 212 (1983). It is well settled that the Court of Federal Claims' jurisdiction under the Tucker Act to hear and decide contract claims against the United States "extends only to contracts either express or implied in fact, and not to claims on contracts implied in law." Hercules, Inc. v. United States, 516 U.S. 417, 423 (1996).

The court-approved stipulated order here may be fairly characterized as an "express or implied in fact" contract. Hercules, 516 U.S. at 423 -24. However, we nonetheless conclude that petitioner may not maintain a claim for money damages for the alleged breach of that agreement.

We have no doubt that federal and state...

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