United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
INGE T. ANDERSON, Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.
ORDER GRANTING UNITED STATES AND UNITED STATES AIR
FORCE'S MOTION TO DISMISS
Robert S. Lasnik United States District Judge
matter comes before the Court on defendant United States'
Motion to Dismiss. Dkt. #17. Plaintiff filed this action
against her ex-husband, the United States of America, and the
United States Air Force based on an alleged contract and
torts arising from its breach. Defendants United States of
America and United States Air Force (hereinafter, “the
United States”) argue they should be dismissed entirely
from the action pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P 12(b)(1) for lack
of subject matter jurisdiction or alternatively pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim on which
relief can be granted.
United States seeks dismissal of the claims against it on
sovereign immunity grounds. Jurisdiction is a threshold
matter that should be considered before addressing the merits
of plaintiff's claims. Steel Co. v. Citizens for a
Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 94-96 (1998). When
evaluating its jurisdiction, the Court may consider facts
outside of the four-corners of the complaint to assure itself
that it does, in fact, have the power to hear this matter.
Americopters, LCC v. Fed. Aviation Admin.,
441 F.3d 726, 732 n.4 (9th Cir. 2006). The Court has,
therefore, considered Form I-864, see
Dkt. #12 at 2 (taking judicial notice of the Form), and the
motions and exhibits submitted by both plaintiff and the
United States on this issue.
United States' Rule 12(b)(6) arguments require the Court
to evaluate whether the facts alleged in the complaint
sufficiently state a facially “plausible” ground
for relief. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 570 (2007). “All well-pleaded allegations of
material fact in the complaint are accepted as true and are
construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party.” Manzarek v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins.
Co., 519 F.3d 1025, 1031 (9th Cir. 2008) (internal
citation omitted). “A claim is facially plausible when
the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to
draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged. Plausibility requires pleading
facts, as opposed to conclusory allegations or the formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action, and must
rise above the mere conceivability or possibility of unlawful
conduct that entitles the pleader to relief.”
Somers v. Apple, Inc., 729 F.3d 953, 959-60 (9th
Cir. 2013) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678-79 (2009); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 555 (2007)) (internal quotations omitted).
“Dismissal is proper only where there is no cognizable
legal theory or an absence of sufficient facts alleged to
support a cognizable legal theory.” Taylor v.
Yee, 780 F.3d 928, 935 (9th Cir. 2015) (internal
without leave to amend is proper if it is clear the complaint
could not be saved by any amendment. See United States v.
Corinthian Colleges, 655 F.3d 984, 995 (9th Cir. 2011).
claims are based on her ex-husband's submission of a Form
I-864 in support of plaintiff's immigration to the United
States. The Form allows persons in the United States to
promise financial support for immigrants as a means of
alleviating the government's concern that the immigrant
will become a public charge. See
Form I-864 creates a contract between the sponsor and the
U.S. Government for the benefit of the sponsored immigrant
and the benefit of any Federal, State, or local governmental
agency or private entity that is called upon to provide any
“means-tested public benefits” to the immigrant.
Erler v. Erler, 824 F.3d 1173, 1175 (9th Cir. 2016)
(citing 8 C.F.R. § 213a.2(d); 8 U.S.C. §
appears to raise the following claims against the United
States: (1) breach of contract stemming from the United
States' failure to compel defendant Anderson to fulfill
his contractual obligations, Dkt. #3 at ¶ 3.1; (2)
violation of Air Force Instruction 36-2906 § 188.8.131.52.1,
stemming from the Air Force's failure to garnish
defendant Anderson's wages to satisfy his alleged
obligation to plaintiff under Form I-864, Dkt. #3 at ¶
3.2; (3) negligence arising from the United States'
failure to perform its obligations under Form I-864, Dkt. #3
at ¶ 3.4; (4) negligence arising from the failure to
comply with Air Force Instruction 36-2906, Dkt. #3 at ¶
3.5; and (5) intentional infliction of emotional distress
arising from defendants' negligence. Dkt. #3 at ¶
Subject Matter Jurisdiction
United States argues that it should be dismissed entirely
from this suit due to lack of subject matter jurisdiction
based on sovereign immunity. The United States and its
agencies are immune from suit absent “an express waiver
of this immunity by Congress.” Tobar v. U.S.,
639 F.3d 1191, 1195 (9th Cir. 2011) (quoting Block v.
N.D. ex rel. Bd. of Univ. & Sch. Lands, 461 U.S.
273, 280 (1983)). As the United States Air Force is a federal
agency, both it and the United States are entitled to
sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity is a legal protection
that prevents a sovereign such as the United States from
being sued without its consent. This protection is
jurisdictional in nature. This means that if the United
States does not consent to be sued, the Court cannot hear the
claims. See F.D.I.C. v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475
(1994). Congress has waived the United States' sovereign
immunity to limited types of suits through legislation.
See Dep't of Army v. Blue Fox, Inc., 525 U.S.
255, 260 (1999). However, such waivers must be
“unequivocally expressed in statutory text” and
are strictly interpreted as to preserve the sovereign
immunity of the United States. Lane v. Pena, 518
U.S. 187, 192 (1996). Therefore, absent an express waiver of
sovereign immunity, plaintiff's claims against the United
States and the United States Air Force cannot proceed.
Form I-864 Claims
brings two claims against the United States based directly on
the Form I-864: a breach of contract claim and a negligence
claim based on the breach of contract.
Tucker Act and its companion statute, the Little Tucker Act,
waive United States sovereign immunity and permit
money-damages claims based on “any express or implied
contract with the United States.” 28 U.S.C. §
1491(a)(1) (Tucker Act); 28 U.S.C. § 1346(a)(2) (Little
Tucker Act); see United States v. Mitchell, 463 U.S.
206, 215 (1983) (Tucker Act); United States v.
Bormes, 568 U.S. 6, 9-10 (2012) (Little Tucker Act).
Taken together, the Acts provide the district courts and the
Court of Federal Claims with concurrent jurisdiction over
claims not exceeding $10, 000 and give the Court of Federal
Claims exclusive jurisdiction over all other claims. See
McGuire v. United States, 550 F.3d 903, 910-11 (9th Cir.
2008). To maintain a contract-based cause of action,
“the contract must be between the plaintiff and the
government and entitle the plaintiff to money damages in the
event of the government's breach of that contract.”
Ransom v. United States, 900 F.2d 242, 244 (Fed.
Cir. 1990) (internal citations omitted). Direct third-party
beneficiaries of government contracts may also sue. See
Guardsman Elevator Co. v. United States, 50 Fed.Cl. 577,
undisputed that the Form I-864 is a contract between the
sponsor and the United States. See Erler v. Erler,
824 F.3d 1173, 1175 (9th Cir. 2016); Dkt. #3 at ¶¶
2.1 & 3.1.4; Dkt. #17 at 2. The Court also finds that
plaintiff is a third-party beneficiary under the Form: the
benefits to the immigrant are obvious and courts regularly
allow immigrants to sue their sponsors to enforce their
monetary rights under the contract. See Shumye v.
Felleke, 555 F.Supp.2d 1020, 1024 (N.D. Cal. 2008).
However, defendants are correct that plaintiff lacks the
ability to sue the United States under the Form. Assuming the
contract was breached, plaintiff has no right to money
damages from the non-breaching party. The Form does not
impose an obligation on the United States to make payments of
any kind. It simply states that government agencies
may sue the sponsor for reimbursement due to support
noncompliance. See Form I-864, part 8. While the
Tucker Act can waive sovereign immunity and allow suits
against the United States for breach of contract, it does not
waive sovereign immunity for plaintiff in this case because,
by the terms of the Form, plaintiff does not have a
contractual right that can ...