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Hawkins v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

September 30, 2019

SABELITA HAWKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS FOR LACK OF SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION

          JAMES L. ROBART United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Before the court is Defendant United States of America’s (“the Government”)[1]motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (Mot. (Dkt. # 36).) Plaintiff Sabelita Hawkins opposes the Government’s motion. (Resp. (Dkt. # 38).) The court has considered the Government’s motion, the parties’ submissions in support of and in opposition to the motion, the relevant portions of the record, and the applicable law. Being fully advised, [2] the court GRANTS the Government’s motion for the reasons set forth below.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual History

         This matter arises from a mental health breakdown that Ms. Hawkins allegedly suffered as a result of workplace bullying at the VA hospital at which she worked. (See Compl. (Dkt. # 1) ¶ 4.3-4.4; Claim (Dkt. # 1-1) at 4.) Ms. Hawkins alleges that on October 22, 2011, she suffered a psychotic episode at work resulting from three years of workplace bullying and a failed meeting to address that bullying. (Compl. ¶¶ 4.4-4.5; Claim at 4.) After this psychotic episode, Ms. Hawkins was admitted to Swedish-Edmonds Hospital for observation on October 22, 2011. (Id. ¶ 4.5.) After her release, Ms. Hawkins followed up with resident physician Daniel Doan at the Veterans Hospital Women’s Clinic on October 26, 2011. (Compl. ¶ 4.6.) Ms. Hawkins told Dr. Doan that she was experiencing insomnia, anxiety, depression, and difficulty // concentrating that interfered with her daily activities. (Id. ¶ 4.7; see also Claim at 4 (stating that Ms. Hawkins informed Dr. Doan she was suffering “worsening insomnia, extreme anxiety, severe depression, difficulty concentrating[, ] and nervousness”).) Ms. Hawkins allegedly requested that Dr. Doan prescribe lorazepam, but Dr. Doan allegedly declined that request due to that medication’s habit-forming characteristics. (Compl. ¶ 4.7.) Dr. Doan instead prescribed Zoloft for Ms. Hawkins’s anxiety and depression. (Id. ¶ 4.8.) Ms. Hawkins further alleges that Dr. Doan recommended she avoid drugs and alcohol and “follow up with her outside Bellevue Counselor.” (Id. ¶ 4.9.) Despite Dr. Doan’s recommendations, Ms. Hawkins asserts that her anxiety and insomnia worsened. (Id.)

         On November 16, 2011, Ms. Hawkins followed up with Dr. Doan and complained that the medication Dr. Doan had prescribed was not working. (Id. ¶ 4.10.) Dr. Doan allegedly told Ms. Hawkins that she had not given Zoloft enough time to effectively work. (Id.) Later that month, on November 30, 2011, Dr. Carl Jensen evaluated Ms. Hawkins to determine whether she could return to work. (Id. ¶ 4.11.) According to Ms. Hawkins, Dr. Jensen diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) during that evaluation and did not prescribe any additional medication for Ms. Hawkins’s anxiety and insomnia. (Id. ¶ 4.12.)

         Ms. Hawkins alleges that she further deteriorated in December 2011 after prolonged sleeplessness over two to three days. (Id. ¶ 4.13.) Due to the lack of sleep, Ms. Hawkins alleges that on December 15, 2011, she became psychotic again. (Id.) During this episode, she attacked her mother and was arrested. (Id.; Claim at 4.)

         B. Procedural History

         1. Administrative Claims

         Ms. Hawkins filed two relevant administrative claims: (1) an FTCA claim to the VA for the doctors’ alleged malpractice in treating Ms. Hawkins after the workplace psychotic episode (see Claim at 2, 4-5); and (2) a claim under the Federal Employees Compensation Act (“FECA”), 5 U.S.C. § 8101 et seq., for the PTSD, psychotic disorder, and depression that Ms. Hawkins alleges she suffered at work as a result of workplace bullying (see Sykes Decl. (Dkt. # 40) ¶ 4, Ex. B (“FECA Claim”) at 1-2).

         Ms. Hawkins filed her FTCA claim with the VA on October 24, 2013. (See Claim at 2.) The VA denied that claim on April 18, 2014, concluding that “there was no negligent or wrongful act on the part of an employee of the [VA] acting within the scope of his or her employment.” (Denial (Dkt. # 1-2) at 2).) On October 1, 2014, Ms. Hawkins requested that the VA reconsider its denial. (Recons. (Dkt. # 1-3) at 2-4.)

         Ms. Hawkins’s FECA claim proceeded at a much slower pace. Ms. Hawkins filed that claim on October 23, 2014. (See 7/25/17 Johnson Decl. (Dkt. # 20) ¶ 3, Ex. E (“Hawkins Dep.”) at 75:23-79:12 (stating that Ms. Hawkins filed her FECA claim with the VA on October 23, 2014); FECA Claim at 2 (identifying received date of October 23, 2014).) Although Ms. Hawkins filed her FECA claim in October 2014, the Department of Labor Office of Workers’ Compensation Program (“OWCP”) did not begin processing Ms. Hawkins’s claim until October 2017.[3] (See 6/21/19 Johnson Decl. (Dkt. # 37) ¶ 2, Ex. A (“Notice of Decision”) at 1 (stating that the Department of Labor sent Ms. Hawkins a notice of claim deficiencies on October 4, 2017).) On April 27, 2018, the OWCP issued a Notice of Decision denying Ms. Hawkins’s claim. (See Notice of Decision.) The OWCP stated that it had considered evidence submitted by Ms. Hawkins and concluded that “the evidence does not establish that you were injured in the performance of a duty as required for coverage under [FECA].” (See Id . at 2-4.) The OWCP found that there was insufficient evidence to establish workplace bullying or any error or abusive action by the VA in administering the meeting to address Ms. Hawkins’s claims of bullying. (See Id . at 3-5.) As such, Ms. Hawkins had failed to establish “that [she] sustained an emotional condition that arose during the course of employment and within the scope of compensable work factors as defined by the FECA.” (Id. at 5.) The Government alleges that Ms. Hawkins did not exercise her right to appeal the OWCP’s decision, and Ms. Hawkins does not dispute that claim. (See Mot. at 4; Resp. at 1-4.)

         2. Federal ...


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