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Bell v. United States

January 30, 1985


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, D.C.No. 82-3327.

Author: Garth


GARTH, Circuit Judge:

In this appeal we are asked to determine whether the district court erred in its dismissal of certain defendants for lack of jurisdiction, and in its construction of various statutory provisions of the Pennsylvania No-Fault Motor Vehicle Insurance Act of July 19, 1974, P.L. 489, No. 176, §§ 101 et seq., Pa. Stat. Ann. tit. 40, §§ 1009.101 et seq. (Purdon Supp. 1984) ("No-Fault Act"). We affirm.


The facts in this case are not in dispute and have been agreed upon by stipulation. On July 22, 1981, appellant, Warner Bell ("Bell"), a Pennsylvania resident, was injured in a two-vehicle accident. At the time of the accident, he was employed by the Department of Defense as a civilian file clerk and was acting within the scope of his employment. Bell was a passenger in a federally-owned truck which was hit in the rear by a vehicle owned by First Pennsylvania Auto Leasing and driven by John Callahan ("Callahan"). Callahan was employed by Wistar Institute ("Wistar") and, at the time of the accident, was also acting within the scope of his employment.

Bell was severely injured as a result of the accident and was unable to return to work for many months. As of January 26, 1983, Bell's medical expenses totaled $32,509.24, and his lost earnings amounted to $13,648.80 and were accruing at the rate of $188.00 per week.

The government truck in which Bell was a passenger was not registered in Pennsylvania nor was it insured under Pennsylvania's No-Fault Act. At the time of the accident, Bell had no statutorily identifiable source of coverage under Pennsylvania's No-Fault Act, as he did not own a vehicle, did not reside with the owner of a vehicle, and was not named insured in any policy of basic loss insurance under the No-Fault Act. Since the accident, Bell has been receiving federal workmen's compensation payments for his medical expenses and lost earnings under the Federal Employee's Compensation Act ("FECA"), 5 U.S.C. §§ 8101, et seq. (1982).

In April 1982, Bell filed an application with the Pennsylvania Assigned Claims Plan*fn1 ("the Plan"), the entity created by the No-Fault Act to provide coverage for vehicle accident victims who have no statutorily identifiable source of coverage. The Plan initially rejected Bell's request, stating that he was not entitled to benefits under the No-Fault Act.

Bell responded by filing suit in the Court of Common Pleas to compel the Plan to designate a servicing carrier to Bell's claim for no-fault benefits. In May 1982, the court granted Bell's motion and ordered the Plan to assign Bell's claim to a servicing carrier. As a result of the court's order, the Plan assigned Bell's claim to Travelers Insurance Company ("Travelers"). On July 6, 1982 travelers denied Bell's claim for benefits and directed Bell to seek benefits instead through the United States Government. Travelers further stated that since Bell is eligible for worker's compensation benefits, there would be no money due Bell from Travelers once Travelers set-off the amount Bell received from workmen's compensation. On July 22, 1982, travelers sent Bell another letter denying liability on the alternative ground that the vehicle in which Bell was a passenger at the time of the accident was not a "motor vehicle" within the meaning of the No-Fault Act and therefore [therefore] Travelers was not required to make payment under the Plan.

Shortly after Traveler's last letter, Bell filed suit in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania seeking declaratory and injunctive relief from the United States Department of Labor and Travelers, and monetary damages from Wistar Institute and Callahan. In an order filed December 30, 1982, the district court dismissed Wistar and Callahan for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The district court judge also dismissed the Department of Labor, but held that the Department was entitled to satisfaction of a statutory lien on any recovery in tort made by Bell from Wistar and Callahan. The judge did not dismiss the action between Bell and Travelers because there was diversity of citizenship.

Bell and Travelers then submitted cross motions for summary judgment. On March 25, 1983, the district court held that Bell was entitled to recover No-Fault benefits from Travelers under the Plan, but that Travelers was authorized to deduct the entire amount of Bell's FECA benefits from Bell's No-Fault recovery.*fn2 Bell appeals both the December 30, 1982 and March 25, 1983 orders of the district court. Travelers cross-appeals.


As a preliminary matter, we affirm the district court's order of December 30, 1982 dismissing Wistar, Callahan, and the Department of Labor. We are presented with two issues from Bell's appeal of that order. The first is whether the Department of Labor is entitled to exercise a statutory lien over non-economic tort recovery. The second is whether there existed subject matter jurisdiction with regard to appellees Wistar and Callahan.


The No-Fault Act's operation generally limits any recovery sought in tort against the driver of the other automobile to non-economic losses such as paid and suffering. Pa. Stat. Ann. tit. 40, § 1009.301(a)(4) (Purdon Supp. 1984). Bell originally argued that the United States, pursuant to section 8132*fn3 of FECA, could not exercise a statutory lien against tort-feasors Callahan and Wistar because FECA did not authorize the government to offset its payments with any form of non-economic recovery.

5 U.S.C. § 8132 essentially provides that when a beneficiary receives compensation from the United States under this statute and also receives payments from a third person for the same injuries or damages, the beneficiary, after deducting from the third party recovery the costs of suit and a reasonable attorney's fee, is required to refund to the government the amount of compensation which the government had paid to him, to the extent of his third party recovery. The district judge rejected Bell's argument, relying entirely on Judge Bechtle's district court opinion of Lorenzetti v. United States, 550 F. Supp. 997 (E.D. Pa. 1982), rev'd, 710 F.2d 982 (3d Cir. 1983), rev'd, 467 U.S. 167, 104 S. Ct. 2284, 81 L. Ed. 2d 134 (1984). In Lorenzetti, Judge Bechtle held that the Government was entitled under the FECA to reimbursement from an employee's non-economic tort recovery of the benefits which the government had paid under workmen's compensation. Although this court reversed the district court's Lorenzetti decision. see Lorenzetti v. United States, 710 F.2d 982 (3d Cir. 1983), the Supreme Court thereafter reversed our decision, and thereby upheld the district court's conclusion. United States v. Lorenzetti, 467 U.S. 167, 104 S. Ct. 2284, 81 L. Ed. 2d 134 (1984).

In light of the Supreme Court's pronouncement, the district court in the present case was correct in holding that the government is entitled to a general right of reimbursement that attaches to Bell's recovery of non-economic losses.


The district court was also correct in dismissing appellees Wistar and Callahan for lack of jurisdiction. Since both Bell and Callahan are residents of Pennsylvania and Wistar is a non-profit corporation organized under the laws of Pennsylvania. App. at 2-3. there exists no diversity of citizenship in the event that Callahan and Wistar remain as parties.

Bell seeks to retain his state court claims against Wistar and Callahan by asserting that the No-Fault Act violates the United States Constitution. Bell argues that the No-Fault Act, by abolishing tort liability for economic losses, unreasonably discriminates against employees of the federal government in violation of equal protection clause. This Federal claim is without merit. While Federal employees may receive reduced No-Fault payments as a result of the FECA lien on third party tort recoveries, such decreased benefits do not represent a constitutional deprivation. The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees equal laws, not equal results. Personnel Administrator of Massachusetts v. Feeney. 442 U.S. 256, 273, 60 L. Ed. 2d 870, 99 S. Ct. 2282 (1979).

It is important in this regard to note that the No-Fault Act does not, on its face, discriminate against federal employees. Although a statute's facial neutrality does not automatically immunize the statute from an attack on equal protection grounds, the burden that the plaintiff must satisfy is made more difficult. When, as in this case, the attack is based on a statute's discriminatory impact, the burden is on the plaintiff, here Bell, to demonstrate that the legislators had a discriminatory intent. Washington v. Davis, 426 U.S. 229, 239, 48 L. Ed. 2d 597, 96 S. Ct. 2040 (1976).

In the instant case, to state a federal claim, Bell had to allege that the No-Fault Act was designed to purposefully discriminate against federal employees. This he has failed to do. In neither his pleadings, submissions, or arguments has Bell alleged or established the requisite discriminatory intent. Given the fact that Bell has failed to state a claim under the equal protection clause, and noting in passing that Bell will not be deprived of a forum since he has already initiated a suit for personal injuries against Wistar and Callahan in Pennsylvania state court, see, Warner Bell v. The Travelers Insurance Company, et al., Dec. Ter,. 1982, No. 4959, we hold that the district court did not err in in dismissing Bells claims against defendants Wistar and Callahan.


The cross-appeals taken from the district court's March 25, 1983 summary judgment order present this court with issues of first impression and require us to interpret various sections of Pennsylvania's No§ Fault Act.*fn4 At the outset, we note that there is no legislature history to shed light on the purpose or meaning of any of the No-Fault Act's provisions. As a result, our analysis must primarily rely upon the ...

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