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Beneficial Consumer Discount Co. v. Poltonowicz

filed: February 9, 1995.


On Appeal From the United States District Court For the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. (D.C. Civil Action No. 93-cv-03780).

Before: Stapleton and Greenberg, Circuit Judges, and Atkins,*fn* District Judge.

Author: Stapleton


STAPLETON, Circuit Judge:

Beneficial Consumer Discount Co. ("Beneficial") appeals from an order dismissing its third-party claim against the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS"), and remanding the remainder of this case to state court. The district court reasoned that the doctrine of sovereign immunity precluded Beneficial's claim against the IRS. At issue is whether the waiver of the sovereign immunity of the United States set forth either in the Right to Financial Privacy Act of 1978 ("RFPA"), 12 U.S.C. §§ 3401-3422, or the Federal Torts Claims Act ("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b), 2671-2680, permits Beneficial's claim. We hold that neither of these statutes waives the federal government's sovereign immunity against Beneficial's claim. We will affirm in part and dismiss in part for lack of jurisdiction.


This case arises out of a March 1991 installment loan agreement between Beneficial and defendants David Poltonowicz and John Poltonowicz ("the Poltonowiczs"). Beneficial, claiming that the Poltonowiczs defaulted on that loan, filed suit against them in the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas. In response, the Poltonowiczs asserted a counterclaim, alleging that Beneficial had violated the terms of the loan agreement, as well as unspecified state and federal laws, by providing certain confidential information to third parties.

Beneficial admits that it released information concerning the Poltonowiczs to a third party, the IRS. It nevertheless argues that this alleged breach of confidentiality was entirely justified. It explains that IRS officials requested the confidential information in writing and certified to Beneficial, pursuant to the requirements of 12 U.S.C. § 3403(b), that the request met the requirements of the RFPA. The IRS also informed Beneficial that good-faith reliance upon the RFPA certification would relieve Beneficial of any possible liability to the Poltonowiczs for disclosing the requested account information. See 12 U.S.C. § 3417(c).

This appeal arises because Beneficial did something more than assert the IRS's RFPA certification as a defense under § 3417(c); it joined the IRS, alleging that, if Beneficial were held liable to the Poltonowiczs, it was entitled to judgment against the IRS for any amount they recovered. In response, the IRS removed the case to the district court and filed a motion to dismiss on the ground that Beneficial's claim was barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. The district court granted the IRS's motion, dismissing Beneficial's claim against the IRS with prejudice, and remanding the case to state court. Beneficial filed a timely motion for reconsideration. The district court denied that motion and this appeal followed.


We are presented with threshold issues of jurisdiction. With certain exceptions not here relevant, we may review only final orders of a district court. Moreover, we are specifically barred by 28 U.S.C. § 1447(d) from reviewing "an order remanding a case to the State court from which it was removed," where the district court has decided to remand because it believes it "lacks subject matter jurisdiction." 28 U.S.C.

§§ 1447(c), (d), as interpreted in Thermtron Products, Inc. v. Hermansdorfer, 423 U.S. 336, 46 L. Ed. 2d 542, 96 S. Ct. 584 (1976), and Gravitt v. Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., 430 U.S. 723, 52 L. Ed. 2d 1, 97 S. Ct. 1439 (1977).

The November 30, 1993, order from which Beneficial appeals dismissed with prejudice its cross-claim against the IRS on "grounds of sovereign immunity" and remanded the remaining claims in the case to the state court from which it came because it had "no independent jurisdiction" over those claims. Beneficial asks us to hold that the district court erred in dismissing its claim against the IRS. It further asks us to rule that the district court erred in remanding the other claims in the case whether or not it was justified in dismissing the IRS.*fn1 We conclude that we have jurisdiction to review that portion of the November 30, 1993, order which dismissed Beneficial's claim against the IRS with prejudice, and we will affirm that part of the order. We are without jurisdiction, however, to review the district court's remand decision.

Because the district court's decision to dismiss Beneficial's claim against the IRS affected the substantive rights of the parties and was separable from the district court's decision to remand, that portion of the order appealed from is a final one over which we have appellate jurisdiction despite the bar of 28 U.S.C. § 1447(d). This is the teaching of the Supreme Court's decision in City of Waco v. United States Fidelity & Guaranty Co., 293 U.S. 140, 143-44, 79 L. Ed. 244, 55 S. Ct. 6 (1934) (review permitted of an order dismissing one party to a case where that order was accompanied by a motion to remand because "in logic and fact the decree of dismissal preceded that ...

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