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Plaintiffs v. Akima Logistics Services, LLC

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

December 16, 2014

JACOB AND SHARON BORDETSKY Plaintiffs,
v.
AKIMA LOGISTICS SERVICES, LLC, et al. Defendants.

Sal B. Daidone, P.A., Esquire, Voorhees Township, NJ, Attorney for Plaintiffs.

John M. Nolan, Esquire, Katharine Thomas Batista, Esquire, Jackson Lewis P.C., Philadelphia, PA, Attorneys for Defendant Akima Logistics Services, LLC.

OPINION

NOEL L. HILLMAN, District Judge.

Before the Court is defendant's motion to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint. This case was removed from state court, and the parties appear to have assumed federal jurisdiction based on the federal enclave doctrine. However, it is not clear based on the facts alleged and the claims asserted here, that the federal enclave doctrine applies. Therefore, defendant's motion to dismiss will be denied without prejudice and the parties will be directed to provide briefing to the Court in support of their application of the federal enclave doctrine and the assertion of this Court's jurisdiction.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs filed a complaint in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County. Defendant Akima Logistics Services, LLC ("Akima") filed a notice of removal. Akima removed the matter to this Court on grounds of federal enclave jurisdiction pursuant to Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 of the United State Constitution.

Akima is a federal contractor that provides "role players" for the U.S. Army's live action operational training to prepare soldiers for deployment in hostile environments. In November 2010, Akima employed co-defendant Abdulrahim Sulaiman. Sulaiman was a U.S. Army contractor who served as a foreign language speaker trainer at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and who resided at Fort Dix.

Sulaiman, while off-duty, physically attacked plaintiff Jacob Bordetsky[1] outside the confines of Fort Dix at a Valero gas station in Mansfield, New Jersey.[2] Plaintiffs allege that Akima was negligent in its hiring and supervision of Sulaiman.[3]

After removing the case to federal court, Akima filed a motion to dismiss. Akima argues that plaintiff's state law negligent hiring/supervision/retention claims are barred by the federal enclave doctrine, which jurisdictionally bars state law claims arising on a federal enclave. Defendants further argue that Bordetsky's wife's state law loss of consortium claim must be dismissed because it is a derivative claim of plaintiff's state law negligence claims.

The Court will not reach the merits of defendant's motion to dismiss at this time. Before the Court can rule on the motion to dismiss, it must be clear that it can exercise jurisdiction over the parties.

II. FEDERAL ENCLAVE DOCTRINE

This matter was removed on the basis of federal question jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C.A. ยง 1441 ("... any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant"). Defendants assert that removal is warranted because plaintiffs' claims against defendants concern Sulaiman's employment at Fort Dix, a federal enclave. Under the federal enclave doctrine, "[p]ersonal injury actions which arise from incidents occurring in federal enclaves may be removed to federal district court as a part of federal question jurisdiction." Akin v. Ashland Chemical Co., 156 F.3d 1030, 1034 (10th Cir. 1998); see Durham v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 445 F.3d 1247, 1250 (9th Cir. 2006) ("Federal courts have federal question jurisdiction over tort claims that arise on federal enclaves.'").

There is no dispute that Fort Dix is a federal enclave. See Manning v. Gold Belt Falcon, LLC, 681 F.Supp.2d 574, 576 (D.N.J. 2010) (The State of New Jersey ceded exclusive jurisdiction over Fort Dix to the federal government in 1938). There is also no dispute over the facts that Sulaiman, an employee of Akima, physically attacked Bordetsky at a Valero gas station in Mansfield, New Jersey. The dispute is over a question of law: whether the federal enclave doctrine applies to a negligent hiring/supervision/retention claim against an offduty employee of a federal contractor and his employer, where the underlying tort occurred off federal land.

When dealing with a federal enclave, the focus is on where the tort occurred. See In re High-Tech Employee Antitrust Litigation, 856 F.Supp.2d 1103, 1125 (N.D.Cal. 2012) ("federal enclave doctrine only applies when the locus in which the claim arose is the federal enclave itself."); Totah v. Bies, 2011 WL 1324471, *2 (N.D.Cal. 2011) (focusing on where "substance and consummation of the tort" occurred in determining whether a tort claim arose on a federal enclave). There is general agreement in the case law that employees of contractors operating on federal enclaves who bring employment claims against their employers are subject to the federal enclave doctrine. See Manning, 681 F.Supp.2d at 575 (plaintiffs alleged they were not adequately paid for work performed on the federal enclave); Stiefel v. Bechtel Corp., 497 F.Supp.2d 1138, 1148 (S.D.Cal. 2007) (plaintiff alleged he was injured while working for contractor on federal enclave). The common thread is that if the employee's claim arose out of his employment at a federal enclave, then the doctrine applies. See Morris ...


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