United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
THOMAS C. HABERSHAM., Plaintiff,
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS, Defendant.
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO
EVANS BARKER, JUDGE
Thomas C. Habersham has brought this action against
Defendant, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs,
seeking judicial review of the Department's determination
on his claim for benefits. Dkt. No. 1 (“Compl.”).
This case is now before us on Defendant's Motion to
Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1),
Dkt. No. 13, to which Mr. Habersham has filed a belated
response. Dkt. No. 20. For the reasons set forth below, the
motion is GRANTED.
March 1, 2018, Mr. Habersham filed a Complaint alleging that
in 1977 he was “ordered to use unauthorized[d]
chemicals, ” which, he says, caused him to become ill.
Compl. at 2. He further alleged that he “reported [his]
illnesses for several years, but the VA refuse[d] to [adhere]
to all of the recommendations set by the American [Legion].
Id. at 3. As relief, Mr. Habersham seeks “the
[e]ntitlement set [forth] by the laws that govern
compensation for [i]njured [veterans] that suffered harm
while serving in the military.” Id. at 4.
Attached to his Complaint are documents related to a claim
for veterans benefits that he apparently filed. Dkt. No. 1-1
at 134-57. Mr. Habersham is currently proceeding pro
OF PROOF AND STANDARD OF REVIEW
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure command courts to dismiss
any suit over which they lack subject-matter
jurisdiction. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1);
McCready v. White, 417 F.3d 700, 702 (7th Cir.
2002). Where, as here, a subject-matter jurisdiction
challenge is raised, a plaintiff such as Mr. Habersham must
establish that jurisdiction exists. Lujan v. Defenders of
Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992). To do so, he must
demonstrate a non-frivolous claim based on federal law (and
must meet all other statutory prerequisites for litigating
the federal claim). Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546
U.S. 500, 514 (2006). A jurisdictional challenge must be
considered and resolved before addressing the merits of a
plaintiff's claims. Steele Co. v. Citizens for a
Better Env't, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1998).
ruling on a 12(b)(1) motion, “a district court must
accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and draw
all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.”
St. John's United Church of Christ v. City of
Chicago, 502 F.3d 616, 625 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting
Long v. Shorebank Dev. Corp., 182 F.3d 548, 554 (7th
Cir.1999)). Dismissal is proper if Mr. Habersham has failed
to establish any set of facts that would entitle him to the
relief he seeks.
Department argues that Mr. Habersham's Complaint should
be dismissed based on a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction
because it challenges the Department's adjudication of
his benefits claim, which challenge is non-reviewable by
district courts under the plain language of 38 U.S.C. §
511(a). Dkt. No. 14 at 3. It further argues that the United
States has not waived its sovereign immunity to allow review
of veterans benefit determinations to proceed in federal
district court, nor has Mr. Habersham identified any
authority supporting such a waiver of immunity. Id.
(citing United States v. Testan, 424 U.S. 392, 399
(1976); Macklin v. United States, 300 F.3d 814, 820
(7th Cir. 2002)).
opposition to the Department's Rule 12(b)(1) motion, Mr.
Habersham offers no cogent argument(s). Instead, he
simply has submitted documents he apparently obtained from
the Department in response to his request for
“discovery of the rea[son] for the denial of his . .
disability [benefits] by the Veterans Administration.”
Dkt. No. 20 at 1. He has also attached documents purportedly
proving that he served in the U.S. military at the time of
his alleged injuries. Id.
Veteran's Judicial Review Act (“VJRA”)
establishes the exclusive review procedures through which a
veteran may challenge the Department's adjudication of
his or her claim for benefits. See 38 U.S.C.
§ 511(a). In pertinent part, that statute provides
(a) The Secretary shall decide all questions of law and fact
necessary to a decision by the Secretary under a law that
affects the provision of benefits by the Secretary to
veterans or the dependents or survivors of veterans. Subject
to subsection (b), the decision of the Secretary as to any
such question shall be final and conclusive and may not be
reviewed by any other official or by any court, whether by an
action in the nature of mandamus or otherwise.
38 U.S.C. § 511(a).
VJRA precludes federal court review of benefit
determinations, but it also sets forth the prescribed
procedures that veterans seeking review of such
determinations must follow. Id.; Karmatzis v.
Hamilton, 553 Fed.Appx. 617, 618-619 (7th Cir. 2014). If
a veteran obtains what he/she regards as an unsatisfactory
benefit determination after filing a claim at the regional
Veterans Affairs office within his jurisdiction, an appeal
may be taken to the Board of Veterans' Appeals, after
which relief may be sought before the Court of Appeals for