Where the employee of a government contractor was allegedly injured when the elevator at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, or NGA, malfunctioned, her claims against the United States were dismissed. Because the United States was her statutory employer under the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act, or VWCA, and the claimed injuries “arose out of and in the course of” her work at NGA, the VWCA provided the exclusive remedy.
Donna Holderfield worked as a contractor with Booz, Allen & Hamilton, or BAH, and was staffed on a contract with the NGA. Plaintiff alleges she sustained “serious and permanent personal injuries” when the elevator malfunctioned, dropped nearly four stories and then stopped abruptly.
Plaintiff alleges that Thyssenkrupp Elevator Corporation was responsible for the maintenance and repair of the elevator in which she sustained her alleged injuries. She alleges that the federal defendants “controlled, owned, operated, supervised, inspected, maintained, and/or repaired the premises, including the elevator.”
Federal defendants’ motion
Under the VWCA, if the United States qualifies as the plaintiff’s statutory employer, and if the plaintiff’s injury is the result of an accident arising out of and in the course of employment, then the plaintiff’s remedies under the VWCA are exclusive and she is barred from pursuing her claims for tort damages against the United States.
The court finds that the United States is plaintiff’s statutory employer under the VWCA. Plaintiff was executing work which was part of the trade, business or occupation of the NGA because the contract between NGA and BAH was carried out pursuant to the function of NGA to provide timely and accurate geospatial intelligence.
Plaintiff argues that her contracted-for work is not a part of the agency’s “trade, business or occupation” because analytical methodologists provide statistical analysis on certain datasets, but do not collect and process imagery data. This argument is unavailing. The Fourth Circuit and this court have adopted a broader view of what agencies are required or authorized by law to do.
Plaintiff does not contest that the claimed injuries “arose out of and in the course of” plaintiff’s work at NGA. Therefore, plaintiff has essentially conceded this issue. Accordingly, the court finds that plaintiff has not pleaded a facially plausible basis for Counts One, Two, Three and Five.
The court does not have original jurisdiction over plaintiff’s breach of contract claim because it exceeds $10,000.00 in amount, and 28 U.S.C. § 1346(a)(1) provides that district courts have concurrent jurisdiction with the Court of Federal Claims for non-tort claims “not exceeding $10,000 in amount.” The court does not have supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff’s breach of contract claim because it does not have original jurisdiction over the related tort-based claims.
Plaintiff has not shown why a negligence claim against Thyssenkrupp would be cognizable under the Federal Tort Claims Act or FTCA, given that Thyssenkrupp is not a federal government entity. Thus, this court will dismiss Count One as to Thyssenkrupp.
Plaintiff also asserts a negligence claim against Thyssenkrupp under the common law. Accepting each of plaintiff’s allegations as true in the complaint and assessing Virginia law precedent, this court cannot find as a matter of law that Thyssenkrupp owed any common law duty to plaintiff. Rather, the source of Thyssenkrupp’s duty arises entirely from the private agreement to provide elevator repair and maintenance services to federal defendants.
Outside of Thyssenkrupp’s contractual obligations, contrary to plaintiff’s position, Thyssenkrupp also cannot have an independent common law duty arising from being classified as a common carrier. While Virginia tort law has recognized actionable claims with respect to elevator injuries, these decisions have only extended to the owners and operators of elevators, and not in the context of a defendant tasked solely, in a contractual capacity, with elevator maintenance and repair.
Plaintiff also brings a negligence per se claim on the basis that Thyssenkrupp neglected its duty to exercise the “highest degree of care” in meeting the various local, state and industry standards. This court has already determined that plaintiff has not pleaded a facially plausible claim that an underlying common-law duty exists in the first instance. If that is the case, “the presence of a statutory standard of care [is] irrelevant.”
Plaintiff also alleges a basis for recovery in contract as a third-party beneficiary to the contract between Thyssenkrupp and federal defendants. The court concludes that the complaint alleges, with no factual background, that defendants entered into a contract with the purpose of protecting parties like plaintiff from injury. Indeed, the only reasonable inference which this court may draw based on the allegations in the complaint is that plaintiff indirectly benefited from the contract between defendants. And even if plaintiff did plead her complaint satisfactorily, her alleged damages are entirely derivative of physical injury and not pecuniary loss directly from a contract breach.
Defendants’ motions to dismiss granted.
Holderfield v. Thyssenkrupp Elevator Corporation, Case No. 1:20-cv-01599, March 30, 2022. EDVA at Alexandria (Alston). VLW 022-3-148. 28 pp.