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Steinberg v. United States - No. 09-59 C, 2009 U.S. Claims LEXIS 390 (Fed. Cl. Nov. 24, 2009)

Rule:

The jurisdiction of United States Court of Federal Claims extends only to contracts either express or implied in fact, and not to claims on contracts implied in law. Promissory estoppel however, requires the court find an implied-in-law contract, a claim for which the United States has not waived its sovereign immunity. Accordingly, the Court of Federal Claims Court has no jurisdiction over promissory estoppel claims. 

Facts:

Plaintiff Steinberg obtained two complementary tickets from his Congressman for admission to a reserved viewing area at the 2009 presidential inauguration ceremonies. The tickets were distributed to congressional offices by an inauguration committee. The citizen stood in line to be admitted to the ticketed area, but was eventually refused admittance because the area had reached capacity. In this action, the citizen initially asserted a claim based on promissory estoppel, alleging that he should have been notified that entrance could be denied and, under such circumstances, he could have made an educated decision as to whether to incur the travel costs from Florida. He later amended the complaint to allege breach of contract.

Issue:

Was the relief sought by plaintiff under the doctrine of promissory estoppel thereby outside the jurisdiction of the United States Court of Federal Claims?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The jurisdiction of this court “extends only to contracts either express or implied in fact, and not to claims on contracts implied in law.” Hercules, Inc. v. United States (Hercules), 516 U.S. 417, 423 (1996). Promissory estoppel however, requires the court find an implied-in-law contract, a claim for which the United States has not waived its sovereign immunity. Lion Raisins, Inc. v. United States, 54 Fed. Cl. 427, 431 (2002) (quoting Hercules, 516 U.S. at 423). To the extent plaintiff’s Amended Complaint is viewed as a claim for relief under the doctrine of promissory estoppel, the claim is dismissed under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) for want of jurisdiction. To the extent plaintiff’s Amended Complaint is viewed as a claim for relief under an express contract or a contract implied in fact, the claim is dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.  Dismissal pursuant to 12(b)(6) is appropriate when the court determines that the facts as asserted do not entitle the claimant to a legal remedy.  Mr. Steinberg has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

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