306 F.3d 170 (4th Cir. 2002), 00-2247, Doe v. Chao

Docket Nº:00-2247, 00-2292.
Citation:306 F.3d 170
Party Name:Robert DOE, a/k/a Virginia Privacy Litigation; Tays Doe, a/k/a Virginia Privacy Litigation; Buck Doe, a/k/a Virginia Privacy Litigation; Otis Doe, Virginia Privacy Litigation; Thomas Doe, Virginia Privacy Litigation; Joe Doe, Virginia Privacy Litigation; Charles Doe, a/k/a Virginia Privacy Litigation; Dick Doe, a/k/a Virginia Privacy Litigation, Pl
Case Date:September 20, 2002
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 170

306 F.3d 170 (4th Cir. 2002)

Robert DOE, a/k/a Virginia Privacy Litigation; Tays Doe, a/k/a Virginia Privacy Litigation; Buck Doe, a/k/a Virginia Privacy Litigation; Otis Doe, Virginia Privacy Litigation; Thomas Doe, Virginia Privacy Litigation; Joe Doe, Virginia Privacy Litigation; Charles Doe, a/k/a Virginia Privacy Litigation; Dick Doe, a/k/a Virginia Privacy Litigation, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

Elaine L. CHAO, Secretary of Labor, United States Department of Labor, Defendant-Appellee.

Robert Doe, a/k/a Virginia Privacy Litigation; Tays Doe, a/k/a Virginia Privacy Litigation; Buck Doe, a/k/a Virginia Privacy Litigation; Otis Doe, Virginia Privacy Litigation; Thomas Doe, Virginia Privacy Litigation; Joe Doe, Virginia Privacy Litigation; Charles Doe, a/k/a Virginia Privacy Litigation, Plaintiffs-Appellees,

v.

Elaine L. Chao, Secretary of Labor, United States Department of Labor, Defendant-Appellant.

Nos. 00-2247, 00-2292.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

September 20, 2002

Argued Sept. 26, 2001

Page 171

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 172

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 173

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 174

ARGUED:

Jerry Walter Kilgore, Sands, Anderson, Marks & Miller, Richmond, Virginia, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

Anthony Alan Yang, Appellate Staff, Civil Division, United States Department Of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Defendant-Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

Joseph E. Wolfe, Terry G. Kilgore, Wolfe, Farmer, Williams & Rutherford, Norton, Virginia; Robert J. Mottern, Mottern, Fisher & Goldman, Atlanta, Georgia, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

Stuart E. Schiffer, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Robert P. Crouch, United States Attorney, Freddi Lipstein, Appellate Staff, Civil Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Defendant-Appellee.

Before LUTTIG, WILLIAMS, and MICHAEL, Circuit Judges.

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded by published opinion. Judge WILLIAMS wrote the opinion, in which Judge LUTTIG joined. Judge MICHAEL wrote an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.

OPINION

WILLIAMS, Circuit Judge.

In this case, several individuals 1 (collectively Appellants) seek recovery against the Secretary of Labor (the Government) under the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C.A. § 552 et seq. (West 1996 & Supp.2000), and the United States Constitution for the disclosure of their Social Security numbers (SSNs) incident to the adjudication of their black lung compensation claims. They also seek certification of a class of persons whose SSNs were so disclosed. Because we hold that a Privacy Act plaintiff only may recover money damages upon a showing of actual damages, and because Appellant Buck Doe has not made such a showing, we reverse the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Buck Doe and hold that the Government was entitled to summary judgment in its favor as to Buck Doe's claim. We affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment in the Government's favor with regard to each of the other Appellants, because no Appellant other than Buck Doe could show any adverse effect stemming from a violation of the Act. We further affirm the district court's denial of leave for Appellants to

Page 175

amend their complaints and submit additional damages evidence. Additionally, because it is clear that Appellants' claims are not typical of the claims of the putative class, we affirm the district court's denial of class certification.

I.

The Department of Labor's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP) and its Division of Coal Mine Workers' Compensation are charged by Congress with the task of adjudicating black lung compensation claims. These offices retain the files of over one million coal miners who have filed for black lung benefits. To facilitate the processing of claims, OWCP assigned to each black lung claim a unique identifier called an "OWCP number" and used this number to identify the claim throughout the benefits adjudication process. (J.A. at 107, 109-10.) When a coal miner applied for benefits, he was asked to provide his SSN voluntarily and was informed that the number may be used to facilitate determination of benefits eligibility. Prior to the entry of a consent agreement in this case, if a black lung benefits applicant provided his SSN, OWCP used the SSN as the "OWCP number" for identification of the miner's claim. Further, certain administrative law judges (ALJs) sent out a form of "multi-captioned" hearing notice, listing in a single document the hearing dates for a number of different miners' claims. (J.A. at 131.) In this way, the SSNs of numerous benefits applicants were (1) disclosed to other applicants, their employers, and counsel, and (2) frequently included in publicly released ALJ and Benefits Review Board decisions that, in turn, were published in benefits decision reporters and made available in computerized legal research databases. Appellants are black lung benefits claimants whose SSNs were disclosed in this manner, and they allege in their complaints that the disclosure of their SSNs caused them emotional distress. Buck Doe and five other Appellants, all suing under pseudonyms, brought this Privacy Act case by filing separate complaints in the district court. Although several additional persons moved to intervene as plaintiffs in this case, the docket sheet indicates that the district court granted leave to intervene only to one of these persons, Tays Doe. (J.A. at 5.) On February 20, 1997, Appellants and the Government consented to the district court's entry of a stipulated order prohibiting the Government from disclosing the SSN of any black lung claimant by including his SSN on multi-captioned hearing notices disseminated to persons not associated with the claimant's claim. Appellants then filed a motion seeking certification of a class comprising "all claimants for Black Lung Benefits since the passage of the Privacy Act." (J.A. at 81.) Both the Government and Appellants moved for summary judgment.

The district court consolidated the seven individual actions and appointed a magistrate judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C.A. § 636(b) (1) (b), to prepare a Report and Recommendation regarding the summary judgment motions and the motion for class certification. After holding several hearings, the magistrate judge recommended denying summary judgment for Appellants and granting summary judgment for the Government on all claims other than Buck Doe's. Appellants, viewing the basis for the magistrate judge's recommendation as a defect in their pleadings, then moved to file amended complaints alleging emotional distress with greater particularity than was the case in their original complaints, and to file affidavits substantiating their emotional distress claims. The magistrate judge recommended denial of the motion, finding it to be out of time and further concluding that the damages deficiencies in

Page 176

Appellants' cases were failures of proof, not pleading. Subsequently, the district court adopted the magistrate judge's recommendations that the motion to file amended complaints and supplemental affidavits be denied, that class certification be denied, and that the Government be granted summary judgment on the claims of all Appellants except for Buck Doe. The district court rejected the magistrate judge's recommendation to deny Buck Doe's motion for summary judgment, however, and entered summary judgment awarding Buck Doe $1,000 in statutory damages. The district court held that "actual damages" must be proven to obtain the Privacy Act's $1,000 in statutory damages. Because the district court found that the primary element of damage in privacy cases is ordinarily emotional distress, however, the district court held that proven emotional distress constitutes "actual damages" sufficient to permit recovery of the $1,000 statutory minimum damages amount. The district court held that Buck Doe produced sufficient evidence of emotional distress to justify summary judgment in his favor in the amount of the $1,000 statutory damages award. The district court also found that Appellants had substantially prevailed and were entitled to attorney's fees but did not award a specific amount of attorney's fees, reserving judgment on this issue pending the presentation of a petition for attorney's fees.

Both Appellants and the Government timely appealed, raising a number of challenges to the district court's decision. On appeal, Appellants argue that "actual damages" are not required for recovery of the $1,000 statutory damage amount and that in the alternative, the district court correctly held that emotional distress counts as "actual damages." The Government argues, on the other hand, that "actual damages" are required, that such damages encompass only out-of-pocket or pecuniary harm, rather than non-pecuniary emotional distress, and that even if non-pecuniary emotional distress constitutes compensable "actual damages," no Appellant produced adequate evidence of such emotional distress to survive summary judgment.

The district court's grant of summary judgment is reviewed de novo. Providence Square Assoc. v. G.D.F., Inc., 211 F.3d 846, 850 (4th Cir. 2000) (stating that a district court's grant of summary judgment is reviewed de novo). After examining the text of the Privacy Act, we will first address the question of whether "actual damages" are a precondition to recovery of statutory minimum damages under the Act. We will then turn to the issues of whether sufficient evidence of "actual damages" to survive summary judgment was presented, the propriety of the district court's denial of Appellants' motion to amend the pleadings and offer supplemental evidence, the district court's denial of class certification, and the...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP