37 F.3d 535 (9th Cir. 1994), 92-35128, Chenault v. United States Postal Service

Docket Nº:92-35128.
Citation:37 F.3d 535
Party Name:Stanley CHENAULT, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:October 06, 1994
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Page 535

37 F.3d 535 (9th Cir. 1994)

Stanley CHENAULT, Plaintiff-Appellant,



No. 92-35128.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

October 6, 1994

Submitted Sept. 14, 1994[*]

Page 536

Glenn N. Solomon, Portland, OR, for plaintiff-appellant.

Michael S. Rabb, Deborah Ruth Kant and Marleigh D. Dover, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Washington, DC, Judith D. Kobbervig, Asst. U.S. Atty., Portland, OR, Alice L. Covington and Beth McGarry, U.S. Postal Service, San Bruno, CA, for defendant-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Oregon.

Before: ALDISERT [**], TANG and THOMPSON, Circuit Judges.

ALDISERT, Circuit Judge.

This appeal by Stanley Chenault from the district court's denial of his motion to amend his complaint and dismissal of his action after a two-day bench trial by a magistrate judge requires us to determine whether certain sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 may be applied retroactively. Specifically, we must examine Section 102, which provides for compensatory and punitive damages as well as a jury trial in employment discrimination cases, Section 107, which creates a new framework for analyzing mixed-motive discrimination claims, and Section 114(1), which extends the period for filing discrimination claims against the federal government from 30 days to 90 days, in light of Landgraf v. USI Film Prods., --- U.S. ----, 114 S.Ct. 1483, 128 L.Ed.2d 229 (1994) and Rivers v. Roadway Express, Inc., --- U.S. ----, 114 S.Ct. 1510, 128 L.Ed.2d 274 (1994). We conclude that none of the sections in question may be applied retroactively and therefore affirm the judgment of the district court.

The district court had jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Secs. 1331 and 1343, and 29 U.S.C. Sec. 794a(a)(1). We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1291. Appeal was timely filed under Rule 4(a) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure.


In August 1989, after exhausting his administrative remedies, Stanley Chenault brought suit against the United States Postal Service alleging that it constructively discharged him from his position as a distribution clerk and failed to provide him a reasonable accommodation for his handicap under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which forbids discrimination of government employees on the basis of a handicap. The district court dismissed Chenault's failure-to-accommodate claim as time-barred in February 1991 because he did not bring his action against the government within 30 days of the final administrative

Page 537

decision, as required by the statute in effect at the time. See 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000e-16(c) (1980). It also concluded that Chenault was not entitled to equitable tolling of the 30-day limitations period. 1 On November 7, 1991, while Chenault's constructive discharge claim was still pending, the Civil Rights Act of 1991 was signed into law effective immediately, significantly restructuring existing federal prohibitions against employment discrimination. In December 1991, shortly before his case was to go to trial, Chenault moved to amend his complaint based on the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. He argued that his failure-to-accommodate claim should be reinstated because he now had 90 days to file his complaint under Section 114(1) of the Act, that he was now entitled to compensatory damages in the amount of $300,000 and punitive damages in the amount of $50,000 under Section 102, and that the court was compelled to evaluate his claim of employment discrimination under the standard of review set forth in Section 107.

The district court denied Chenault's motion at a pretrial conference and ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1991 did not apply to his case because the action was pending when the Act became law. A magistrate judge conducted a two-day bench trial thereafter and ruled against Chenault on his remaining claims. The district court dismissed the action on December 20, 1991 and Chenault appealed from this final judgment, alleging that the court erred in concluding that Sections 102, 107 and 114 could not be applied to cases pending at the time of enactment. We entered an order removing the case from the oral argument calendar pending Supreme Court consideration of the retroactivity of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. In April 1994, the Court decided that Sections 101 and 102 of the Act do not apply to cases arising before November 21, 1991. Landgraf, --- U.S. ----, 114 S.Ct. 1483; Rivers, --- U.S. ----, 114 S.Ct. 1510.

Whether a statute may be applied retroactively is a question of law this court reviews de novo. United States v. Alpine Land & Reservoir Co., 878 F.2d 1217, 1222 (9th Cir.1989).


The Court held in Landgraf that Section 102 of the Act may not be applied retroactively, stating "congressional enactments and administrative rules will not be construed to have retroactive effect unless their language requires this result." --- U.S. at ----, 114 S.Ct. at 1500 (quoting Bowen v. Georgetown Univ. Hosp., 488 U.S. 204, 208, 109 S.Ct. 468, 471, 102 L.Ed.2d 493 (1988)). It held that "prospectivity remains the appropriate default rule" and that there can be no retroactive application unless their is "clear intent" by Congress. Id. at ----, 114 S.Ct. at 1501. The Court emphasized the "well-settled presumption against application of the class of new statutes that would have genuinely 'retroactive' effect." Id. at ----, 114 S.Ct. at 1503. To have a genuinely "retroactive" effect, the Court held that the newly enacted rule must "impair rights a party possessed when he acted, increase a party's liability for past conduct, or impose new duties with respect to transactions already completed." Id. at ----, 114 S.Ct. at 1505.

Had the Court ended its discussion at this point, our task would be simple: Because Congress did not express a "clear intent" to have any provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 apply retroactively, the Act in its entirety may not apply to cases pending at the time of its enactment. Indeed, this is the interpretation of some courts of appeals....

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