511 F.3d 461 (4th Cir. 2007), 06-2015, Doe v. Chao

Docket Nº:06-2015.
Citation:511 F.3d 461
Party Name:Buck DOE, Plaintiff-Appellee, and Robert Doe; Tays Doe; Otis Doe; Thomas Doe; Joe Doe; Charles Doe, Plaintiffs, v. Elaine L. CHAO, Secretary of Labor, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:December 28, 2007
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
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Page 461

511 F.3d 461 (4th Cir. 2007)

Buck DOE, Plaintiff-Appellee,

and

Robert Doe; Tays Doe; Otis Doe; Thomas Doe; Joe Doe; Charles Doe, Plaintiffs,

v.

Elaine L. CHAO, Secretary of Labor, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 06-2015.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit.

December 28, 2007

Argued: November 2, 2007.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia, at Big Stone Gap. Glen M. Williams, Senior District Judge. (2:97-cv-00043).

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Anthony Alan Yang, Appellate Staff, Civil Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

Joseph E. Wolfe, Wolfe, Williams & Rutherford, Norton, Virginia, for Appellee.

Peter D. Keisler, Assistant Attorney General, Washington, D.C.; John L. Brownlee, United States Attorney, Roanoke, Virginia; Michael Jay Singer, Appellate Staff, Civil Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

Before WILLIAMS, Chief Judge, and WILKINSON and MICHAEL, Circuit Judges.

Reversed by published opinion. Judge Wilkinson wrote the opinion, in which Chief Judge Williams and Judge Michael joined.

OPINION

WILKINSON, Circuit Judge:

This case has been appealed to us twice before. This time, we are asked to decide whether the district court's July 2006 award of attorneys' fees to Buck Doe under the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a(g)(4)(B), violated the mandate we issued the last time this case was before us. Because the district court's decision was directly contrary to the mandate of this court, we reverse.

I.

Because this is the court's third opinion in this case, see Doe v. Chao, 435 F.3d 492 (4th Cir. 2006); Doe v. Chao, 306 F.3d 170 (4th Cir. 2002), we must set forth briefly

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some procedural history. The series of cases leading to this appeal all trace back to a consent order entered against the Secretary of Labor in 1997. On February 13, 1997, Robert Doe, a black lung benefit claimant, filed suit against the Secretary under the Privacy Act, which prohibits, as a general matter, federal agencies from disclosing "any record" of an individual in an agency "system of records" without that individual's consent. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(b) (2000). The Secretary acknowledged that in reproducing Social Security numbers on multi-captioned hearing notices for black lung benefits claimants, the DOL had run afoul of the limits set by the Privacy Act. See 5 U.S.C. § 552a(b).

On February 20, 1997, the Secretary stipulated to a district court consent order in Robert Doe's case, requiring that the DOL stop using Social Security numbers on its multi-captioned hearing notices in black lung cases. That same day, six additional Doe plaintiffs - -including appellee Buck Doe (who was not a party to the consent order) - -filed six separate lawsuits in the Western District of Virginia, seeking both equitable relief and monetary damages under the Privacy Act. See Doe v. Chao, 346 F.Supp. 2d 840, 842-43 (W.D.Va. 2004) (summarizing the case history). On June 4, 1997, these six lawsuits were consolidated with Robert Doe's suit. The seven claimants continued to press for monetary damages and also sought certification of a class of every black lung benefit claimant who had applied for benefits since the passage of the Privacy Act.

Following entry of the consent order, the DOL undertook numerous steps to ensure compliance. However, some Social Security numbers, including that of Buck Doe, were inadvertently revealed. In January 1998, Buck Doe and other plaintiffs moved to hold the Secretary in civil contempt for violating the consent order. In May 1998, the district court denied the motion, and held that the Secretary had "substantially complied with [the earlier consent] order regarding the existence of social security numbers on multi-captioned hearing notices." In June 1998, the district court denied plaintiffs' motion to reconsider contempt sanctions. See Doe v. Chao, 346 F.Supp. 2d at 843.

In July 2000, on cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court denied class certification, and granted summary judgment in favor of the Secretary for all claimants except Buck Doe, to whom the district court granted summary judgment and awarded $1,000 in statutory damages. See Doe v. Herman, 2000 WL 34204432 (W.D.Va. July 24, 2000) ("Doe I"). Before any appellate proceedings began on Doe I, the three counsel who represented the Doe plaintiffs filed three separate motions in district court in September and October 2000 seeking attorneys' fees under the Privacy Act for work performed through September 12, 18, and 21, 2000.

On cross-appeals, this court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Secretary, but reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Buck Doe. Doe v. Chao, 306 F.3d 170, 185 (4th Cir. 2002) ("Doe II"). As to Buck Doe's claim, we remanded for entry of judgment in favor of the Secretary, on the grounds that the plain language of the Privacy Act precluded Buck Doe from recovering statutory damages because he (like all the other Doe plaintiffs) had not proven actual damages. Doe II, 306 F.3d at 184-85. The Supreme Court granted certiorari, and affirmed this court's judgment. Doe v. Chao, 540 U.S. 614, 124 S.Ct. 1204, 157 L.Ed.2d 1122 (2004) ("Doe III"). In April 2004, pursuant to remand from the Supreme Court, the district court entered judgment in favor

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of the Secretary on Buck Doe's claim for monetary damages.

In July 2004, after the Secretary prevailed in the Supreme Court, Buck Doe and the other plaintiffs moved for attorneys' fees and costs under both the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a(g)(4)(B) and the Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(b) (2000). Plaintiffs did not supplement the attorney time records that they had previously submitted with their original fee motions in September and October 2000.

In November 2004, the district court denied all plaintiffs' requests for fees under the EAJA, and denied fees under the Privacy Act to all plaintiffs except Buck Doe. Doe v. Chao, 346 F.Supp. 2d 840, 843-49 (W.D. Va. 2004) ("Doe IV"). Although the district court specifically denied Buck Doe's attorneys' fee request for work done on numerous "unrelated or unsuccessful claims," including Buck Doe's "motion to hold the Secretary in contempt," the district court awarded him $57,520.97 in attorneys' fees and costs under the Privacy Act for work performed "in prosecuting and defending the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment." Doe IV 346 F.Supp. 2d at 850.

The Secretary appealed the award of Privacy Act fees to Buck Doe, but Buck Doe did not appeal the denial of attorneys' fees for the contempt proceedings or under the EAJA. In January 2006, this court vacated the fee award on the grounds that "the district court failed to determine the reasonableness of Doe's attorney fee award in light of the fact that Doe recovered no damages." Doe v. Chao, 435 F.3d 492, 507 (4th Cir. 2006) ("Doe V"). Because Doe "failed to recover any monetary award," and because "his underlying litigation was largely unsuccessful," we noted that "it is unlikely that Doe may recover significant attorney fees." Doe V, 435 F.3d at 506. Noting that the district court was "in the best position" to determine a reasonable attorneys' fee, we remanded to the district court for reconsideration of its fee award, emphasizing that "the most critical factor in determining the reasonableness of a fee award is the degree of success obtained." Id.at 506 (quoting Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 114, 113 S.Ct. 566, 121 L.Ed.2d 494 (1992)).

On remand, the district court did not award any fees for the work performed by Buck Doe on the cross-motions for summary judgment. Doe v. Chao, No.2:97CV00043, 2006 WL 2038442, at *5 (W.D. Va. July 19, 2006) ("Doe VI"). However, the district court awarded Buck Doe $5,887.50 in attorneys' fees for work performed on the contempt motion, justifying its reversal of course on the grounds that the contempt motion "served an important public purpose." Id.(relying upon Mercer v. Duke Univ., 401 F.3d 199 (4th Cir. 2005)). The district court also, sua sponte and without explanation, awarded Buck Doe $10,000 for work performed on the appellate phase of the merits litigation. Doe VI, 2006 WL 2038442, at *5.

The Secretary now appeals the decision of the district court in Doe VI.

II.

The threshold question is whether the district court's July 2006 judgment in Doe VI violated the mandate of this court in Doe V. We review de novo whether a post-mandate judgment of the district court "contravenes the mandate rule, or whether the mandate has been 'scrupulously and fully carried out.' " S. Atlantic Ltd. P'ship of Tenn. v. Riese, 356 F.3d 576, 583 (4th Cir. 2004) (quoting 2A Fed. Proc., L.Ed. § 3:1016).

The mandate rule is a "more powerful version of the law of the case doctrine."

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Invention Submission Corp. v. Dudas, 413 F.3d 411, 414 (4th Cir. 2005); see also LaShawn A. v. Barry, 87 F.3d 1389, 1393 n.3 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (en banc). "Few legal...

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