Duggan v. Department of Air Force, 070815 FED5, 14-20575

Docket Nº:14-20575
Opinion Judge:PER CURIAM:
Judge Panel:Before BENAVIDES, SOUTHWICK, and COSTA, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:July 08, 2015
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

KENNETH SCOTT DUGGAN, Plaintiff-Appellant



No. 14-20575

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

July 8, 2015

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas USDC No. 4:11-CV-2556

Before BENAVIDES, SOUTHWICK, and COSTA, Circuit Judges.


Appellant Kenneth Duggan ("Duggan") appeals the district court's order dismissing his claims under the Privacy Act.1 For the reasons below, we AFFIRM.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Duggan's claims are founded on the following allegations. In early 2009, Duggan, then serving on active duty as a member of the Texas Air National Guard, alleges he was involved in an altercation with Master Sergeant Richard Franks ("Franks"), a non-commissioned officer, during which Franks threatened Duggan's life.2 Shortly thereafter, Duggan alleges he was unjustly found to have assaulted Franks, and as a result was placed on restricted duty, given menial tasks, and formally disciplined.3 Duggan then contacted United States Senators regarding his treatment.4

However, Duggan alleges that his punishment continued through the collaboration of authority figures with loyalty to Franks.5 As a result of allegedly unjust accusations by these individuals that Duggan took unauthorized leave, "[a]s of June 26, 2009, [Duggan] was asked to not return to the base, and began terminal leave through the end of his Title 10 activation orders."6 As part of this campaign to see Duggan removed from military service, Duggan alleges that, on July 12, 2009 and August 25, 2009, Major Vincent Gradney and Major Debora Krupa accessed Duggan's medical records, directed their alteration and ultimately disclosed those records to Duggan's military unit.7 Duggan ultimately separated from the Texas Air National Guard in September 2010.8

On July 11, 2011, Duggan filed his original complaint, asserting violations of the Privacy Act, 9 and on February 7, 2012, Duggan filed his first amended complaint, the live pleading at the time of the complained-of dismissal, in which he amended his Privacy Act claims and asserted additional claims falling under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA").10

On May 21, 2012, the district court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss Duggan's FTCA and Privacy Act claims pursuant to the Feres doctrine, under which certain tort claims of military service members are non-justiciable.11 Duggan subsequently appealed only the dismissal of the Privacy Act claims, 12 and this court granted the Defendants' motion to vacate in part the district court's order applying the Feres doctrine to the Privacy Act claim.13

On remand and motion of the Defendants, the district court dismissed Duggan's Privacy Act claim for failure to sufficiently allege actual damages within the requirements of the Privacy Act.14 Duggan timely appealed.15

II. Standard of Review and Relevant Law

This court reviews a district court's grant of a motion to dismiss de novo.16 To survive dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), all well-pleaded allegations "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)."17 "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice."18 "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face."19

The Privacy Act broadly regulates the executive branch's handling of the private information of individuals when it is contained within a system of records, 20 and specifically imposes consent requirements on the disclosure of such information, subject to several exceptions not relevant here.21 For claims of unauthorized disclosure, the Privacy Act provides for relief in the form of actual damages;22 however, such damages are limited to "proven pecuniary or economic harm, " to the exclusion of "damages for mental and emotional distress."23

III. Discussion

Duggan's amended complaint alleges that the Privacy Act violations directly led to certain injuries, including harm to his relationships with his military co-workers, emotional turmoil, extreme embarrassment, "severe mental anguish, " difficulty eating and sleeping, and paranoia.24 Later in his complaint, Duggan seeks a damages award "for the adverse effects and harm caused by the [Privacy Act violations], " but does not further expand on the types of injury previously attributed to those violations.25

Duggan also alleges generally attributable, pecuniary injuries, averring that Defendants' collective conduct caused him emotional injury resulting in a diagnosis of hypertension requiring medication, and lost income and other damages related to his termination from the military.26 We consider the arguments surrounding these injuries seriatim.

Regarding the specifically attributed injuries, the parties first dispute whether the Privacy Act encompasses claims for these non-pecuniary damages. In F.A.A. v. Cooper, the Supreme Court specifically considered the scope of "actual damages" in the civil remedies provision of the Privacy Act, and held that those remedies do not extend to "loss of reputation, shame, mortification, injury to the feelings and the like."27 Cooper squarely forecloses Duggan's recovery for these damages, and allegations thereof are insufficient to support the claim. Duggan's attempts to distinguish Cooper are unavailing.

Duggan's claim therefore relies on his allegations of pecuniary harm through income loss, which he broadly attributes to Defendants' "unlawful and improper conduct."28 There is no dispute that these alleged damages comprise "actual damages" recoverable...

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