Brown v. U.S., No. 81-2083

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
Writing for the CourtBefore ROBINSON, Chief Judge, and WRIGHT, TAMM, WILKEY, WALD, MIKVA, EDWARDS, GINSBURG, BORK, SCALIA, and STARR; J. SKELLY WRIGHT; BORK
Citation239 U.S. App. D.C. 345,742 F.2d 1498
Decision Date02 October 1984
Docket NumberNo. 81-2083
PartiesKenneth M. BROWN, Appellant, Riggie A. Lott and All Other Inmates That Have Been Subject to the Conditions in the Adjustment Unit v. UNITED STATES of America, et al.

Page 1498

742 F.2d 1498
239 U.S.App.D.C. 345
Kenneth M. BROWN, Appellant,
Riggie A. Lott and All Other Inmates That Have Been Subject
to the Conditions in the Adjustment Unit
v.
UNITED STATES of America, et al.
No. 81-2083.
United States Court of Appeals,
District of Columbia Circuit.
Argued En Banc Nov. 7, 1983.
Decided Sept. 4, 1984.
As Amended Oct. 2, 1984.

Page 1499

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (D.C. Civil Action No. 79-02809).

Anne Shere Wallwork, Washington, D.C. (appointed by this court), for appellant.

Edward E. Schwab, Asst. Corp. Counsel, Washington, D.C., with whom Charles L. Reischel, Deputy Corp. Counsel, Washington, D.C., was on the brief, for appellee Dist. of Columbia. Leo N. Gorman, Asst. Corp. Counsel, Washington, D.C., entered an appearance for appellee Dist. of Columbia.

Before ROBINSON, Chief Judge, and WRIGHT, TAMM, WILKEY, WALD, MIKVA, EDWARDS, GINSBURG, BORK, SCALIA, and STARR, Circuit Judges.

Opinion for the court filed by Circuit Judge J. SKELLY WRIGHT, in which Chief Judge SPOTTSWOOD W. ROBINSON III, and Circuit Judges WALD, MIKVA, HARRY T. EDWARDS, GINSBURG, and SCALIA join.

Dissenting opinion filed by Circuit Judge BORK, in which Circuit Judges TAMM, WILKEY and STARR join.

J. SKELLY WRIGHT, Circuit Judge:

On October 19, 1979, Yusaf Na'im Salahuddin (then known as Kenneth M. Brown), an inmate of the District of Columbia's reformatory at Lorton, Virginia, filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. The suit alleged that conditions in the reformatory's "Adjustment Unit," where the plaintiff had previously been incarcerated, had unconstitutionally deprived inmates of adequate food, clothing, sanitary conditions, cell space, and educational, religious, legal, and rehabilitative services, and had failed to protect them from physical assault by guards and other inmates. The suit originally sought declaratory and injunctive relief as well as damages, and it named as defendants a

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number of District of Columbia and federal officials and the District of Columbia itself. Here, we are concerned only with the claim seeking damages from the District of Columbia (the District). 1

The District Court, on September 2, 1981, granted a summary judgment motion filed by the District. The part of the District Court's order that concerns us is its holding that the notice of claims provision in the District of Columbia Code, 12 D.C.Code Sec. 309 (1981), applied to plaintiff's action for unliquidated damages against the District.

In relevant part, 12 D.C.Code Sec. 309 provides:

An action may not be maintained against the District of Columbia for unliquidated damages to person or property unless, within six months after the injury or damage was sustained, the claimant, his agent, or attorney has given notice in writing to the Commissioner [Mayor] of the District of Columbia of the approximate time, place, cause, and circumstances of the injury or damage. * * *

Because plaintiff had not filed any notice that would comply with 12 D.C.Code Sec. 309, the District Court granted summary judgment as to the damage action. Plaintiff appealed and argued that Section 309 did not apply to federal causes of action such as his constitutional tort action.

While the appeal was pending, a panel of this court decided McClam v. Barry, 697 F.2d 366 (D.C.Cir.1983), which held that Section 309's six-month notice of claims requirement does apply to federal damage actions against the District. In light of McClam, a panel of this court affirmed the District Court's grant of summary judgment with respect to the damage claims against the District, 704 F.2d 1293. On May 19, 1983, this court granted reconsideration en banc and vacated the judgment of the panel.

We now hold that McClam v. Barry was in error in holding that the six-month notice of claims provision of Section 309 applies to causes of action that, like this constitutional tort claim, 2 are creations of federal law.

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I. THE DECISION IN McClam v. Barry

To resolve the issue whether 12 D.C.Code Sec. 309 should apply to federal causes of action, the McClam court correctly focused its inquiry on two possible approaches. First, it asked whether Congress, when it enacted Section 309, meant for that section to apply to federal causes of action. 697 F.2d at 369. But it also realized that even if Congress had no such explicit intent the section might still be applicable to federal actions because federal law does at times borrow state legal provisions to complement federal law. Thus, as a second inquiry McClam asked whether application of Section 309 was "supported by the rationale of the rule * * * requiring application of local statutes of limitations to claims based on federal laws that specify no limitations period." Id. at 370.

We agree that these inquiries are the proper ones. That we make two inquiries reflects the existence of two available rationales that could justify applying Section 309 to federal causes of action: First, that Congress may have intended Section 309 itself to alter the normal rules applicable to federal causes of action, and second, that those normal rules themselves may take account of Section 309 just as they take account of certain other provisions of local law.

The first inquiry thus rests entirely on a rationale of actual congressional intent: Congress, the author of national legislation, may at times intend that its District of Columbia legislation modify national policies with respect to the District of Columbia. The second inquiry begins with an alternative view of congressional intent: Congress, which is constitutionally responsible for providing a comprehensive body of local law for the governance of the District of Columbia, may see itself as passing local legislation akin to that which any other local legislature might pass. The rationale for applying the provision then rests on established judicial practices concerning when state or local provisions of law should be used as rules of federal law. This approach is in part a judicial positing of congressional intent and in part an examination of the provision's role in state and local law. For example, the rule that federal law borrows from local law when there is no federal statute of limitations in part "rests on deference to the local balancing of interests embodied in statutes of limitations--a balancing of the interest in allowing the prosecution of valid claims against the interest in preventing the prosecution of claims that, because of delay, cannot be fairly litigated." Id. at 370 (citing Board of Regents v. Tomanio, 446 U.S. 478, 487, 100 S.Ct. 1790, 1796, 64 L.Ed.2d 440 (1980); Johnson v. Railway Express Agency, 421 U.S. 454, 464, 95 S.Ct. 1716, 1722, 44 L.Ed.2d 295 (1975) ).

The McClam court apparently concluded that either of the two inquiries would justify the applicability of Section 309 to federal actions. In answer to the first, it concluded that "the D.C.Code provision was an intentional limitation [by Congress] on the right to bring even federal causes of action for damages against the District of Columbia." 697 F.2d at 369. In answer to the second, McClam concluded that "[t]he same balancing of interests lies behind the D.C.Code notice provision" as lies behind traditional state statutes of limitations, id. at 370, and that Section 309 should thus be borrowed so that federal law as applied in the District of Columbia would reflect that local balance.

While we agree that McClam made the right inquiries, we disagree with each of its answers.

II. CONGRESSIONAL INTENT AND 12 D.C.CODE Sec. 309

12 D.C.Code Sec. 309 was enacted by Congress in 1933, at least partially in response to this court's en banc decision and recommendation in District of Columbia v. Leys, 63 F.2d 646, 648 (D.C.Cir.1932) (on rehearing), cert. denied, 289 U.S. 756, 53 S.Ct. 787, 77 L.Ed. 1500 (1933). See Pub.L. No. 72-385, 47 STAT. 1370 (1933). The language and purposes of the statute were broad. As McClam points out, the language contains no limitations regarding the types of

Page 1502

actions covered. 697 F.2d at 369. Similarly, the Act's stated purposes--to provide the District an opportunity to investigate claims when all evidence is still fresh, to allow the District to seek out early settlement of meritorious claims, and generally to protect the District's revenues from unreasonable suits--would certainly be fulfilled all the more by giving the Act as broad a reading as its language would allow. See id. See generally H.R.REP. NO. 2010, 72d Cong., 2d Sess. (1933) (describing purposes of Act). We do not, however, find these factors conclusive; other factors argue for a narrower view.

Nothing in the history of the Act indicates that Congress ever considered the question whether the Act should apply to federal actions. The Leys opinion, which urged the Act's passage, concerned a "garden variety" tort suit against the city; the plaintiff had slipped on a defective sidewalk and brought suit long after the event. Similarly, the report accompanying the bill described the problem to be rectified as that of "[n]umerous instances * * * in which notice of injury as a result of alleged defective sidewalks, or other conditions, were brought to the [city's] attention * * * by a filing of a suit for damages more than two years after the alleged injury occurred." H.R.REP. NO. 2010, supra, at 1. The conclusion that Congress was motivated by the municipality's potential liability for everyday torts is strengthened by the fact that a provision was added which allowed written Metropolitan Police reports to fulfill the notice requirement of the Act. Such reports would have been commonly associated with street accidents and similar events.

None of this discussion is meant to imply that the scope of Section 309 should be limited to the sorts of "garden variety" negligence actions described above....

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99 practice notes
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    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • January 28, 2005
    ...353 F.3d 36, 38 (D.C.Cir.2004). The District of Columbia is a municipality for the purpose of § 1983. See Brown v. United States, 742 F.2d 1498, 1500 n. 2 (D.C.Cir.1984) (en banc). The action of an official with final decision-making authority in a particular area can amount to a municipal ......
  • Haynesworth v. Miller, Nos. 79-1244
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • May 29, 1987
    ...right to sue should mirror the express statutory cause of action to the fullest extent possible. See Brown v. United States, 239 U.S.App.D.C. 345, 347 n. 2, 742 F.2d 1498, 1500 n. 2 (en banc 1984), cert. denied, 471 U.S. 1073, 105 S.Ct. 2153, 85 L.Ed.2d 509 (1985) (case for assimilation of ......
  • Jaiyeola v. Dist. of Columbia, No. 10–CV–578.
    • United States
    • District of Columbia Court of Appeals of Columbia District
    • March 29, 2012
    ...provision is not a deficiency requiring the importation of such statutes into the federal civil rights scheme”); Brown v. United States, 742 F.2d 1498, 1509–10 (D.C.Cir.1984) (en banc) (holding that noncompliance with § 12–309 does not bar prisoner's constitutional tort claim against the Di......
  • J.S. v. Isle of Wight County School Bd., No. 03-2446.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • March 30, 2005
    ...it does not supply the complete legal framework necessary to the fair adjudication of federal causes of action." Brown v. United States, 742 F.2d 1498, 1503 (D.C.Cir.1984) (en banc). More precisely, "[a]lthough federal law may establish rights,... federal law does not always include the pro......
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98 cases
  • People for Ethical Treat. of Animals v. Gittens, No. 02-7106.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • January 28, 2005
    ...353 F.3d 36, 38 (D.C.Cir.2004). The District of Columbia is a municipality for the purpose of § 1983. See Brown v. United States, 742 F.2d 1498, 1500 n. 2 (D.C.Cir.1984) (en banc). The action of an official with final decision-making authority in a particular area can amount to a municipal ......
  • Haynesworth v. Miller, Nos. 79-1244
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • May 29, 1987
    ...right to sue should mirror the express statutory cause of action to the fullest extent possible. See Brown v. United States, 239 U.S.App.D.C. 345, 347 n. 2, 742 F.2d 1498, 1500 n. 2 (en banc 1984), cert. denied, 471 U.S. 1073, 105 S.Ct. 2153, 85 L.Ed.2d 509 (1985) (case for assimilation of ......
  • Jaiyeola v. Dist. of Columbia, No. 10–CV–578.
    • United States
    • District of Columbia Court of Appeals of Columbia District
    • March 29, 2012
    ...provision is not a deficiency requiring the importation of such statutes into the federal civil rights scheme”); Brown v. United States, 742 F.2d 1498, 1509–10 (D.C.Cir.1984) (en banc) (holding that noncompliance with § 12–309 does not bar prisoner's constitutional tort claim against the Di......
  • J.S. v. Isle of Wight County School Bd., No. 03-2446.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • March 30, 2005
    ...it does not supply the complete legal framework necessary to the fair adjudication of federal causes of action." Brown v. United States, 742 F.2d 1498, 1503 (D.C.Cir.1984) (en banc). More precisely, "[a]lthough federal law may establish rights,... federal law does not always include the pro......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
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    • Environmental justice: legal theory and practice. 4th edition
    • February 20, 2018
    ...grounds by [ Rowland v. Washtenaw Co. Rd. Comm , 477 Mich. 197, 213, 222-23; 731 N.W.2d 41 (2007)]; see also Brown v. United States , 239 U.S. App. D.C. 345, 362; 742 F.2d 1498 (1984) (en banc) (Bork, J., dissenting) (“Like statutes of limitations, notice-of-claims provisions go primarily t......

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