Goodwin v. C.N.J., Inc.

Citation436 F.3d 44
Decision Date30 January 2006
Docket NumberNo. 04-2050.,04-2050.
PartiesErin GOODWIN, as Executrix of the Estate of Gary Lunnin, Plaintiff, Appellant, v. C.N.J., INC., d/b/a "Carpetmax of Whitman," et al., Defendants, Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit

Robert S. Wolfe and Robert Wolfe Associates, P.C., on brief, for appellant.

Paul J. Murphy, Kevin P. Sweeney, and Menard, Murphy & Walsh LLP, on brief, for appellees.

Before BOUDIN, Chief Judge, TORRUELLA and SELYA, Circuit Judges.

SELYA, Circuit Judge.

Gary Lunnin, an independent carpet installer, brought a claim under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12181-12189, against C.N.J., Inc., a retailer of commercial and residential carpeting, and two of its functionaries, Joseph Speredelozzi and Paul Phillips (collectively, C.N.J.). Lunnin alleged that C.N.J. had discriminated against him on the basis of a disability (i.e., his affliction with HIV) and sought both injunctive relief and pecuniary damages. Finding Lunnin's factual proffer inadequate, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

Lunnin took a timely appeal but died before it could be heard. His personal representative, Erin Goodwin (the Executrix), successfully moved for substitution as party plaintiff. See Fed. R.App. P. 43(a)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 25(a). The defendants now seek summary disposition on grounds of mootness and want of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Executrix opposes the motion. Since the case is fully briefed, we decide it after full consideration.

In the end, we conclude that the claim for injunctive relief is moot; that the district court lacked jurisdiction to hear and determine the claims for pecuniary damages; and that the ancillary prayer for attorneys' fees does not save the suit. Consequently, we dismiss the appeal in part and, as to what remains, affirm the judgment below.

I. Background

The facts germane to the disposition of this appeal are not in dispute.

At the dates relevant hereto, C.N.J. operated a retail carpet store in Whitman, Massachusetts. From time to time, it engaged the services of independent contractors to install carpeting purchased by its customers. Installers who wished to undertake such assignments would report on a daily basis to a warehouse adjacent to C.N.J.'s retail emporium. In the 2000-2001 time frame, Lunnin, initially as a subcontractor to an installer and subsequently as an installer in his own right, repaired to the warehouse in search of installation assignments. C.N.J.'s management and staff allegedly subjected him to discriminatory treatment directed at both his sexual orientation and his affliction with HIV.

Lunnin's retort was twofold. First, he began to ply his trade wholly independent of C.N.J. Second, he filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. He eventually withdrew that filing and, on October 24, 2002, brought a civil action in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. His complaint alleged causes of action under Title I and Title III of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12112, 12182, and a miscellany of state-law claims. Only the Title III claim is implicated by this appeal. With respect to that claim, Lunnin prayed for relief in the form of compensatory damages, punitive damages, an injunction, and attorneys' fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000a-3(b).

After discovery had taken place, Lunnin conceded that he was an independent contractor, not an employee of C.N.J., and voluntarily dismissed his Title I claim. The district court, in a bench decision, thereafter granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment with respect to the Title III claim. The court ruled that 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a) did not cover the alleged discrimination because the warehouse, which serviced only C.N.J.'s own needs and those of independent contractors catering to C.N.J., was not a "public accommodation" within the meaning of the statute. As an alternate ground, the court concluded that (i) Title III of the ADA did not authorize an award of damages and (ii) there was no live controversy sufficient to ground injunctive relief thereunder because Lunnin had indicated, during a deposition, that he had no intention of returning to C.N.J. to seek installation work. Finally, the court, as a matter of discretion, dismissed the state-law claims without prejudice. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3); see also Martinez v. Colon, 54 F.3d 980, 990-91 (1st Cir.1995). Judgment entered on May 14, 2004. This timely appeal followed.

In his appellate brief, Lunnin argued that he was entitled, at a minimum, to injunctive relief under Title III. He also argued that the remedial framework of Title III contemplates a damages remedy in the nature of restitution. Therefore, his Title III claim was neither moot nor beyond the compass of the district court's subject-matter jurisdiction.1 The defendants disagreed with all of these propositions. Following full briefing, Lunnin's death on April 3, 2005, the appointment of the Executrix, and the allowance of her motion to substitute, this appeal is now ripe for decision.

II. Analysis

We divide our substantive discussion into three segments. We deal first with the claim for injunctive relief, then with the claim for monetary damages, and, finally, with the claim for attorneys' fees.

A. Injunctive Relief

In addressing the claim for injunctive relief, we begin with bedrock: the general rule is that, in a federal court, justiciability requires the existence of an actual case or controversy. See U.S. Const. art. III, § 2, cl. 1; see also Cruz v. Farquharson, 252 F.3d 530, 533 (1st Cir.2001). The "case or controversy" requirement persists at all stages of the litigation and not merely at the time suit is instituted. See Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 125, 93 S.Ct. 705, 35 L.Ed.2d 147 (1973); see also Erwin Chemerinsky, Federal Jurisdiction 125-26 (4th ed.2003) (collecting cases). If events transpire following the taking of an appeal that make it impossible, for the court of appeals to provide effective relief, the matter is no longer justiciable. Matos v. Clinton Sch. Dist., 367 F.3d 68, 72 (1st Cir.2004).

Whether a plaintiff has a sufficient stake in the litigation is measured, at the commencement of an action, through the doctrine of standing. See U.S. Parole Comm'n v. Geraghty, 445 U.S. 388, 397, 100 S.Ct. 1202, 63 L.Ed.2d 479 (1980). Whether subsequent events have dissipated the plaintiff's interest is assessed through the prism of mootness. Becker v. FEC, 230 F.3d 381, 386 n. 3 (1st Cir.2000); Oakville Dev. Corp. v. FDIC, 986 F.2d 611, 613 (1st Cir.1993). A case becomes moot if, at some time after the institution of the action, the parties no longer have a legally cognizable stake in the outcome. Murphy v. Hunt, 455 U.S. 478, 481, 102 S.Ct. 1181, 71 L.Ed.2d 353 (1982) (per curiam). Thus, the first question we must confront is whether Lunnin's demise renders his flagship claim—his prayer for injunctive relief—moot.

In his original complaint, Lunnin requested "equitable relief in the form of an order directing the defendants to provide the plaintiff with future installation work under reasonable terms consistent with those given to other experienced carpet installers." That is injunctive relief, pure and simple. Title III of the ADA envisions such relief in an appropriate case. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 12188(a)(1), 2000a-3(a); see also Dudley v. Hannaford Bros. Co., 333 F.3d 299, 304 (1st Cir.2003).

The rub is that Lunnin, who is now deceased, cannot conceivably benefit from such an order. Neither can the Executrix, who is merely administering Lunnin's estate and not carrying on his business. Because Lunnin's death divests an injunction to bar future acts of discrimination of all utility, such an injunction cannot issue. After all, a federal court may not grant injunctive relief when, as in this case, intervening events have eliminated any reasonable anticipation that the aggrieved party will, in the future, be faced with a recurrence of the alleged harm. County of Los Angeles v. Davis, 440 U.S. 625, 631, 99 S.Ct. 1379, 59 L.Ed.2d 642 (1979); Metro-Goldwyn Mayer, Inc. v. 007 Safety Prods., Inc., 183 F.3d 10, 15 (1st Cir.1999).

In reaching this result, we do not break new ground. This branch of the mootness doctrine often has been invoked as a basis for dismissal when the court is faced with the death of a plaintiff who has requested injunctive relief peculiar to his situation. See, e.g., Hall v. Unum Life Ins. Co., 300 F.3d 1197, 1207 n. 5 (10th Cir.2002); Harrow v. Prudential Ins. Co., 279 F.3d 244, 249 (3d Cir.2002); Plumley v. Landmark Chev., Inc., 122 F.3d 308, 312 (5th Cir.1997). In concert with this impeccable line of authority, we hold that this aspect of the case is moot.

B. Monetary Damages

The plaintiff's complaint also included a demand for compensatory and punitive damages stemming from the alleged violation of Title III of the ADA. A finding of mootness with respect to a prayer for injunctive relief does not automatically render a companion claim for monetary damages moot. Typically, a substituted plaintiff, such as a decedent's personal representative, has a legally cognizable interest in the recovery of money damages owed to the decedent's estate. See Consol. Rail Corp. v. Darrone, 465 U.S. 624, 630, 104 S.Ct. 1248, 79 L.Ed.2d 568 (1984). Consequently, if Lunnin had a viable claim for compensatory or punitive damages arising out of the defendants' past conduct, that claim ordinarily would survive his death and Article III's "case or controversy" element would to that extent be satisfied. See Hall, 300 F.3d at 1207 n. 5; Harrow, 279 F.3d at 249.

It is against this backdrop that we appraise the viability of the Title III claim for money damages. That appraisal entails review of the summary judgment granted in favor of the defendants on the damages aspect of the Title III ...

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