Laningham v. U.S. Navy, 85-5281

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
Citation259 U.S.App. D.C. 115,813 F.2d 1236
Docket NumberNo. 85-5281,85-5281
Parties, 7 Fed.R.Serv.3d 453 Ross J. LANINGHAM, Appellant, v. UNITED STATES NAVY.
Decision Date17 March 1987

Page 1236

813 F.2d 1236
259 U.S.App.D.C. 115, 7 Fed.R.Serv.3d 453
Ross J. LANINGHAM, Appellant,
No. 85-5281.
United States Court of Appeals,
District of Columbia Circuit.
Argued March 19, 1986.
Decided March 17, 1987.

Page 1237

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (Civil Action No. 83-03238).

Thomas B. Shull, with whom Stephen C. Glassman, Washington, D.C., was on the brief, for appellant.

Stuart H. Newberger, Asst. U.S. Atty., with whom Joseph E. diGenova, U.S. Atty., Royce C. Lamberth and Michael J. Ryan, Asst. U.S. Attys., Washington, D.C., were on the brief, for appellee.

Before WALD, Chief Judge, and ROBINSON and BORK, Circuit Judges.



This appeal arises from a grant of summary judgment for the defendant, appellee here, the United States Navy. The plaintiff-appellant, Ross J. Laningham, sued pro se, alleging violations of his rights under the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. Sec. 552a (1982) and seeking damages under 5 U.S.C. Sec. 552a(g)(4) (1982). Laningham alleged that the Navy disclosed sensitive documents during a successful lawsuit by Laningham in the Claims Court, that those documents were irrelevant to the Claims Court action, that the Navy had willfully and intentionally disclosed the documents, and that the disclosure of the documents damaged the plaintiff. Because we find that appellant failed to present evidence sufficient to establish the existence of a genuine issue of material fact with respect to the Navy's intent in disclosing the documents, we affirm the decision of the district court.


In May of 1981, Laningham filed suit in the Claims Court to recover wrongfully terminated disability payments which he alleged were due to him as a result of an

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automobile accident. See Laningham v. United States, 2 Cl.Ct. 535 (1983). On November 2, 1981, the Navy sought leave to file out of time its motion for summary judgment, motion for leave to waive reproduction of the administrative record, and the administrative record. Record ("R.") 5, Attachment 1. The Claims Court granted the unopposed motion on November 3, 1981. Id., Attachment 3.

In responding to the Navy's motion for summary judgment in the Claims Court proceeding, Laningham submitted a letter from the Navy dated May 9, 1982, and a copy of an administrative decision issued by the Navy on April 21, 1982, both concerning the possibility of appellant's disability retirement. R. 19, Exhibits 1 & 2 to Exhibit C. Laningham argued in his reply that until the Navy had found him "unfit for duty" in those retirement disability proceedings, there could be no final administrative disposition of his disability claim in the Claims Court proceeding. Id., Exhibit C at 6-8.

In response to Laningham's submission of the letter and the April 1982 administrative decision, the Navy, on April 20, 1983, moved to supplement the administrative record by filing as "Exhibit G" a sealed copy of Laningham's current "Disability Evaluation System Record of Proceeding," R. 19, Exhibit D, which is "a certified copy of the administrative record compiled in the course of [Laningham's] reevaluation for disability retirement purposes since May 27, 1982." Laningham, 2 Cl.Ct. at 543 n. 8. The Navy explained the purpose of the motion as follows:

While it is defendant's position that the proceedings in plaintiff's case before the various boards of the Navy's Disability Evaluation System are irrelevant to determination of the issues in the present case, because the Court has been presented various documents from the record in connection with plaintiff's reply brief and other filings by the parties, it is felt that the Court should have the complete record.

R. 19, Exhibit D. Laningham opposed the Navy's motion to supplement the administrative record on the grounds that the records were irrelevant and that the "file is not in the public domain[,] contains personal information about the plaintiff [and] should only be released to the plaintiff himself pursuant to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act." R. 5, Attachment 6. The Navy filed a reply in which it again stated that the records were being submitted "because plaintiff, in its reply brief, had referred to and included in his appendix, correspondence relating to his ongoing and collateral appeals concerning disability retirement." Id., Attachment 7. In response to Laningham's claim that the file contained personal information, the Navy stated that it "knows of no rule which permits only those documents 'in the public domain' to be considered by the Court" and argued that the Freedom of Information Act was not relevant to its motion. Id.

At a subsequent hearing before the Claims Court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, the Navy again stated that its purpose in supplementing the record was to resolve any confusion concerning the retirement disability proceedings. R. 21, Exhibit A at 53. On May 12, 1983, the Claims Court granted, without explanation, the Navy's motion to supplement the administrative record and "allowed" the records to be filed. R. 5, Attachment 8. In its final decision in these proceedings, the Claims Court noted that it had permitted the Navy to supplement the record over Laningham's objection and stated: "Plaintiff's petition does not raise any issues concerning the proceedings recorded in Exhibit G. The court, however, has reviewed the exhibit thoroughly to determine whether a 'final disposition' had been effected in plaintiff's case." 2 Cl.Ct. at 543 n. 8.

On October 31, 1983, Laningham filed an action in the district court alleging that the Navy's disclosure of his disability records in the Claims Court proceedings violated his rights under the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C.

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Sec. 552a (1982), 1 and seeking damages pursuant to 5 U.S.C. Sec. 552a(g)(4) (1982). 2 On January 30, 1984, the Navy moved to dismiss, or in the alternative for summary judgment. The district court denied the motion for reasons not relevant here. See Laningham v. United States Navy, No. 83-3238 (D.D.C. Sept. 25, 1984). Laningham then moved for partial summary judgment on the issue of liability and the Navy cross-moved for summary judgment on the new ground that the Privacy Act did not create liability for emotional distress.

On December 26, 1984, the Navy filed a Supplemental Memorandum in Support of Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Supplemental Memorandum"), which in effect renewed its original summary judgment motion, on the ground that there had been no "willful" or "intentional" conduct by the Navy, and, therefore, no cause of action for damages accrued under 5 U.S.C. Sec. 552a(g)(4) (1982). In support the Navy filed a sworn statement by Beacham O. Brooker, Jr., the attorney who handled the government's litigation before the Claims Court and who therefore had direct responsibility for the disclosure that became the subject of this action. See Joint Appendix ("J.A.") at 33-37. Brooker's declaration stated that he "did not intentionally or willfully seek to violate ... the Privacy Act [or] ... to embarrass or harm Mr. Laningham," J.A. at 36, and explained his reasons for filing the administrative record in the Claims Court. Brooker asserted that the documents were disclosed (1) as standard Justice Department practice, id. at 34, (2) to rebut any mistaken impression created by Laningham's partial submissions from the same set of documents, id. at 35-36, and (3) to dispel any notion of improper conduct of administrative proceedings pendente lite. Id. at 36.

On January 7, 1985, Laningham opposed the filing and substance of the defendant's Supplemental Memorandum. R. 20. He argued, among other things, that the Navy should not be permitted to file the supplemental opposition out of time and that the declaration of Brooker is not relevant because the Navy, and not the Department of Justice, is the appropriate defendant in this case. Id., paragraphs 1, 2. He also argued that it is not standard practice to disclose the complete administrative record in cases in the Claims Court because there is no written requirement that the record be filed. He added that it could not be a standard practice to file the administrative record in this case "because plaintiff's case was the first and only case of its type." Id., p 5.

Finally, Laningham argued that the Navy knew or should have known that disclosure would violate his Privacy Act rights because it was on notice of a possible violation. R. 20, p 8. As support for this proposition, Laningham submitted a letter that he had written on April 25, 1983 (five days after the Navy moved to supplement the administrative record) to the Director of the Naval Council of Personnel Boards in which he stated that the Navy had violated the Privacy Act by mailing to his attorney the disability records which Laningham previously had requested pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act. 3

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Laningham also submitted a copy of the Navy's response in which it explained that it had sent the records to Laningham's attorney because it is required to send any documents filed by the United States in the Claims Court to opposing counsel. 4

On the same date that Laningham submitted his opposition, the district court issued its decision granting the Navy's motion for summary judgment, see Laningham v. U.S. Dep't of the Navy, No. 83-3238 (D.D.C. Jan. 7, 1985), on the ground "that in circumstances such as [those evidenced by Brooker's declaration,] the actions of the government[ ] cannot be characterized as 'intentional and willful.' " Mem. op. at 3. Appellant moved for reconsideration of the district court's order, R. 21, and supplemented the motion for reconsideration, R. 23. The district court denied the motion for reconsideration and this appeal followed.



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