Thomas v. Barry, 82-1920

Decision Date02 March 1984
Docket NumberNo. 82-1920,82-1920
Citation729 F.2d 1469
PartiesCarolyn THOMAS, et al., Appellants v. Marion BARRY, et al.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (D.C.Civil Action No. 80-03215).

Ralph J. Temple, with whom Jack I. Heller, Washington, D.C., was on the brief, for appellants.

Charles L. Reischel, Deputy Corp. Counsel, D.C., with whom Judith W. Rogers, Corp. Counsel, D.C., and John H. Suda, Asst. Corp. Counsel, D.C., Washington, D.C., were on the brief, for appellees Barry and Donaldson.

Robert C. Seldon, Asst. U.S. Atty., Washington, D.C., with whom Stanley S. Harris U.S. Atty., Washington, D.C., at the time the brief was filed, Royce C. Lamberth, R. Craig Lawrence, and Michael J. Ryan, Asst. U.S. Attys., Washington, D.C., were on the brief, for Federal appellees.

Before WALD and SCALIA, Circuit Judges, and BAZELON, Senior Circuit Judge.

Opinion for the Court filed by BAZELON, Senior Circuit Judge.

BAZELON, Senior Circuit Judge:

Appellants challenge their transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor to the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services. They seek an injunction which either would reinstate them to the federal competitive service or would grant them identical rights, benefits, and privileges. The district court dismissed their action holding: (1) that federal jurisdiction was lacking; and (2) that the employees had no entitlement to federal civil service benefits. 1 We reverse the district court's jurisdictional holding but affirm its dismissal on the substantive issue.


This appeal arises from a district court order, on cross-motions for summary judgment, dismissing a class action suit on behalf of approximately 250 former employees of the United States Department of Labor (DOL). The suit against both federal and District of Columbia officials challenges appellants' transfer from the federal to the District government under section 204 of the District of Columbia Self-Government and Governmental Reorganization Act (the Home Rule Act). 2

The Home Rule Act called for a multi-stage transfer of operations from the federal to the District government. Pursuant to the Act, all local functions, records, and funds of the DOL's District of Columbia Manpower Administration (DCMA) were transferred to the District of Columbia on July 1, 1974. Those affected were career employees in the United States competitive service. In January 1975, the District of Columbia functions were transferred to an elected Mayor and District Council. The Home Rule Act required the Council to enact its own personnel system no sooner than one year but no later than five years after the Act took effect. 3 It is uncontested that the former DOL employees retained their civil service rights prior to the enactment of the new personnel system. 4 The dispute concerns the appellants' status subsequent to the Council's enactment of the new system.

The District's new personnel law took effect on January 1, 1980. 5 On August 29, 1980, the President sent his report to Congress proposing a 9.1 percent pay raise to federal competitive service employees. 6 One month later, the District of Columbia Mayor sent the Council a proposed 5 percent pay increase for District employees. On December 17, 1980, aware that they would receive the smaller District pay increase, the former DOL employees filed suit.

A. 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1364

Appellants claim that this case, brought under the Home Rule Act, is within this court's federal question jurisdiction. 7 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1364, however, excludes all laws "applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia" 8 from the body of federal law. The district court held that the Home Rule Act applied exclusively to the District of Columbia and consequently could not provide the basis for the exercise of federal question jurisdiction. We cannot agree.

Although the Home Rule Act does apply to the District of Columbia, it does not do so exclusively. Many of the Act's sections apply directly to the federal not the District government. Section 204(a) of the Act, for example, transfers certain functions from the United States Secretary of Labor to the District of Columbia Commissioner, while prescribing the type of relationship the Secretary is to maintain with the Commissioner. 9 Subsection (d) of section 204 transfers certain functions away from the Secretary of Labor and the Director of Apprenticeship, another federal official, and abolishes the latter position entirely within the federal system. 10 Other sections of the Act similarly allocate functions between the federal and District governments. 11

The Home Rule Act is thus a hybrid statute. Its impact extends beyond the narrow sphere of the District of Columbia to various federal employees and to the actual structure of the Department of Labor. In Key v. Doyle, 434 U.S. 59, 98 S.Ct. 280, 54 L.Ed.2d 238 (1977), the Supreme Court equated exclusively local provisions of the D.C.Code to laws "enacted by state and local governments having plenary power to legislate for the general welfare of their citizens." 12 Section 204 of the Home Rule Act is not such a provision. A state or local statute cannot direct the federal government to affect transfers or to abolish positions altering its structure in the manner required by section 204.

B. Abstention

Appellees claimed and the district court held that the doctrine of abstention should be applied in this case. Federal courts may abstain from exercising jurisdiction where important issues of state and local policy are at stake. 13 We decline to do so in this case. 14 The Supreme Court has held:

Abstention from the exercise of federal jurisdiction is the exception, not the rule. "The doctrine ... is an extraordinary and narrow exception to the duty of a District Court to adjudicate a controversy properly before it." 15

The presumption against abstention has special relevance here. "This court has never precisely defined the extent to which the policy of allowing state courts to decide unsettled issues of state law applies to that unique jurisdiction, the District of Columbia." 16

The issues in this case, moreover, are by no means limited to local District of Columbia policy. Federal rights are implicated which are appropriate for resolution in a federal forum. 17 This also counsels against abstention in the instant appeal.

A. The Statutory Basis

Appellants claim that sections 204(g) and 713(d) of the Home Rule Act entitle them to continuing status as federal competitive service employees. 18 Section 204 created a local agency providing the District of Columbia with its own public employment service. Subsection (g) specifies that employees transferred pursuant to this section shall retain the competitive service rights they held prior to the transfer. 19 Section 713 is concerned with the transfer of personnel, property, and funds. Subsection (d) provides that employees being transferred shall not by reason of the transfer be deprived of the civil service rights, benefits, and privileges they held prior to the transfer. In addition, section 422(3) states that the new District of Columbia personnel system shall provide to the employees benefits at least equal to those which they enjoyed immediately prior to the enactment of the new system. 20 The legislative history of the Home Rule Act as well as the statutory language and history, however, indicate that appellants are not entitled to the relief they seek.

B. The Legislative History of the Home Rule Act

In 1970, Congress established the Nelson Commission to study the organization of the government of the District of Columbia. 21 Its report, issued in August, 1972, recommended the transfer of various federal agencies to the District government along with a "transfer of those purely local functions of the District of Columbia Manpower Administration." 22 The Commission explained:

DCMA carries out programs and activities which are normally state and local functions. A general principle of organization adopted by the Commission is that programs which are predominantly for the benefit of District citizens should be an integral part of the District Government, so that the District can exercise the necessary leadership and assure coordination of basic services. 23

Recommendations were also made with respect to the District's personnel administration. The Commission found that "the District's personnel management lacks unity and firm central direction. At least 14 classification and/or pay systems and 6 retirement systems are in effect...." 24 It called for the "creation of a new District personnel and management system, largely municipal in character and covering as many District employees as possible." 25 The following year, Congress began work on what became the Home Rule Act. 26

Congress ultimately agreed with the Nelson Commission that the District should have an autonomous personnel system. It required, however, that the local District Government rather than the Congress devise the new system. 27 It intended that "[t]he local Council, not the Congress, would be required to settle pay and labor disputes...." 28 It is against this legislative backdrop that we construe sections 204(g), 713(d), and 422(3) of the Home Rule Act.

C. Retention of Civil Service Benefits During the Transfer Period

No question exists that the former DOL employees were to retain their competitive service benefits until such time as the District of Columbia implemented its own personnel system. The summary of the Home Rule Act prepared by the Committee on the District of Columbia explains:

[T]he Act clarifies and guarantees that an employee will not lose his civil service rights, such as leave, salary, retirement, veteran's preference,...

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