Union of Needletrades, Industrial v. U.S. I.N.S., No. 00 CIV.2417.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
Writing for the CourtMarrero
Citation202 F.Supp.2d 265
Docket NumberNo. 00 CIV.2417.
Decision Date24 May 2002
PartiesUNION OF NEEDLETRADES, INDUSTRIAL AND TEXTILE EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO, CLC, Plaintiffs, v. UNITED STATES IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICE Defendants.
202 F.Supp.2d 265
UNION OF NEEDLETRADES, INDUSTRIAL AND TEXTILE EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO, CLC, Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICE Defendants.
No. 00 CIV.2417.
United States District Court, S.D. New York.
May 24, 2002.

Page 266

Allison Rosenberg, Muzaffar A. Chishti, Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, Immigration Project, New York, NY, Ranjana Natarajan, Washington Square Legal Services, Inc., New York, NY, for plaintiff.

Edward Scarvalone, U.S. Attorney's Office, S.D.N.Y., New York, NY, for defendant.

Page 267

DECISION AND ORDER

MARRERO, District Judge.


Plaintiff Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, AFL-CIO, CLC ("UNITE") brought this action pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552 ("FOIA") seeking an order directing defendant United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (the "INS") to comply with UNITE's FOIA request for disclosure of certain documents. Several months after UNITE's commencement of this action, the INS released most of the documents at issue. The parties thereafter resolved between them the disclosure of additional material and the Court conditionally discontinued the case. UNITE thereafter sought to reopen the matter to address its request for attorney's fees, which the INS refused to settle. UNITE argues that, under FOIA, it is entitled to collect such fees from the INS under the circumstances present in this case. For the reasons discussed below, the Court denies UNITE's request.

FACTS

UNITE asserts that this litigation and the FOIA request upon which it is based are part of UNITE's response to the INS's policy of conducting workplace raids in search of illegal immigrants. According to UNITE, its union members and other immigrant workers have reported abuses against suspected aliens, and other forms of unlawful practices by INS officers during such raids. To protect its members' rights, defend those arrested and ensure the INS's compliance with laws and procedures governing such practices, UNITE sought information from the INS following workplace raids. UNITE contends that the INS relies on explicit ethnic and racial considerations in selecting sites. On occasions when the INS has not voluntarily released requested documents, UNITE has demanded them pursuant to FOIA.

The raid that gave rise to the case at hand occurred at Poly Pak Industries Inc. ("Poly Pak"), a UNITE garment factory, on November 16, 1998. By letter dated May 5, 1999, UNITE requested that the INS release all documents in its possession relating to the Poly Pak raid. On August 18, 1999, the INS denied the request. It contended that rejection was justified pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(A) on the ground that the INS was then conducting an investigation of Poly Pak preliminary to enforcement proceedings. This decision, on UNITE's appeal, was affirmed on September 16, 1999 by the Office of Information and Privacy of the United States Department of Justice. UNITE commenced action in this Court on March 30, 2000 seeking an order to compel the INS to comply with UNITE's FOIA request. On August 31, 2002, coinciding with what the INS asserts was the conclusion of its enforcement action against Poly Pak, the INS responded to UNITE by releasing a substantial number of documents in full— over thirteen hundred pages by UNITE's account—but redacting some and withholding others, in this connection asserting exemptions pursuant to 5 U.S.C. §§ 552(b)(5), 552(b)(7)(c) and 552(b)(7)(E).

The INS answered UNITE's complaint on September 11, 2000. For several months thereafter the parties negotiated the sufficiency of the INS's responses. These discussions prompted the INS to release five additional pages of documents on April 17, 2001. At that point, the parties informed the Court that the substantive issues in dispute had been resolved and that only the matter of attorney's fees remained unsettled and under continuing discussions. Accordingly, the Court directed that the case be conditionally discontinued, subject to its being reopened

Page 268

upon UNITE's application in the event settlement was not effectuated within sixty days.

At a conference with the Court held on June 29, 2001 the parties reported having reached an impasse concerning the counsel fees issue. The INS then argued that, as a matter of law, UNITE was not entitled to recover attorney's fees from the INS by reason of the recent Supreme Court decision in Buckhannon Board and Care Home, Inc. v. West Virginia Dep't of Health and Human Resources, 532 U.S. 598, 121 S.Ct. 1835, 149 L.Ed.2d 855 (2001). The Court requested supplemental briefs from both parties addressing the applicability of Buckhannon to the circumstances at hand. In its responsive papers, UNITE argues that Buckhannon is inapposite. The INS counters that Buckhannon does apply, and that regardless, UNITE cannot recover fees because it cannot establish the requisite causal relationship between the commencement of its lawsuit and the INS's production of documents. The INS also claims that its initial rejection of UNITE's request was legally permissible under FOIA's exemptions.

BACKGROUND

Interpreting a statute, ordinarily a rigorous challenge in itself, is uniquely delicate when the task requires the court to march to the beats of different drummers. For a federal district court, the first note to be heard is that of Congress, which conceives and enacts the law. Ordinarily, Congress' meaning and purpose, as conveyed by the plain words of the statute on its face, should be controlling. Not always, however, is legislation written in living colors; so at times its intent must be gleaned from the meaning of words drawn in chiaroscuros.

Beyond congressional expressions are the relevant interpretations of the Supreme Court. Its mandate may take various forms— as decisions precisely on point, as analogous holdings, as germane dictum where all else fails, or as combinations of these sources. Next in order is the governing doctrine of the Circuit Court. Adherence to an appellate court ruling may pose especially sensitive issues in cases where a pertinent opinion of the Supreme Court, even if expressed as arguable dictum, may throw the Particular Court of Appeals statutory interpretation into question.

Underlying these higher legislative and judicial pronouncements, whether present or absent, the court always owes a measure of independent fealty to its own reading of the plain meaning of words used in the statutes, as well as to the inexorable logic that other sources— history, precedent, semantics, logic, reason— together compel as the intended course of the law. This case presents the interplay of these intricacies, which the Court confronts below.

DISCUSSION

A. FEE-SHIFTING STATUTES

A starting point for consideration of a litigant's claim of entitlement to recover attorney's fees is the "American Rule." As articulated by the Supreme Court, the rule holds that "the prevailing litigant is ordinarily not entitled to collect a reasonable attorney's fee from the loser." Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. v. Wilderness Soc'y, 421 U.S. 240, 247, 95 S.Ct. 1612, 44 L.Ed.2d 141 (1975); see also Ruckelshaus v. Sierra Club, 463 U.S. 680, 683-84, 103 S.Ct. 3274, 77 L.Ed.2d 938 (1983); Buckhannon, 532 U.S. at 602, 121 S.Ct. 1835. In applying this doctrine, the Supreme Court has followed "a general practice of not awarding fees to a prevailing party absent explicit statutory authority."

Page 269

Buckhannon, 532 U.S. at 602, 121 S.Ct. 1835 (quoting Key Tronic Corp. v. United States, 511 U.S. 809, 819, 114 S.Ct. 1960, 128 L.Ed.2d 797 (1994)).

As exceptions to the American Rule, Congress has enacted over 150 statutes containing "fee-shifting" provisions that authorize courts to award attorney's fees to one of the litigants. See Ruckelshaus, 463 U.S. at 684, 103 S.Ct. 3274. But the wording of these provisions is not uniform. Rather, in conferring such authority, Congress has employed several formulations according to varying circumstances and with differing scopes of judicial latitude. See Alyeska Pipeline, 421 U.S. at 262, 95 S.Ct. 1612.

In some statutes the award of counsel fees is mandatory if the plaintiff "finally prevails." See, e.g., 7 U.S.C. § 18(f) (the Commodity Exchange Act) ("If the petitioner finally prevails, he shall be allowed a reasonable attorney's fee . .. ."); 7 U.S.C. § 210(f) (Packers and Stockyards Act); 7 U.S.C. § 499(g)(b) (Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act).

Under the statutes at issue in Buckhannon—the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (the "ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the Fair Housing Amendment of 1988 (the "FHAA"), 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq.—as well under several other laws on which similar provisions were modeled,1 the phrase Congress employs in the fee-shifting provision is "prevailing party." Consequently, the courts' authority is discretionary. See, e.g., 42 U.S.C. § 3613(c)(2) (the "FHAA") ("[T]he court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party ... a reasonable attorney's fee and costs"); 42 U.S.C. § 12205 (the "ADA") ("[T]he court ..., in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party ... a reasonable attorney's fee, including litigation expenses, and costs").2

In other statutes, such as FOIA, the feeshifting exception is limited to parties who "substantially prevailed." See FOIA, 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(E) ("The court may assess against the United States reasonable attorney fees and other litigation costs reasonably incurred in any case under this section in which the complainant has substantially prevailed."); see also 5 U.S.C. §§ 552a(g)(2)(B) (Privacy Act); 5 U.S.C. § 552b(i) (the "Government in the Sunshine Act"); 15 U.S.C. § 16 (Clayton Act)3 ; 16 U.S.C. § 470w-4 (National Historic Preservation Act); 42 U.S.C. § 11113 (Health Care Quality Improvement Act); 42 U.S.C. § 300aa-31(c) (National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program).

In a permutation combining the...

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11 practice notes
  • Union of Needletrades v. U.S. I.N.S., Docket No. 02-6188.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • July 16, 2003
    ...UNITE's request for an award of attorney's fees. See Union of Needletrades, Indus. and Textile Employers, AFL-CIO, CLC v. I.N.S., 202 F.Supp.2d 265 (S.D.N.Y.2002). This timely appeal followed. DISCUSSION I. Standard of Review We generally review a district court's award of attorney's fees f......
  • Loggerhead Turtle v. County Council of Volusia, No. 01-12164.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit
    • September 30, 2002
    ...based on the particular statutory context in which it appears"), and Union of Needletrades, Indus. & Textile Employers v. INS, 202 F.Supp.2d 265, 281 (S.D.N.Y.2002) ("[T]here is no basis to hold that a theory ... so roundly dispatched and unequivocally discarded as applied in one set of sta......
  • Bath Petroleum Storage, Inc. v. Sovas, No. 98-CV-347.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of New York
    • March 19, 2004
    ...section of the regulation, it is necessary to assign this savings clause a different meaning. Union of Needletrades v. U.S. I.N.S., 202 F.Supp.2d 265, 271 (S.D.N.Y.2002) ("Courts... are obliged to give effect to every clause and word of a statute and to avoid reading legislation in a way th......
  • Doe v. Chao, No. CIV.A.2:97 CV 43.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Virginia)
    • November 10, 2004
    ...application despite textual variations in the statutes. See Union of Needletrades, Indus. and Textile Employers, AFL-CIO, CLC v. INS, 202 F.Supp.2d 265, 270 (S.D.N.Y.2002). This question introduces the interplay of several canons of statutory interpretation. First, absent unambiguous contra......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
12 cases
  • Union of Needletrades v. U.S. I.N.S., Docket No. 02-6188.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • July 16, 2003
    ...UNITE's request for an award of attorney's fees. See Union of Needletrades, Indus. and Textile Employers, AFL-CIO, CLC v. I.N.S., 202 F.Supp.2d 265 (S.D.N.Y.2002). This timely appeal followed. DISCUSSION I. Standard of Review We generally review a district court's award of attorney's fees f......
  • Loggerhead Turtle v. County Council of Volusia, No. 01-12164.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit
    • September 30, 2002
    ...based on the particular statutory context in which it appears"), and Union of Needletrades, Indus. & Textile Employers v. INS, 202 F.Supp.2d 265, 281 (S.D.N.Y.2002) ("[T]here is no basis to hold that a theory ... so roundly dispatched and unequivocally discarded as applied in one set of sta......
  • Bath Petroleum Storage, Inc. v. Sovas, No. 98-CV-347.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of New York
    • March 19, 2004
    ...section of the regulation, it is necessary to assign this savings clause a different meaning. Union of Needletrades v. U.S. I.N.S., 202 F.Supp.2d 265, 271 (S.D.N.Y.2002) ("Courts... are obliged to give effect to every clause and word of a statute and to avoid reading legislation in a way th......
  • Doe v. Chao, No. CIV.A.2:97 CV 43.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Virginia)
    • November 10, 2004
    ...application despite textual variations in the statutes. See Union of Needletrades, Indus. and Textile Employers, AFL-CIO, CLC v. INS, 202 F.Supp.2d 265, 270 (S.D.N.Y.2002). This question introduces the interplay of several canons of statutory interpretation. First, absent unambiguous contra......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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