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Trout v. Winter

December 15, 2006

YVONNE TROUT, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DONALD C. WINTER,*FN1 SECRETARY OF THE NAVY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman United States District Judge

OPINION

The relevant facts and procedural history of this lengthy class action Title VII lawsuit have been set forth in many previous opinions, most recently by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Trout v. Sec'y of the Navy, 317 F.3d 286, 288-89 (D.C. Cir.), cert. denied, 540 U.S. 981 (2003). To summarize briefly, the issue now before the Court for resolution is whether plaintiffs are entitled to prejudgment interest under Section 114(2) of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 on their award of backpay and attorneys' fees for periods prior to the effective date of the Act. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(d). On July 17, 2001, this Court entered a Final Judgment [666] awarding the plaintiffs $8,627,276.40 in interest on the backpay previously awarded, and $1,477,020.90 in interest on attorneys' fees. The defendants appealed.

On January 31, 2003, the court of appeals reversed, holding that the defendants could not be ordered to pay prejudgment interest on backpay and attorneys' fees for periods prior to November 21, 1991, when Section 114(2) of the Civil Rights Act became effective. See Trout v. Sec'y of the Navy, 317 F.3d at 287-88, 290-91. Furthermore, because defendants had paid interim attorneys' fees to counsel for plaintiffs that was attributable to litigation of the prejudgment interest issue -- the issue on which plaintiffs ultimately lost in the court of appeals --the appellate court remanded to this Court for a "final determination of the costs and fees owed to the Trout class." See id. at 293. After remand, the defendants filed a Motion [673] for Final Determination of Attorneys' Fees and Costs Owed to the Plaintiff Class ("Mot. for Final Deter.") and plaintiffs filed a Motion [687] for Entry of Declaratory Judgment Awarding Plaintiffs' Pre-November, 1991 Interest on Backpay and Attorney's Fees Pursuant to Austria v. Altman [sic] ("Pl.'s Altmann Mot."), both of which are now before the Court.

I. BACKGROUND

Originally begun in 1973 as a Title VII class action employment discrimination lawsuit, the Trout litigation has now continued for over thirty years. In 1981, after a lengthy trial involving forty-two witnesses, 7,000 pages of exhibits, and extensive regression analysis demonstrating sex discrimination in the Navy's hiring, promotion, evaluation and assignment of women, Judge Harold H. Greene, the presiding judge, found that the Navy had violated Title VII and ordered the award of backpay. See Trout v. Hidalgo, 517 F. Supp. 873 (D.D.C. 1981); Trout v. Hidalgo, Civil No. 73-0055, 1981 WL 416 (D.D.C. Oct. 20, 1981). See also Trout v. Lehman, 652 F. Supp. 144 ((D.D.C. 1986). As recounted by the court of appeals, numerous additional decisions and stipulations followed, awarding additional backpay. See Trout v. Sec'y of the Navy, 317 F.3d at 288. On September 20, 1993, the parties entered into a stipulation settling the case on its merits [553]; Judge Greene approved the stipulation on November 22, 1993 [569]. Because, as even defendants agree, plaintiffs were the prevailing parties in the Title VII case, Judge Greene properly also awarded attorneys' fees and costs to plaintiffs. Id.

While the case was pending on its merits, the Civil Rights Act of 1991 was enacted. It provided in Section 114(2) for the award of prejudgment interest: the federal government is liable for "the same interest to compensate for delay in payment [as is available] in cases against nonpublic parties." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(d). By stipulations of May 10, 1995 [596, 597], defendants agreed to pay prejudgment interest on the backpay and attorneys' fees awards, the interest to begin running from November 21, 1991, the effective date of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Plaintiffs preserved their right to seek interest for periods before that date. See Stipulation [596] at 4; Stipulation [597] at 2-3.

The issue presented first to Judge Greene and then to the court of appeals was whether Section 114(2), which became effective on November 21, 1991, could be applied where the discriminatory conduct had terminated before the effective date of the law. Judge Greene, who handled the case for most of its lengthy history, concluded that even though the liability phase of this case had ended on April 25, 1990, the application of Section 114(2) was appropriate given the government's efforts "to delay the litigation and to drive up its costs." See Trout v. O'Keefe, 144 F.R.D. 587, 590 (D.D.C. 1992). On July 22, 1998 and August 12, 1998, respectively, Judge Greene issued a Memorandum Opinion and Orders awarding plaintiffs prejudgment interest on attorneys' fees [621] and on backpay awards [622]. Prior to the entry of Final Judgment, however, Judge Greene passed away. The case was randomly reassigned to the undersigned and, on July 17, 2001, this Court entered Final Judgment [666] and ordered the defendants to pay interest on the backpay awards and attorneys' fees.

This Court's July 17, 2001 Final Judgment with respect to prejudgment interest was based on two stipulations that had been approved by Judge Greene and an Order issued by the undersigned:

1. By stipulation and order of March 3, 1999 [644], Judge Greene ordered the payment of $8715.00 to compensate plaintiffs for the expert services of John Chagnon.

2. By stipulation and order of May 5, 1999 [646], Judge Greene ordered the payment of $76,097.45 to plaintiffs' attorneys for work performed between June 5, 1997 and January 20, 1999 litigating the pre-November 21, 1991 interest issue.

3. By order of May 31, 2001, the undersigned ordered defendants to pay attorneys' fees to plaintiffs in the amount of $21,563 for work done by plaintiffs' counsel between January 30, 1999 and April 30, 2000 litigating the pre-November 21, 1991 interest issue.

In the March 3, 1999 and May 5, 1999 stipulations, defendants expressly reserved their right to seek recovery of the amounts agreed to and paid should they "ultimately obtain a judgment that they do not owe pre-November 21, 1991 interest on backpay and/or attorneys' fees." See Stipulation [644] at 2; Stipulation [646] at 1-2. Defendants' partial opposition to and partial concurrence in the motion leading to the May 31, 2001 Order contained a similar reservation. The total amount of attorneys' fees, expert fees and costs covered by the two stipulations and the Order described above is $106,375.45.

The defendants appealed the July 17, 2001 Final Judgment. On January 31, 2003, the court of appeals reversed on the issue of pre-November 21, 1991 interest, holding that Section 114(2) of the Civil Rights Act did not apply to a period before its effective date. The court of appeals remanded the case to this Court for a "final determination of the fees and costs owed to the Trout class." Trout v. Sec'y of the Navy, 317 F.3d. at 292-93.

In its opinion, the court of appeals emphasized two points. First, any statute waiving the sovereign immunity of the United States is subject to the rule of strict construction. See Trout v. Sec'y of the Navy, 317 F.3d at 289-90 (citing Library of Congress v. Shaw, 478 U.S. 310, 318 (1986) and Ruckelshaus v. Sierra Club, 463 U.S. 680, 685 (1983)). Any doubts about the scope of waiver are to be "resolved in favor of the narrower, governmental liability." Id. (quoting Nichols v. Pierce, 740 F.2d 1249, 1257 (D.C. Cir. 1984). Because there is no express language in Section 114 or in the legislative history of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 suggesting that Congress intended retroactively to waive immunity as to the government's liability for interest payments, the court explained that "to apply ยง 114(2) ...


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