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John J. Breen v. Herbert L. Tucker

January 20, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge


I. Introduction.

In 1977, the District of Columbia (the "District") terminated plaintiff John J. Breen from his temporary employment with a former agency of the District government, and then when forced to reinstate him, failed to convert the position from temporary to permanent. Mr. Breen brought suit against the District under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17, and ultimately prevailed on February 27, 1981. The Court then ordered that Mr. Breen be reinstated into a permanent position and awarded him pay and benefits, including retirement contributions, for the period during which Mr. Breen had been unemployed.

Mr. Breen now alleges that the District failed to comply with the Court's 1981 order by not including the time during which he was unemployed in its calculation of the retirement benefits he is now entitled to and he requests that the Court hold the District in contempt. The District makes two arguments in response: First, the District points to the Court's denial of an earlier similar motion by Mr. Breen, claiming that, as with this first motion, the Court cannot discern what Mr. Breen claims, what relief he seeks, or whether he is entitled to whatever that relief might be. Second, the District argues that the doctrine of laches prevents the Court from enforcing the 29-year-old judgment due to inexcusable delay by Mr. Breen in pressing his claim and prejudice to the District if it were required to defend it. The Court disagrees with both arguments.

As to the first District argument, the 1981 order clearly requires that the District pay Mr. Breen retirement benefits for the time during which he was unemployed and Mr. Breen clearly seeks to enforce that requirement. As to the second, Mr. Breen only discovered that the order had apparently been violated when he received a letter in January of this year, and the District would face no undue prejudice by being required to explain whether and why it is allegedly failing to make proper retirement payments to Mr. Breen. The Court will not, however, hold the District in contempt, at least not yet. Instead, the Court will order the District to explain why, based on Mr. Breen's allegations, it is not in violation of the Court's 1981 order.

II. Mr. Breen's Efforts to Enforce the Court's 1981 Order.

Beginning in 1974, Mr. Breen, a white male, was employed by the District of Columbia Department of Environmental Services (the "Department"). February 27, 1981 Memorandum Opinion (hereinafter "Mem. Op.") at 1. Although he had previously been employed as a permanent employee by the Department in another position, his employment in 1977, as a result of a promotion, was in a temporary position that "had a not-to-exceed . . . date of August 28, 1977." Id. "It was the practice of the Personnel Office at [the Department]," however, "to convert qualified employees whose temporary positions were about to expire[] to permanent positions at [the Department], especially when the employee had been a permanent employee." Id. at 1--2.

In 1976, following an argument and physical altercation with several black co-workers, Mr. Breen was suspended and, on February 27, 1977, fired. Id. at 2. Mr. Breen administratively complained that his termination was racially motivated and was awarded reinstatement. Id. at 2--3. However, after his temporary position ended on August 28, 1977, Mr. Breen's position was not converted to a permanent position. Id. at 3. Instead, the District improperly "referred to his removal in evaluating" Mr. Breen for the several vacancies to which he applied, resulting in him "not [being] selected although imminently qualified." Id. Mr. Breen again administratively challenged his non-selection based on racial discrimination, id. at 4, which eventually led to him filing two suits against the District, this case and Breen v. District of Columbia, No. 80-cv-709, alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

The two cases were jointly tried and, on February 27, 1981, the Court rendered judgment in Mr. Breen's favor. See Mem. Op. The Court ordered, among other things, that the District reinstate Mr. Breen, pay him "back pay equal to the difference between his salary if he had not been discriminatorily terminated and that which he has received since August 28, 1977," the date his temporary position ended; that the District provide Mr. Breen with "all fringe benefits" to which he would have been entitled absent his discriminatory termination; and that the District pay his "reasonable attorney's fees and costs." Order, ECF No. 2-1. The Court specified that fringe benefits include, among other things, "retirement contributions." Id. Mr. Breen now alleges that the District "did not make such retirement contributions." Second Motion for Enforcement of Judgment (hereinafter "Pl.'s Mot.") ¶ 2, ECF No. 7.

This is not the first time that Mr. Breen has made such allegations. In March of this year, Mr. Breen filed his first motion advancing the same allegations, which the Court denied for noncompliance with several Local Rules of this Court. Order, May 11, 2010, ECF No. 5. In denying the earlier motion, the Court noted that "on the basis of the papers filed, the Court cannot discern what is at issue in the motion" and thus cannot "discern what relief the plaintiff seeks to be enforced or . . . conclude that the relief the plaintiff seeks this Court to enforce was in fact granted" in the 1981 order. Id. at 2.

The District now seizes on that language, arguing that Mr. Breen "has provided no new information in his renewed motion to satisfy the Court's concerns" and that the Court therefore cannot identify what Mr. Breen seeks or whether he is entitled to it. Defendant District of Columbia's Memorandum in Opposition to Plaintiff's Second Motion for Enforcement of Judgment (hereinafter "Def.'s Mem.") at 2--3, ECF No. 8. The Court disagrees. What is at issue in the current motion is whether the District complied with the Court's 1981 order with respect to making retirement contributions on the plaintiff's behalf. Pl.'s Mot. ¶ 1. Mr. Breen now clearly alleges that the District has not made the contributions that it was required to make under the 1981 order. Pl.'s Mot. ¶ 2. As a result of the alleged failure to make the court-ordered contributions, Mr. Breen is alleging that the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is not currently providing him with the appropriate amount of retirement benefits he is entitled to receive. See Letter from J. Blanks, Retirement Services Program, OPM, to John J. Breen (Jan. 19, 2010), ECF No. 2-1 (hereinafter the "OPM Letter"). Mr. Breen also clearly states the relief he is seeking: that the Court hold the District in contempt for violating the order to induce the District's compliance. See Pl.'s Mot ¶ 3.*fn1

The Court is therefore now satisfied that the plaintiff has adequately articulated the nature and basis for why he believes the District has not complied with the Court's 1981 order.*fn2

III. The Applicability of the Doctrine of Laches to Mr. Breen's Motion.

The doctrine of laches applies to a party asserting a claim on which action was not taken with diligence and where the party opposing the claim would be prejudiced if made to defend against it. Here, the Court finds, for the following reasons, that Mr. Breen has pursued his claim diligently and that the District would not be prejudiced if made to defend against it. ...

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