*fn5,The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge,HAROLD C. LINDSEY, PLAINTIFF, v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DEFENDANT." />

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Harold C. Lindsey v. District of Columbia

July 25, 2012 *fn5

HAROLD C. LINDSEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Harold C. Lindsey brings this action against the District of Columbia (the "District") alleging age discrimination in connection with his employment as a Canine Handler at the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department (the "Fire Department") in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-34 (2006). See Complaint ¶¶ 37-64. On January 13, 2012, the District filed a motion in limine arguing, among other things, that the ADEA does not grant the plaintiff the right to a jury trial or permit him to recover liquidated damages or attorneys' fees from the District. See District of Columbia's Motion In Limine and Memorandum of Supporting Points & Authorities at 5-6. The Court rejected this argument and partially denied the District's motion in limine by Order dated March 29, 2012. See Order, Lindsey v. District of Columbia, No. 07-cv-1939 (D.D.C. March 29, 2012) (RBW) ("March 29, 2012 Order"). Currently before the Court is the District's motion seeking relief from the Court's March 29, 2012 Order. Upon careful consideration of the parties' submissions,*fn1 the Court concludes for the following reasons that the District's motion must be denied.

BACKGROUND

The ADEA contains two distinct enforcement schemes: one which applies to private, state, and local employers ("non-federal ADEA provisions"), and another that governs federal employers ("federal ADEA provision"). See Forman v. Small, 271 F.3d 285, 296 (D.C. Cir. 2001) (recognizing the dual enforcement schemes). While the non-federal ADEA provisions grant aggrieved employees the right to a jury trial, and authorize the recovery of attorneys' fees and liquidated damages, the federal ADEA provision, codified at 29 U.S.C. § 633a, does not. See March 29, 2012 Order at 2-3. Regarding the ADEA's applicability to the District, it is generally covered by the non-federal ADEA provisions, which treat the District as a state and thus a covered employer. See 29 U.S.C. § 630(b), (i) (defining "employer" to include "a State" and defining "State" to include "the District of Columbia"). The federal ADEA provision does, however, apply to "employees . . . in those units in the government of the District of Columbia having positions in the competitive service." Id. § 633a(a).

The issue raised by the District's motion in limine was whether the federal or non-federal ADEA provisions applied in this case (which, in turn, determined the plaintiff's entitlement to a jury trial, and his ability to recover attorneys' fees and liquidated damages from the District). See March 29, 2012 Order at 3. The District argued that the federal ADEA provision applied because the plaintiff's position of Canine Handler at the Fire Department qualified as employment "in those units in the government of the District of Columbia having positions in the competitive service" within the meaning of 29 U.S.C. § 633a(a). Id. The plaintiff, on the other hand, argued that the Canine Handler position was "'not a competitive service position but rather an excepted service position because it is not open for outside competition.'" Id. (citation omitted). Both parties' arguments focused on whether the Canine Handler position qualified as a Career Service position in the District's Merit Personnel System, the underlying assumption being that "the competitive service" language in § 633a(a) referred not to the federal government's civil service system, but to the District's. See id. at 4.

The Court rejected this assumption, holding that the "§ 633a's reference to 'the competitive service' refers not to the District of Columbia's competitive service, but to the federal government's." Id. As the Court reasoned, the section is titled "[n]ondiscrimination on account of age in Federal Government employment," and the particular subsection at issue is titled "[f]ederal agencies affected." 29 U.S.C. § 633a(a) (emphasis added). And the Supreme Court has long recognized that § 633a is "a distinct statutory scheme applicable only to the federal sector." Lehman[ v. Nakshian, 453 U.S. 166 (1981)] (emphasis added). Read in context, then, the phrase "the competitive service" as used in § 633a(a) plainly refers to the competitive service of the federal government, and thus only those employees of the District holding positions in the federal competitive service are covered by § 633a. See Madison v. Barry, No. 80-1061, 1980 WL 222, *1 (D.D.C. Aug. 26, 1980) (dismissing District employee's claim under § 633a of the ADEA after finding that the employee "was not within the federal competitive service"). The District simply assumes, without any supporting legal analysis, that the "competitive service" language in § 633a refers to the District's own civil service system. But if that position was correct, then § 633a would apply to any employee of the District of Columbia government who held a "Career Service" position as defined by the District Personnel Manual, regardless of that employee's connection to the federal government. This interpretation of § 633a finds no support in either the statute's text or purpose.

Id. The Court then concluded that Canine Handlers employed at the Fire Department were not part of the federal competitive service, and consequently rejected the District's argument that the plaintiff's ADEA claim was governed by § 633a. Id. at 5. Furthermore, because the District is a covered employer under the non-federal ADEA provisions, the Court held that those provisions applied here and that the plaintiff could "try his ADEA claim to a jury and seek liquidated damages and attorneys' fees against the District." Id. at 5-6.

The District now moves for relief from the Court's March 29, 2012 Order, arguing that

(1) § 633a(a) "unambiguously applies to units in the government of the District of Columbia having positions in the competitive service [because] the phrase 'federal competitive service' appears nowhere in the statute, and there is no basis to read the term 'federal' into the statute," and (2) the Fire Department "is a unit of the District of Columbia having positions in the competitive service." District's Mem. at 1 (emphasis in original).

DISCUSSION

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b) provides that "any order or other decision . . . that adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties . . . may be revised at any time before the entry of a judgment adjudicating all the claims and all the parties' rights and liabilities." This rule "recognizes [the district court's] inherent power to reconsider an interlocutory order 'as justice requires.'" Capitol Sprinkler Inspection, Inc. v. Guest Servs. Inc., 630 F.3d 217, 227 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (citing Greene v. Union Mut. Life Ins. Co. of Am., 764 F.2d 19, 22-23 (1st Cir. 1985) (Breyer, J.) ("[T]he district judge is in the best position to assess whether or not 'justice requires' [reconsideration].")). "The term '[a]s justice requires' indicates concrete considerations' by the court, such as 'whether the court patently misunderstood the parties, made a decision beyond the adversarial issues presented, made an error in failing to consider controlling decisions or data, or whether a controlling or significant change in the law has occurred.'" Negley v. FBI, 825 F. Supp. 2d 58, 60 (D.D.C. 2011) (citations omitted). "In the final analysis, the district court must ask whether relief upon reconsideration is 'necessary under the relevant circumstances.'" North v. DOJ, 810 F. Supp. 2d 205, 207 (D.D.C. 2011) (citation omitted).

Because the parties' previous briefing failed to adequately address which set of ADEA provisions governs this case, the Court arguably "made a decision beyond the adversarial issues presented," Negley, 825 F. Supp. 2d at 60, when it determined in its March 29, 2012 Order that the non-federal ADEA provisions apply here. The Court therefore deems it appropriate to address the merits of the District's arguments urging reconsideration of that Order.

A. The Meaning of "the Competitive Service" in 29 U.S.C. § 633a(a)

The District claims that this Court erred in its March 29, 2012 Order by reading in the word "federal" before the phrase "competitive service" in ยง 633a(a) of the ADEA. District's Mem. at 6-7. This reading of the statute, the District contends, conflicts with "prevailing principles of statutory interpretation" because Congress did not include the word "federal" in ...


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