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Porter v. Winter

May 5, 2010

RONALD L. PORTER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
DONALD C. WINTER, SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY; ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES; LAW OFFICE OF ELAINE W. WALLACE; U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California Lawrence J. O'Neill, District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. CV-06-00880-LJO.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reinhardt, Circuit Judge

FOR PUBLICATION

Argued and Submitted September 17, 2009 -- San Francisco, California.

Before: Mary M. Schroeder, Stephen Reinhardt and Carlos T. Bea, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Ronald Porter, a former civilian employee of the Navy, brought a complaint before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") alleging gender discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC found the Navy liable for retaliation, but not gender discrimination. Porter sought to recover the attorney's fees and costs he incurred in the Title VII administrative proceedings, but the Navy awarded him only a fraction of the amount he requested. After reviewing the Navy's fee decision, the EEOC slightly increased the award.

Porter filed a complaint in district court challenging the amount of attorney's fees awarded to him in the Title VII administrative proceedings. The district court dismissed the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, reasoning that it did not "have jurisdiction to adjudicate solely a claim for attorney's fees without a claim of a substantive violation of Title VII." Porter appeals that ruling. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and review the district court's decision de novo. Armstrong v. N. Mariana Islands, 576 F.3d 950, 954 n.4 (9th Cir. 2009).

We conclude that, under New York Gaslight Club, Inc. v. Carey, 447 U.S. 54 (1980), federal courts have subject matter jurisdiction over claims brought solely to recover attorney's fees incurred in Title VII administrative proceedings. Accordingly, we reverse.

ANALYSIS

A federal employee who is aggrieved by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's final disposition of his Title VII complaint may file a civil action. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(c). Three of the statutory provisions that govern such actions are relevant to this appeal:

* 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1) permits an aggrieved person to bring a civil action;

* 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3) provides that "[e]ach United States district court . . . shall have juris- diction of actions brought under this subchapter"; and

* 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k) provides that "[i]n any action or proceeding under this subchapter the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party . . . a reasonable attorney's fee".

See also id. ยง 2000e-16(d) (providing that civil actions brought by federal employees are governed by 42 ...


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