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Franklin-Mason v. Mabus

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

February 14, 2014

ROXANN J. FRANKLIN-MASON, APPELLANT
v.
RAYMOND EDWIN MABUS, JR., SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY, APPELLEE

Argued September 26, 2013.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. (No. 1:96-cv-02505).

Lisa Alexis Jones argued the cause and filed the briefs for appellant.

Alan Burch, Assistant U.S. Attorney, argued the cause for appellee. With him on the brief were Ronald C. Machen, Jr., U.S. Attorney, and R. Craig Lawrence, Assistant U.S. Attorney.

Before: BROWN and KAVANAUGH, Circuit Judges, and WILLIAMS, Senior Circuit Judge.

OPINION

Page 1052

Brown, Circuit Judge:

This case has so many chapters it makes War and Peace look like a short story. And the saga continues. Fifteen years ago, after Franklin-Mason prevailed in the initial stages of this employment discrimination litigation, the Navy offered a stipulation of Settlement (Settlement Agreement or the Agreement). The Agreement proposed not only reinstatement, restoration of seniority, and retirement credits, but potential for promotion. A key provision anticipated the creation of a Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force (NFAF) Program (PM1), headed by a high level Financial Manager, and proposed to appoint Franklin-Mason as a Senior Financial Analyst, reporting to the Manager of this independent unit. The Agreement also purported to insulate Franklin-Mason from working directly for, or being supervised by, certain employees in the Comptroller's Office who had tormented her in the past. The new unit was never approved. Things fell apart.

Franklin-Mason, convinced she had been deliberately hoodwinked, repeatedly sought to have the terms of the Agreement--terms incorporated into the district court's order of dismissal--enforced. Now, having concluded specific performance is no longer practicable, Franklin-Mason seeks nearly a million dollars in damages and attorney's fees. The Navy pounces on this shift. First, the Navy notes a federal court cannot provide a damages remedy for the government's breach of a settlement agreement absent a waiver of sovereign immunity. Check. Second, a judicial consent decree--like the Settlement Agreement here--is not a contract for purposes of the Tucker Act and falls outside the jurisdiction of the Court of Federal Claims. And mate. Thus, the Navy reasons the government's breach of a court-supervised settlement is a wrong without a remedy. We are not convinced. We hold a settlement agreement embodied in a consent decree is a contract under the

Page 1053

Tucker Act and transfer the case to the Court of Federal Claims.

I

The tortuous history of this decades-long dispute could fill library shelves, but in the interest of brevity, we commence with a bare-bones procedural pré cis. From 1987 to 1996, Franklin-Mason litigated her Title VII claim before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In 1996, the Administrative Judge (AJ) found Franklin-Mason had established, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the Navy had unlawfully discriminated against her on the basis of race and sex. The Navy disagreed, rejecting the AJ's findings.

Undeterred, Franklin-Mason filed suit against the Navy on October 31, 1996, alleging violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e. The Navy, eager to avoid substantial potential liability, offered a settlement. The matter was referred to a magistrate for settlement discussions, and ultimately, the parties settled and the district court approved the Agreement and entered an order of dismissal. Of particular relevance, the Agreement explicitly permitted a party to seek judicial enforcement and monetary damages for a breach. Franklin-Mason filed three motions to enforce the terms of the Settlement Agreement. Those efforts ...


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