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United States Court of Appeals

For the First Circuit


No. 14- 1035
MAJ . SHANNON L. MCLAUGHLI N; CASEY MCLAUGHLI N;
LTC. VI CTORI A A. HUDSON; MONI KA POXON; COL. STEWART BORNHOFT;
STEPHEN MCNABB; LT. GARY C. ROSS; DAN SWEZY; CPT. STEVE M. HI LL;
J OSHUA SNYDER; A1C DANI EL HENDERSON; J ERRET HENDERSON;
CW2 CHARLI E MORGAN; KAREN MORGAN; CPT. J OAN DARRAH;
J ACQUELI NE KENNEDY,
Pl ai nt i f f s, Appel l ant s,
v.
CHUCK HAGEL, i n hi s of f i ci al capaci t y as Secr et ar y of Def ense;
ERI C H. HOLDER, J R. , i n hi s of f i ci al capaci t y as At t or ney
Gener al ; ERI C K. SHI NSEKI , i n hi s of f i ci al capaci t y as Secr et ar y
of Vet er ans Af f ai r s; UNI TED STATES,
Def endant s, Appel l ees.
APPEAL FROM THE UNI TED STATES DI STRI CT COURT
FOR THE DI STRI CT OF MASSACHUSETTS
[ Hon. Ri char d G. St ear ns, U. S. Di st r i ct J udge]
Bef or e
Lynch, Chi ef J udge,
Tor r uel l a and Ri ppl e,
*
Ci r cui t J udges.
Chr i st opher D. Man, wi t h whom Abbe Davi d Lowel l , and
Chadbour ne & Par ke LLP wer e on br i ef , f or appel l ant s.
J ef f r ey E. Sandber g, At t or ney, Appel l at e St af f , Ci vi l
Di vi si on, wi t h whomMi chael E. Robi nson, At t or ney, Appel l at e St af f ,
Ci vi l Di vi si on, St uar t F. Del er y, Assi st ant At t or ney Gener al ,
Car men M. Or t i z, Uni t ed St at es At t or ney, and Mi chael J ay Si nger ,
At t or ney, Appel l at e St af f , Ci vi l Di vi si on, wer e on br i ef , f or
appel l ee.
*
Of t he Sevent h Ci r cui t , si t t i ng by desi gnat i on.
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Sept ember 23, 2014
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LYNCH, Chief Judge. The pl ai nt i f f s ( " Mc L aughl i n
Gr oup" ) , who pr evai l ed i n a const i t ut i onal chal l enge t o Sect i on 3
of t he Def ense of Mar r i age Act ( " DOMA" ) , 1 U. S. C. 7, appeal f r om
t he di st r i ct cour t ' s deni al of f ees and cost s under t he Equal
Access t o J ust i ce Act ( " EAJ A" ) , 28 U. S. C. 2412( a) ( 1) & ( d) .
Whet her pr evai l i ng par t i es who successf ul l y chal l enged Sect i on 3 of
DOMA ar e ent i t l ed t o f ees under EAJ A i s an i ssue of f i r st
i mpr essi on i n any Cour t of Appeal s.
On appeal , t he McLaughl i n Gr oup ar gues t hat t he
gover nment ' s posi t i on coul d not have been subst ant i al l y j ust i f i ed
because i t s pr e- l i t i gat i on and dur i ng- l i t i gat i on posi t i on i nvol ved
" knowi ngl y and i nt ent i onal l y vi ol at [ i ng] t he [ McLaughl i n Gr oup' s]
const i t ut i onal r i ght s, " and i t s l i t i gat e- t o- l ose st r at egy concedes
t hat i t s posi t i on i s not subst ant i al l y j ust i f i ed.
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The McLaughl i n
Gr oup al so cont ends t hat , even i f not ent i t l ed t o f ees, t hey ar e
ent i t l ed t o $350 i n cost s under a separ at e pr ovi si on of t he EAJ A,
28 U. S. C. 2412( a) , and Fed. R. Ci v. P. 54( d) .
We r ej ect t hese ar gument s. The di st r i ct cour t ' s deni al
of f ees was cor r ect as a mat t er of l aw because t he gover nment
r easonabl y bel i eved i t s act i ons wer e const i t ut i onal l y appr opr i at e
under t he ci r cumst ances. See Ar onov v. Napol i t ano, 562 F. 3d 84, 94
( 1st Ci r . 2009) ( en banc) . And i t s deni al of cost s wi t hout comment
1
We use " gover nment " t o r ef er onl y t o t he Execut i ve Br anch,
not t o t he Bi par t i san Legal Advi sor y Gr oup of t he U. S. House of
Repr esent at i ves who i nt er vened i n t hi s case.
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was not an abuse of di scr et i on because t he r eason f or t he deni al - -
t hat t he case was " cl ose and di f f i cul t " - - was " r eadi l y appar ent on
t he f ace of t he r ecor d. " See B. Fer nndez & HNOS, I nc. v. Kel l ogg
USA, I nc. , 516 F. 3d 18, 28 ( 1st Ci r . 2008) ( quot i ng I n r e Two
Appeal s Ar i si ng Out of t he San J uan DuPont Pl aza Hot el Fi r e Li t i g. ,
994 F. 2d 956, 963 & n. 9 ( 1st Ci r . 1993) ) .
I .
The McLaughl i n Gr oup ar e act i ve dut y member s of t he
Uni t ed St at es ar med f or ces and Nat i onal Guar d, vet er ans, and t hei r
same- sex spouses. On Oct ober 27, 2011, t hey br ought sui t agai nst
t he Uni t ed St at es of Amer i ca, and Secr et ar y of Def ense Leon E.
Panet t a, At t or ney Gener al Er i c H. Hol der , J r . , and Secr et ar y of
Vet er ans Af f ai r s Er i c K. Shi nseki , i n t hei r of f i ci al capaci t i es.
The sui t chal l enged t he const i t ut i onal i t y of Sect i on 3 of DOMA as
appl i ed t o def i ni t i ons of mar r i age i n Ti t l e 10, Ti t l e 32, and Ti t l e
38 of t he Uni t ed St at es Code as t hey af f ect same- sex mi l i t ar y
spouses.
Pr esi dent Obama had pr evi ousl y det er mi ned, ei ght mont hs
ear l i er i n Febr uar y 2011, t hat :
( 1) he per sonal l y bel i eved t hat Sect i on 3 of DOMA was
unconst i t ut i onal ;
( 2) out of def er ence t o t he cour t s and t o Congr ess, and
i n l i ght of t he execut i ve' s obl i gat i on t o f ai t hf ul l y
execut e t he l aws, t he Pr esi dent woul d nonet hel ess
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i nst r uct t hat t he execut i ve br anch cont i nue t o enf or ce
DOMA; however ,
( 3) t hi s pr esent ed t he " r ar e case" i n whi ch t he
Depar t ment of J ust i ce shoul d decl i ne t o def end t he
st at ut e.
The gover nment , pur suant t o t hi s Pr esi dent i al posi t i on, di d not
oppose t he McLaughl i n Gr oup' s sui t on t he mer i t s.
At t he par t i es' r equest , t he di st r i ct cour t st ayed t he
case i n l i ght of t wo ot her si mi l ar chal l enges t hat wer e t hen on
appeal bef or e t he Fi r st Ci r cui t . Thi s cour t hel d Sect i on 3 of DOMA
i nval i d on May 31, 2012. See Massachuset t s v. U. S. Dep' t of Heal t h
& Human Ser vs. , 682 F. 3d 1 ( 1st Ci r . 2012) . The di st r i ct cour t
cont i nued t he st ay, over t he McLaughl i n Gr oup' s obj ect i on,
f ol l owi ng t hi s cour t ' s deci si on i n t hat case, i d. at 17, t o
wi t hhol d i ssuance of a mandat e i n def er ence t o ant i ci pat ed DOMA
chal l enges bef or e t he Supr eme Cour t .
On J une 26, 2013, t he Supr eme Cour t hel d Sect i on 3
unconst i t ut i onal as a vi ol at i on of t he Fi f t h Amendment . See Uni t ed
St at es v. Wi ndsor , 133 S. Ct . 2675, 2695- 96 ( 2013) .
The di st r i ct cour t r esumed pr oceedi ngs i n t hi s case,
ent er i ng j udgment i n f avor of t he McLaughl i n Gr oup on Oct ober 2,
2013. The di st r i ct cour t di d not addr ess cost s at t hat t i me.
On Oct ober 28, 2013, t he McLaughl i n Gr oup moved f or f ees
and cost s under t he EAJ A. The di st r i ct cour t deni ed t he McLaughl i n
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Gr oup' s mot i on, f i ndi ng t hat t he gover nment ' s posi t i on was
subst ant i al l y j ust i f i ed. The di st r i ct cour t r easoned:
To answer t hi s quest i on, t he cour t need go no
f ur t her t han t he Wi ndsor deci si on i t sel f . As
t he Hi gh Cour t r ecogni zed, t he appr oach t aken
by t he Pr esi dent of pr eser vi ng t he
j ust i ci abi l i t y of Sect i on 3 of DOMA by
cont i nui ng t o enf or ce i t despi t e a per sonal
bel i ef t hat t he st at ut e was unconst i t ut i onal ,
pai d t he appr opr i at e r espect t o t he pr i macy of
t he Supr eme Cour t i n mat t er s of const i t ut i onal
i nt er pr et at i on.
McLaughl i n v. Hagel , 987 F. Supp. 2d 132, 134 ( D. Mass. 2013) . The
cour t added t hat t he r el evant quest i on was not whet her t he
Pr esi dent coul d have ended enf or cement of Sect i on 3, but whet her i t
woul d have been " const i t ut i onal l y r easonabl e" under t he
ci r cumst ances, concl udi ng t hat " [ i ] t i s cl ear f r omWi ndsor t hat t he
Supr eme Cour t woul d have t hought not . " I d.
I I .
A di st r i ct cour t ' s det er mi nat i on of whet her t he
gover nment ' s posi t i on
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was " subst ant i al l y j ust i f i ed, " and so
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" Def i ni ng t he concept of t he Gover nment ' s ' posi t i on' - - at
l east wi t h any pr eci si on - - has pr oved . . . el usi ve. " See Saysana
v. Gi l l en, 614 F. 3d 1, 5 ( 1st Ci r . 2010) . The st at ut e i t sel f
of f er s l i t t l e gui dance, st at i ng si mpl y t hat a cour t shal l awar d
f ees " unl ess t he cour t f i nds t hat t he posi t i on of t he Uni t ed St at es
was subst ant i al l y j ust i f i ed. " 28 U. S. C. 2412( d) ( 1) ( A) . I t adds
t hat t he " ' posi t i on of t he Uni t ed St at es' means, i n addi t i on t o t he
posi t i on t aken by t he Uni t ed St at es i n t he ci vi l act i on, t he act i on
or f ai l ur e t o act by t he agency upon whi ch t he ci vi l act i on i s
based . . . . " 28 U. S. C. 2412( d) ( 2) ( D) . The di st r i ct cour t
descr i bed t he gover nment ' s posi t i on as " i t s l i t i gat i ng posi t i on
t hat , i n def er ence t o Congr ess, i t woul d cont i nue t o enf or ce
Sect i on 3 of DOMA unt i l t he cour t s ( or Congr ess i t sel f ) had
def i ni t i vel y spoken, whi l e i n t he i nt er i m concedi ng t he
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whet her t o awar d at t or ney' s f ees under EAJ A, i s r evi ewed f or abuse
of di scr et i on. See Pi er ce v. Under wood, 487 U. S. 552, 562- 63
( 1988) . Legal det er mi nat i ons made i n f i ndi ng a posi t i on
subst ant i al l y j ust i f i ed ar e r evi ewed de novo. See Ar onov, 562 F. 3d
at 88.
A deni al of cost s i s r evi ewed f or abuse of di scr et i on.
B. Fer nndez, 516 F. 3d at 28.
I I I .
Under t he EAJ A, " a cour t shal l awar d t o a pr evai l i ng
par t y ot her t han t he Uni t ed St at es f ees and ot her expenses . . .
unl ess t he cour t f i nds t hat t he posi t i on of t he Uni t ed St at es was
subst ant i al l y j ust i f i ed or t hat speci al ci r cumst ances make an awar d
unj ust . " 28 U. S. C. 2412( d) ( 1) ( A) . The bur den i s on t he Uni t ed
St at es t o make t hose showi ngs. See Saysana v. Gi l l en, 614 F. 3d 1,
5 ( 1st Ci r . 2010) . Because we agr ee wi t h t he di st r i ct cour t t hat
t he posi t i on of t he Uni t ed St at es was subst ant i al l y j ust i f i ed, we
do not r each t he quest i on of speci al ci r cumst ances.
unconst i t ut i onal i t y of Sect i on 3. " McLaughl i n, 987 F. Supp. 2d at
134. By cont r ast , t he McLaughl i n Gr oup var i ousl y descr i bes t he
gover nment ' s posi t i on as " t he gover nment ' s def ense of i t s unl awf ul
conduct on t he mer i t s, " and " t he gover nment ' s conduct i n knowi ngl y
and pur posef ul l y vi ol at i ng t he Pl ai nt i f f s' const i t ut i onal r i ght s,
and t hen f or ci ng t hemt o l i t i gat e a case t he gover nment woul d not
def end on t he mer i t s. " These char act er i zat i ons ar e nar r ower t han
t he di st r i ct cour t ' s i n t hat t hey emphasi ze t he gover nment ' s
r ef usal t o def end Sect i on 3 - - and so t oo i t s " unl awf ul conduct " - -
but excl ude const i t ut i onal consi der at i ons f or cont i nued enf or cement
pendi ng j udi ci al r evi ew.
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A " posi t i on" of t he Uni t ed St at es i s " subst ant i al l y
j ust i f i ed" i f i t i s " j ust i f i ed t o a degr ee t hat coul d sat i sf y a
r easonabl e per son" - - t hat i s, i f t he posi t i on has a " r easonabl e
basi s bot h i n l aw and f act . " Pi er ce, 487 U. S. at 565. I f t he
gover nment " r easonabl y bel i eves t he act i on or i nact i on i s r equi r ed
by l aw, t hen, by def i ni t i on i t cannot be t he basi s f or an awar d of
EAJ A f ees. " Ar onov, 562 F. 3d at 94 ( ci t i ng Dant r an, I nc. v. U. S.
Dep' t of Labor , 246 F. 3d 36, 41 ( 1st Ci r . 2001) ) ( hol di ng
gover nment was subst ant i al l y j ust i f i ed as a mat t er of l aw) . Bot h
t he gover nment ' s pr e- l i t i gat i on and l i t i gat i on posi t i ons ar e
eval uat ed hol i st i cal l y i n maki ng t hi s det er mi nat i on. See Saysana,
614 F. 3d at 5.
Thi s ext r aor di nar y case pr esent s t he unusual si t uat i on i n
whi ch t he gover nment ' s pr e- l i t i gat i on and dur i ng- l i t i gat i on
posi t i on was t o enf or ce a chal l enged st at ut e, but i n whi ch t he
gover nment ' s l i t i gat i on posi t i on was t o ar gue t hat t he chal l enged
st at ut e i s unconst i t ut i onal . The McLaughl i n Gr oup makes a t wof ol d
ar gument : t he gover nment pur sued pr e- l i t i gat i on act i ons t hat i t
bel i eved vi ol at ed t he McLaughl i n Gr oup' s const i t ut i onal r i ght s, and
t he gover nment ' s l i t i gat i on posi t i on agr eed wi t h t he McLaughl i n
Gr oup i n denyi ng t hat t he opposi t e posi t i on, def ense of t he
st at ut e, had any mer i t .
The McLaughl i n Gr oup at t empt s t o di vor ce t he gover nment ' s
posi t i on f r om t he pr act i cal const i t ut i onal di f f i cul t y t he
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gover nment f aced. The Pr esi dent and t he Depar t ment of J ust i ce
concl uded uni l at er al l y bot h t hat hei ght ened scr ut i ny was t he
appr opr i at e st andar d of r evi ew - - cont r ar y t o " subst ant i al ci r cui t
aut hor i t y" - - and t hat t her e was no r easonabl e ar gument consi st ent
wi t h t hat st andar d avai l abl e i n def ense of Sect i on 3. The
gover nment t hen " f ace[ d] a di f f i cul t choi ce" : ei t her enf or ce ( but
decl i ne t o def end) a st at ut e i t bel i eved unconst i t ut i onal , or
decl i ne t o enf or ce t he st at ut e under a novel l egal t heor y whi l e
si mul t aneousl y pr ecl udi ng j udi ci al r evi ew of t hat novel t heor y.
See Wi ndsor , 133 S. Ct . at 2688- 89. The di st r i ct cour t appr eci at ed
t hi s di f f i cul t y, and f ound t hat , under t he Supr eme Cour t ' s deci si on
i n Wi ndsor , t he gover nment ' s enf or ce- but - not - def end posi t i on was
subst ant i al l y j ust i f i ed.
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I n Wi ndsor , t he Cour t obser ved t hat t he al t er nat i ve t o
f i ndi ng j ust i ci abi l i t y woul d be t o f i nd t hat t he gover nment ' s
r ef usal t o def end Sect i on 3 pr ecl uded j udi ci al r evi ew. I d. at
2688. The Cour t r easoned t hat t hi s al t er nat i ve was unaccept abl e
because i t " woul d under mi ne t he cl ear di ct at e of t he
separ at i on- of - power s pr i nci pl e t hat when an Act of Congr ess i s
al l eged t o conf l i ct wi t h t he Const i t ut i on, [ i ] t i s emphat i cal l y t he
pr ovi nce and dut y of t he j udi ci al depar t ment t o say what t he l aw
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The McLaughl i n Gr oup' s ar gument t hat Wi ndsor ' s f i ndi ng of
j ust i ci abi l i t y i s not t he same as f i ndi ng t hat a posi t i on i s
" subst ant i al l y j ust i f i ed" mi sses t he mar k. The di st r i ct cour t
r el i ed on t he Wi ndsor Cour t ' s r easoni ng, not t he f i ndi ng i t sel f .
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i s. " I d. ( quot i ng Zi vot of sky v. Cl i nt on, 132 S. Ct . 1421, 1427- 28
( 2012) ( quot i ng Mar bur y v. Madi son, 5 U. S. ( 1 Cr anch) 137, 177
( 1803) ) ) ( i nt er nal quot at i on mar ks omi t t ed) . The di st r i ct cour t
f ound t hat t hi s di l emma pr ovi ded a r easonabl e basi s f or t he
gover nment ' s posi t i on. We agr ee. Fi r st , had t he gover nment not
cont i nued t o enf or ce Sect i on 3, i t woul d have pr ecl uded j udi ci al
r evi ew of a cont r over si al concl usi on r egar di ng t he st at ut e' s
val i di t y. Second, had i t not cont i nued t o enf or ce Sect i on 3, t he
gover nment woul d al so have posed a second " gr ave chal l enge[ ] " t o
separ at i on of power s by ef f ect i vel y " nul l i f y[ i ng] Congr ess'
enact ment sol el y on i t s own i ni t i at i ve and wi t hout any
det er mi nat i on f r omt he Cour t . " I d.
Thi s pr act i cal di f f i cul t y hi ghl i ght s t he concept ual
di f f i cul t y i n i dent i f yi ng t he gover nment ' s posi t i on: The McLaughl i n
Gr oup ur ges t hat t he gover nment ' s " l i t i gat i on posi t i on" was t he
nar r ow posi t i on t hat Sect i on 3 - - and so t oo i t s pr e- and dur i ng-
l i t i gat i on conduct of enf or ci ng Sect i on 3 - - i s unconst i t ut i onal .
But t he di st r i ct cour t under st ood t he gover nment ' s posi t i on t o be
t he br oader , nuanced posi t i on t hat t he gover nment r epr esent ed
i t sel f as t aki ng, namel y, t hat i t enf or ced t he st at ut e t o per mi t
j udi ci al r evi ew of i t s novel l egal t heor y i n def er ence t o t he ot her
br anches.
We agr ee wi t h t he di st r i ct cour t t hat t he gover nment ' s
posi t i on i s t he br oader one and must be " assessed i n i t s t ot al i t y. "
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See Saysana, 614 F. 3d at 5, 7. Cont r ar y t o what t he McLaughl i n
Gr oup ar gues, t he di st r i ct cour t di d not i mpr oper l y l ook t o " non-
mer i t s based j ust i f i cat i ons. " Rat her , t he l ower cour t pr oper l y
f ocused on t he const i t ut i onal di f f i cul t i es f aced by t he gover nment .
Our en banc deci si on i n Ar onov v. Napol i t ano, 562 F. 3d
84 ( 1st Ci r . 2009) ( en banc) , hel d t hat a deni al of f ees i s cor r ect
as a mat t er of l aw wher e t he gover nment r easonabl y bel i eves i t s
act i ons ar e l egal l y r equi r ed. I d. at 94. Her e, t he di st r i ct cour t
cor r ect l y f ound t hat t he gover nment r easonabl y bel i eved i t s
act i ons, whet her or not r equi r ed,
4
wer e appr opr i at e gi ven " t he
Execut i ve' s obl i gat i on" t o f ai t hf ul l y execut e t he l aws. See Let t er
f r om Er i c H. Hol der , J r . , At t ' y Gen. , U. S. Dep' t of J ust i ce, t o
J ohn A. Boehner , Speaker , U. S. House of Repr esent at i ves ( Feb. 23,
2011) ( emphasi s added) ( expl ai ni ng t he gover nment ' s deci si on t o
enf or ce but not def end Sect i on 3 of DOMA) . Si mi l ar l y, we agr ee
wi t h t he di st r i ct cour t ' s concl usi on t hat t he Supr eme Cour t woul d
not have f ound " const i t ut i onal l y r easonabl e" t he opposi t e cour se of
act i on, ur ged by t he McLaughl i n Gr oup, of r ef usi ng t o enf or ce
Sect i on 3. See McLaughl i n, 987 F. Supp. 2d at 134. Because t he
gover nment r easonabl y bel i eved i t s act i ons wer e t he most
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Whi l e t he gover nment made cl ear i t bel i eved t he Pr esi dent
coul d have l awf ul l y chosen t o end enf or cement of Sect i on 3, see
McLaughl i n, 987 F. Supp. 2d at 134, we bel i eve t he r easoni ng behi nd
Ar onov i s st i l l appl i cabl e t o t he uni que f act s of t hi s case gi ven
t he uncer t ai nt y of t hat posi t i on i n l i ght of t he acknowl edged
separ at i on- of - power s concer ns, see Wi ndsor , 133 S. Ct . at 2688.
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const i t ut i onal l y appr opr i at e avai l abl e, i t s act i ons wer e " by
def i ni t i on" subst ant i al l y j ust i f i ed. See Ar onov, 562 F. 3d at 94.
We f i nd t he deni al of f ees cor r ect as a mat t er of l aw. See i d.
The McLaughl i n Gr oup' s ar gument t hat t hi s i s er r oneous
under di f f er ent Fi r st Ci r cui t pr ecedent i s unavai l i ng. They ar gue
t hat i n Si er r a Cl ub v. Sec' y of t he Ar my, 820 F. 2d 513, 519- 20 ( 1st
Ci r . 1987) , t he Fi r st Ci r cui t hel d t hat i f t he gover nment
subj ect i vel y bel i eves t hat i t s act i ons ar e unl awf ul , t hen i t s
deci si on t o t ake t hose act i ons cannot be subst ant i al l y j ust i f i ed.
Thi s st r et ches t he pr ecedent . Si er r a Cl ub does not make t he
gover nment ' s subj ect i ve bel i ef di sposi t i ve. The cour t obser ved,
f i r st , t hat t hi s was one among many consi der at i ons counsel i ng
agai nst t he posi t i on' s j ust i f i cat i on, and, second, t hat dur i ng t he
EAJ A phase of l i t i gat i on, t he gover nment " chose not t o . . .
ar gu[ e] t hat t hei r posi t i on t ur ned on some cl ose or unset t l ed
quest i on of l aw. " I d. at 520. Thi s di f f er s f r omt he pr esent case
wher e t he gover nment had at l east t wo st r ong separ at i on- of - power s
r easons f or i t s act i ons and ar gues t hat t he const i t ut i onal i t y of
i t s pr e- l i t i gat i on act i on - - not mer el y t he st at ut e' s
const i t ut i onal i t y, but al so t he const i t ut i onal l y appr opr i at e act i on
i n t hi s unusual si t uat i on - - t ur ned on a cl ose quest i on of l aw.
See al so Uni t ed St at es v. Mar ol f , 277 F. 3d 1156, 1162 ( 9t h Ci r .
2002) ( quot i ng TKB I nt ' l , I nc. v. Uni t ed St at es, 995 F. 2d 1460,
1468 ( 9t h Ci r . 1993) ) .
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The McLaughl i n Gr oup cor r ect l y ar gues t he l aw shoul d not
encour age gover nment abuse by condoni ng a " knowi ng" r i ght s
vi ol at i on, and t hat t her e i s t he need t o pr ovi de i ncent i ves f or
l i t i gat i on of r i ght s vi ol at i ons. But t hat i s not t hi s case, whi ch
was " not r out i ne. " Wi ndsor , 133 S. Ct . at 2689. Thi s i s an
ext r aor di nar y case i n whi ch t he gover nment " f ace[ d] a di f f i cul t
choi ce. " I d. ; see al so Pi er ce, 487 U. S. at 562 ( hol di ng t hat
whet her t he gover nment ' s posi t i on i s " subst ant i al l y j ust i f i ed" i s
r evi ewed f or abuse of di scr et i on t o pr ovi de " needed f l exi bi l i t y" ) .
Mor eover , whi l e t he Pr esi dent and t he execut i ve br anch may have
t hought Sect i on 3 of DOMA was unconst i t ut i onal , t he House of
Repr esent at i ves st r ongl y di sagr eed. The Pr esi dent may have
ul t i mat el y been cor r ect , but unt i l t he Supr eme Cour t r esol ved t he
i ssue i n Wi ndsor , i t i s har d t o see how t he enf or cement of
Sect i on 3 was a " knowi ng" r i ght s vi ol at i on.
Fi nal l y, t he McLaughl i n Gr oup, r el yi ng on Pi er ce, 487
U. S. at 560, ur ges t hat t he gover nment ' s l i t i gat i on posi t i on coul d
not have been subst ant i al l y j ust i f i ed because t he gover nment has
not ar gued f or t he " opposi t e mer i t s det er mi nat i on. " But Pi er ce
does not " r equi r e" t hat t he gover nment " ur g[ e] . . . t he opposi t e
mer i t s det er mi nat i on. " Rat her , t he quot ed passage expl ai ns why t he
appr opr i at e st andar d of r evi ew i s t he " def er ent i al ,
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abuse- of - di scr et i on r evi ew. " See i d.
5
Fi r st Ci r cui t pr ecedent
does not suggest ot her wi se. See, e. g. , Cast aeda- Cast i l l o v.
Hol der , 723 F. 3d 48, 73 ( 1st Ci r . 2013) ( r ecogni zi ng t hat , at l east
on appeal , advanci ng onl y pr ocedur al ar gument s mi ght be
subst ant i al l y j ust i f i ed) ; Ar onov, 562 F. 3d at 87, 89- 93 ( per mi t t i ng
i mmedi at e set t l ement wi t hout exposur e t o f ees) . Though novel , t he
gover nment ' s l i t i gat e- t o- l ose posi t i on i s not bar r ed by t he case
l aw. And because i t was const i t ut i onal l y appr opr i at e, f ees wer e
cor r ect l y deni ed as a mat t er of l aw. See Ar onov, 562 F. 3d at 94.
I V.
The McLaughl i n Gr oup al so cont ends t hat , even i f not
ent i t l ed t o f ees, t he " di st r i ct cour t er r ed as a mat t er of l aw by
appl yi ng t he ' subst ant i al l y j ust i f i ed' t est t o [ t he McLaughl i n
Gr oup' s] cl ai mf or [ $350 i n] cost s" under 28 U. S. C. 2412( a) ( 1)
and Fed. R. Ci v. P. 54( d) . As t he gover nment concedes, t hi s woul d
be an er r or of l aw i f t hat wer e what happened. But t he di st r i ct
cour t di d not i mpr oper l y appl y t he st andar d. I t mer el y decl i ned t o
addr ess cost s separ at el y.
Under ot her ci r cumst ances, t hi s si l ence coul d be a
pr obl em. " Ther e i s a backgr ound pr esumpt i on f avor i ng cost r ecover y
5
Pi er ce f r ames t he r el evant i nqui r y as " det er mi n[ i ng]
whet her ur gi ng of t he opposi t e mer i t s det er mi nat i on was
subst ant i al l y j ust i f i ed. " Pi er ce, 487 U. S. at 560 ( emphasi s
added) . That t hi s f r ami ng does not descr i be t hi s case i s not
sur pr i si ng because t he gover nment ' s l i t i gat i on posi t i on i s unusual .
See Wi ndsor , 133 S. Ct . at 2689.
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f or pr evai l i ng par t i es, " and so " [ w] hen denyi ng cost s, a di st r i ct
cour t must of f er an expl anat i on f or doi ng so unl ess t he basi s f or
denyi ng cost s i s ' r eadi l y appar ent on t he f ace of t he r ecor d. ' "
B. Fer nndez, 516 F. 3d at 28 ( quot i ng San J uan Dupont Pl aza Hot el ,
994 F. 2d at 963) . Her e, t he basi s f or denyi ng cost s was r eadi l y
appar ent : as we have t hor oughl y det ai l ed above, t he case was " cl ose
and di f f i cul t , " and " r equi r ed consi der ed bal anci ng. " See i d.
Whi l e an expl anat i on woul d have avoi ded any conf usi on about t he
di st r i ct cour t ' s r easoni ng, we f i nd t hat t he di st r i ct cour t ' s
unexpl ai ned deci si on t o deny cost s was not an abuse of di scr et i on.
V.
We af f i r m. Cost s ar e assessed agai nst t he McLaughl i n
Gr oup.
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