521 F.3d 398 (D.C. Cir. 2008), 07-7072, Griffith v. Lanier

Docket Nº:07-7072.
Citation:521 F.3d 398
Party Name:Christopher GRIFFITH et al., Appellants v. Cathy L. LANIER, Appellee.
Case Date:April 04, 2008
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

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521 F.3d 398 (D.C. Cir. 2008)

Christopher GRIFFITH et al., Appellants


Cathy L. LANIER, Appellee.

No. 07-7072.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit.

April 4, 2008

Argued Feb. 15, 2008

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 06cv01223).

Matthew A. LeFande argued the cause and filed the briefs for appellants.

Holly M. Johnson, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, argued the cause for appellee. With her on the brief were Linda J. Singer, Attorney General, Todd S. Kim, Solicitor General, and Edward E. Schwab, Deputy Attorney General.

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Before: HENDERSON and ROGERS, Circuit Judges, and WILLIAMS, Senior Circuit Judge.


WILLIAMS, Senior Circuit Judge:

Christopher Griffith and Daniel K. Kim are members of the District of Columbia's Metropolitan Police Department Reserve Corps, a corps of unpaid volunteers who assist full-time officers of the Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") in the provision of law enforcement services. See D.C. Code § 5-129.51 (Supp. 2007). Griffith and Kim brought suit in the district court to enjoin the enforcement of the MPD's General Order 101.03, issued in 2006 by then-Chief of Police Charles Ramsey, which brought the Reserve Corps into conformity with certain regulations issued under the Volunteer Services Act ("VSA") of 1977, D.C. Code § 1-319.02 (2001). See D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 6, § 4000.1-.26. Among other claims, the plaintiffs challenged the General Order's limitation of their "right to organize for collective bargaining purposes" as a facial violation of the First Amendment. They also protested the order's provision for at-will dismissal as depriving them, without due process, of a statutorily-conferred property interest in continued volunteer service.

Ramsey filed a motion to dismiss on all counts. The district court granted this motion after Ramsey had left office, substituting as defendant the new police chief, Cathy L. Lanier. Griffith v. Lanier, No. 06-01223, 2007 WL 950087, slip op. at 1 & n.1 (D.D.C. Mar. 28, 2007). The plaintiffs now appeal the substitution of Lanier as well as the dismissal of their First Amendment and due process claims. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm the judgment of the district court. (We need not address the plaintiffs' request for class-action certification.)

First, a word on the parties. The complaint names Ramsey as the sole defendant, "acting in his official capacity as the MPD Chief of Police." Compl. 2. Such language "is best understood as a reference to the capacity in which the state officer is sued, not the capacity in which the officer inflicts the alleged injury." Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 26, 112 S.Ct. 358, 116 L.Ed.2d 301 (1991). Moreover, the plaintiffs seek injunctive relief as well as money damages, Compl. 11-12; the former is obviously available only from a currently serving official defendant. Thus, the district correctly construed the complaint as naming Ramsey in his official capacity. It follows that Lanier's taking office triggered application of Fed.R.Civ.P. 25(d), which "automatically" substitutes the successor of a public officer named in his "official capacity." Accord Fed. R. App. P. 43(c)(2).

In a motion for reconsideration, the plaintiffs asked the district court to withdraw the substitution and to add Lanier as a separate official defendant, apparently wishing to proceed against Ramsey in his personal capacity (presumably for money damages only). The court denied the motion without comment. On appeal, the plaintiffs repeat their objections to the substitution, but do not explicitly request that Lanier be added as a separate defendant. See Griffith Br. 53 (stating that the plaintiffs "presently offer no allegation of misconduct" against Lanier). Since the district court's reading of the complaint was correct and the plaintiffs' wishes concerning Lanier are unclear, we affirm the district court on this issue as well. We note that in the end nothing actually turns on the question (for we affirm the judgment

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in full on the merits), and also that, had the plaintiffs sought leave to amend their complaint to name Ramsey in his personal capacity, such leave would have been freely given if "justice so require[d]." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2).

The plaintiffs' First Amendment claim concerns a declaration in the General Order that Reserve Corps members, as volunteers, "shall not be eligible for any benefits normally accruing to employees of the District of Columbia, including health insurance, retirement, life insurance, leave, or the right to organize for collective bargaining purposes, unless such benefits are specifically provided by the laws of the District of Columbia." MPD General Order 101.03 § IV.C.5 (emphasis added). The plaintiffs read this provision as a prior restraint of their First Amendment freedoms to speak...

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