741 F.2d 1388 (D.C. Cir. 1984), 82-2304, Dronenburg v. Zech

Docket Nº:82-2304.
Citation:741 F.2d 1388
Party Name:James L. DRONENBURG, Appellant, v. Vice Admiral Lando ZECH, Chief of Naval Personnel, et al.
Case Date:August 17, 1984
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

Page 1388

741 F.2d 1388 (D.C. Cir. 1984)

James L. DRONENBURG, Appellant,


Vice Admiral Lando ZECH, Chief of Naval Personnel, et al.

No. 82-2304.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

August 17, 1984

Argued Sept. 29, 1983.

Rehearing En Banc Denied Nov. 15, 1984.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (Civil Action No. 81-00933).

Stephen V. Bomse, San Francisco, Cal., with whom Steven M. Block, Leonard Graff, San Francisco, Cal., and Calvin Steinmetz, Washington, D.C., were on the brief, for appellant.

William G. Cole, Atty., Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C., of the Bar of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, pro hac vice by special leave of the Court, with whom J. Paul McGrath, Asst. Atty. Gen., Anthony J. Steinmeyer, Richard A. Olderman, Attys., Dept. of Justice and Stanley S. Harris, U.S. Atty., Washington, D.C. (at the time the brief was filed), were on the brief, for appellees. Marc Johnston, Atty., Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C., also entered an appearance for appellees.

Charles Lister and Arthur B. Spitzer, Washington, D.C., were on the brief, for amicus curiae urging remand.

Before BORK and SCALIA, Circuit Judges, and WILLIAMS, [*] Senior District Judge, United States District Court for the Central District of California.

Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge BORK.

BORK, Circuit Judge:

James L. Dronenburg appeals from a district court decision upholding the United States Navy's action administratively discharging him for homosexual conduct. Appellant contends that the Navy's policy of

Page 1389

mandatory discharge for homosexual conduct violates his constitutional rights to privacy and equal protection of the laws. The district court granted summary judgment for the Navy, holding that private, consensual, homosexual conduct is not constitutionally protected. We affirm.


On April 21, 1981, the United States Navy discharged James L. Dronenburg for homosexual conduct. For the previous nine years he had served in the Navy as a Korean linguist and cryptographer with a top-security clearance. During that time he maintained an unblemished service record and earned many citations praising his job performance. At the time of his discharge Dronenburg, then a 27-year-old petty officer, was enrolled as a student in the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California.

The Navy's investigation of Dronenburg began eight months prior to the discharge, in August, 1980, when a 19-year-old seaman recruit and student of the Language Institute made sworn statements implicating Dronenburg in repeated homosexual acts. The appellant, after initially denying these allegations, subsequently admitted that he was a homosexual and that he had repeatedly engaged in homosexual conduct in a barracks on the Navy base. On September 18, 1980, the Navy gave Dronenburg formal notice that it was considering administratively discharging him for misconduct due to homosexual acts, a violation of SEC/NAV Instruction 1900.9C (Jan. 20, 1978); Joint Appendix ("J.A.") at 216, which provided in pertinent part, that

[a]ny member [of the Navy] who solicits, attempts or engages in homosexual acts shall normally be separated from the naval service. The presence of such a member in a military environment seriously impairs combat readiness, efficiency, security and morale. 1

On January 20 and 22, 1981, at a hearing before a Navy Administrative Discharge Board ("Board") Dronenburg testified at length in his own behalf, with counsel representing him. He again acknowledged engaging in homosexual acts in a Navy barracks.

The Board voted unanimously to recommend Dronenburg's discharge for misconduct due to homosexual acts. Two members of the Board voted that the discharge be characterized as a general one, while the third member voted that the discharge be an honorable one. The Secretary of the Navy, reviewing this case at appellant's request, affirmed the discharge but ordered that it be characterized as honorable. On April 20, 1981, the appellant filed suit in district court challenging the Navy's policy mandating discharge of all homosexuals. The district court granted summary judgment for the Navy.


As a threshold matter, we must dispose of appellees' contention that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over this action. According to appellees, the doctrine of sovereign immunity precludes the bringing of this action except insofar as the Tucker Act permits damage suits in the Claims Court. Brief for Federal

Page 1390

Appellees at 11-16. Appellees reason that the appellant's action is essentially one for damages; specifically, back pay against the government. The Claims Court, appellees allege, has exclusive jurisdiction over such actions where, as here, the amount is in excess of $10,000. In the alternative, appellees claim, appellant may waive the damages to the extent they exceed $10,000 and bring the suit in the district where Dronenburg resides, the Northern District of California. Brief for Federal Appellees at 15.

This circuit has held in a case remarkably similar to this one that the federal courts have jurisdiction to determine the legality and constitutionality of a military discharge. Matlovich v. Secretary of the Air Force, 591 F.2d 852, 859 (D.C.Cir.1978). Matlovich, like the appellant here, challenged the Air Force's decision to discharge him based upon his homosexual activities. In vacating and remanding the determination to the district court, this court relied upon the "power and the duty [of the federal courts] to inquire whether a military discharge was properly issued under the Constitution, statutes, and regulations." 591 F.2d at 859, citing Harmon v. Brucker, 355 U.S. 579, 78 S.Ct. 433, 2 L.Ed.2d 503 (1958); Van Bourg v. Nitze, 388 F.2d 557, 563 (D.C.Cir.1967); Hodges v. Callaway, 499 F.2d 417, 423 (5th Cir.1974). We are bound by that prior determination and therefore are not free to refuse to hear this case on jurisdictional grounds.

We are further bound by another decision of this court holding that "the United States and its officers ... are [not] insulated from suit for injunctive relief by the doctrine of sovereign immunity." Schnapper v. Foley, 667 F.2d 102, 107 (D.C.Cir.1981), cert. denied, 455 U.S. 948, 102 S.Ct. 1448, 71 L.Ed.2d 661 (1982). See also Sea-Land Service, Inc. v. Alaska R.R., 659 F.2d 243, 244 (D.C.Cir.1981). In Schnapper, the complainants alleged that certain officials of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts and the Register of Copyrights violated, among other things, various provisions of the Constitution, the old Copyright Acts, 17 U.S.C. Sec. 105 (1976) and 17 U.S.C. Sec. 8 (1970), and portions of the Communications and Public Broadcasting Acts. 667 F.2d at 106. The complaint sought injunctive and declaratory relief, as does the complaint here. 2 In finding that the District Court for the District of Columbia did in fact have jurisdiction, the court held that 5 U.S.C. Sec. 702 was intended to waive the sovereign immunity of the United States in suits for injunctive relief. That section provides, in part, that

[a]n action in a court of the United States seeking relief other that [sic] money damages and stating a claim that an agency or an employee thereof acted or failed to act in an official capacity or under color of legal authority shall not be dismissed nor relief thereon denied on the ground that it is against the United States ....

5 U.S.C. Sec. 702 (1982). In discussing the legislative history of this section, the court said:

The legislative history of this provision could not be more lucid. It states that this language was intended "to eliminate the defense of sovereign immunity with respect to any action in a court of the United States seeking relief other than money damages and based on the assertion of unlawful official action by a federal official ...." S.Rep. No. 996, 94th Cong., 2d Sess. at 2 (1976).

Schnapper, 667 F.2d at 108. The court also noted that the Senate Report had expressly stated that "the time [has] now come to eliminate the sovereign immunity defense in all equitable actions for specific relief against a Federal agency or officer acting in an official capacity." Id., quoting S.Rep. No. 996, 94th Cong., 2d Sess. 7-8 (1976). The Schnapper court concluded by stating its belief that "section 702 retains the defense of sovereign immunity only

Page 1391

when another statute expressly or implicitly forecloses injunctive relief." Id. Because no such statute has been pointed to by the appellees here, we are bound to take jurisdiction over this case. 3


Appellant advances two constitutional arguments, a right of privacy and a right to equal protection of the laws. Resolution of the second argument is to some extent dependent upon that of the first. Whether the appellant's asserted constitutional right to privacy is based upon fundamental human rights, substantive due process, the ninth amendment or emanations from the Bill of Rights, if no such right exists, then appellant's right to equal protection is not infringed unless the Navy's policy is not rationally related to a permissible end. Kelley v. Johnson, 425 U.S. 238, 247-49, 96 S.Ct. 1440, 1445-47, 47 L.Ed.2d 708 (1976). We think neither right has been violated by the Navy.


According to appellant, Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 85 S.Ct. 1678, 14 L.Ed.2d 510 (1965), and the cases that came after it, such as Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 87 S.Ct. 1817, 18 L.Ed.2d 1010 (1967); Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438, 92 S.Ct. 1029, 31 L.Ed.2d 349 (1972); Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 93 S.Ct. 705, 35 L.Ed.2d 147 (1973); and Carey v. Population Services International, 431...

To continue reading