In re Navy Chaplaincy, Misc. Case No. 07-269 (JDB)

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Writing for the CourtJOHN D. BATES, United States District Judge
Decision Date30 August 2018
Parties IN RE: NAVY CHAPLAINCY
Docket NumberMisc. Case No. 07-269 (JDB)

323 F.Supp.3d 25

IN RE: NAVY CHAPLAINCY

Misc. Case No. 07-269 (JDB)

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

Signed August 30, 2018


323 F.Supp.3d 28

Matthew J.B. Lawrence, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for Navy Chaplaincy

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JOHN D. BATES, United States District Judge

323 F.Supp.3d 29

More than a decade ago, these consolidated cases were brought by a group of Protestant U.S. Navy chaplains who allege that the Navy has discriminated against them in various ways because of their faith. Though plaintiffs' consolidated complaint runs over one hundred pages and asserts eighteen separate counts, prior rulings in this case have whittled their claims down to nine, six of which are currently before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. Each of these claims relates to the so-called "selection boards" that the Navy uses to select chaplains (and all other commissioned officers) for promotion and, in some cases, for involuntary retirement.

Plaintiffs' primary claim is that, until 2002, the Navy maintained an unconstitutional policy of placing at least one Roman Catholic chaplain on every selection board, which resulted in Catholic chaplains being promoted at a disproportionately high rate compared to other religious groups. Plaintiffs also challenge a host of other allegedly unconstitutional selection-board policies and procedures—some of which, plaintiffs claim, continue to this day. Finally, plaintiffs challenge a statute that privileges selection-board deliberations from disclosure in litigation, arguing that it is unconstitutional as applied to their case because it denies them access to information that they need to prove their constitutional claims. To redress these wrongs, plaintiffs—each of whom was either passed over for promotion or selected for early retirement by a board that was allegedly tainted by one or more of the challenged procedures—seek an order directing the Navy to reinstate them to active duty, if necessary, and to convene new, properly constituted selection boards to reconsider the personnel actions taken against them. Alternatively, plaintiffs ask the Court to permit them to take further discovery to prove their claims.

To a considerable extent, the result in this case is dictated by prior rulings of both the D.C. Circuit and this Court. The legal standards applicable to plaintiffs' challenges to the selection-board policies and procedures were laid out several years ago by the D.C. Circuit in this very litigation. Consequently, there is little left to do here but to apply those standards to the evidence adduced by the parties on summary judgment—which, as explained below, does not even come close to showing the degree of discrimination required for plaintiffs' challenges to succeed. Likewise, this Court has already twice considered and twice rejected plaintiffs' constitutional challenge to the statutory privilege for selection-board proceedings, and plaintiffs offer no persuasive reason to reach a different conclusion this time around. Plaintiffs' motions for summary judgment as to these claims will therefore be denied, and the Navy's will be granted. Finally, because plaintiffs have had ample opportunity to conduct discovery previously in this litigation, and because they would be unlikely to prevail on their claims even if they were permitted to take further discovery, plaintiffs' requests for additional discovery will be denied.

BACKGROUND

I. THE NAVY CHAPLAIN CORPS

The Navy employs a corps of over 800 chaplains to serve the religious needs of service members deployed across the United States and throughout the world. In re England, 375 F.3d 1169, 1171 (D.C. Cir. 2004). In addition to performing religious services, Navy chaplains provide service members with counseling and ethics instruction, and they sometimes advise naval officers on the moral and ethical implications

323 F.Supp.3d 30

of their decisions. Id. Chaplains have performed these and other important functions aboard U.S. Navy ships since the Founding. Id.

Plaintiffs are thirty-nine Protestant chaplains who belong to denominations that the Navy categorizes as "non-liturgical" because their services do not follow a set liturgy (that is, a prescribed order of worship). Id. at 1172. Protestant denominations falling within this category include Baptism, Evangelicalism, and Pentecostalism; conversely, "liturgical" denominations include Methodism, Lutheranism, and Presbyterianism. Id. At all times relevant to this litigation, for administrative purposes, the Navy treated liturgical Protestants, non-liturgical Protestants, and Roman Catholics as three distinct "faith group categories"; a fourth and final category, "Special Worship," included all other Christian denominations, as well as all other religions. Id. The Navy used these faith group categories to document service members' religious needs and to ensure that those needs were being met.

Although chaplains' religious role within the Navy is unique, chaplains progress through the Navy's promotion system in the same manner as all other commissioned officers. See, e.g., 10 U.S.C. § 624 (describing the promotion process); id. § 638 (providing for the involuntary "selective early retirement" of an officer who has been considered but not selected for a promotion either a certain number of times or after a certain number of years, depending on the officer's rank). To be promoted to the next rank, a chaplain must be recommended by a "selection board." 10 U.S.C. § 611(a). That board must consist of at least five officers, all of whom must rank higher than the candidates under consideration, id. § 612(a)(1), and at least one of whom must be a chaplain, id. § 612(a)(2)(A); see In re England, 375 F.3d at 1172 ("[I]f a selection board is considering chaplains, at least one board member must be a chaplain."). The same requirements apply to a board convened to select chaplains for early retirement. See 10 U.S.C. § 611(b).

The convening of selection boards is further governed by Navy regulations. See id. § 611(c).1 Initially, during the time frame relevant here, Navy regulations required that each chaplain selection board consist of "five or more" officers, at least one of whom was not a chaplain. SECNAVINST 1401.3, Encl. 1 ¶ 1(c)(1). The Navy would then seek to fill the remaining seats, to the extent practicable, with "a mix of qualified and available chaplains from the different Faith Group Categories." See Decl. of Captain Stephen B. Rock ("Rock Decl.") [ECF No. 281-2] ¶ 8. Beginning in 2003, however, the Secretary of the Navy directed that chaplain selection boards be composed of five non-chaplain officers and two chaplains. See Decl. of Commander James Francis Buckley ("Buckley Decl.") [ECF No. 281-23] ¶ 3. Then, in 2005, the Navy formally amended its regulations to require that "Chaplain Corps boards shall include five [non-chaplain] officers as members, and two members from the Chaplain Corps." SECNAVINST 1401.3A, encl. 1 ¶ 1(c)(1)(f).

Statutory and regulatory requirements also prohibit unlawful discrimination by selection

323 F.Supp.3d 31

boards (or by those tasked with convening them). For example, by statute, selection board members must swear an oath to fulfill their duties "without prejudice or partiality and having in view both the special fitness of officers and the efficiency of [the Navy]." 10 U.S.C. § 613. Navy regulations further provide that "[e]xclusion from board membership by reason of gender, race, ethnic origin, or religious affiliation is prohibited." SECNAVINST 1401.3 ¶ 4(a); SECNAVINST 1401.3A ¶ 4(a). They also specifically state that members of chaplain selection boards "shall be nominated without regard to religious affiliation." SECNAVINST 1401.3, encl. 1 ¶ (1)(c)(1)(e); SECNAVINST 1401.3A, encl. 1 ¶ (1)(c)(1)(f). Similarly, during the relevant time period, "precepts" addressed to individual selection boards instructed those boards to "ensure that officers are not disadvantaged because of their race, creed, color, gender, or national origin." See, e.g., Precept Convening FY-02 Promotion Selection Board [ECF Nos. 281-20] at C-1.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The plaintiffs in this consolidated litigation are a group of non-liturgical Protestant chaplains who claim that they were either denied a promotion or selected for early retirement because of their religious affiliation. See generally Consolidated Compl. ("Compl.") [ECF No. 134] add. A. Over its nearly twenty-year life span, plaintiffs' case has been before the D.C. Circuit at least five times, seen the retirement of two district judges, and generated over a thousand pages of briefing on dispositive motions. Its history is nothing if not complex.

A. Church of Full Gospel Chaplains v. Danzig and Adair v. Winter

The first two of the three cases consolidated in this action were filed in this district in 1999 and 2000, see Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches v. Danzig ("CFGC"), Civil Action No. 99-2945 (D.D.C. filed Nov. 5, 1999); Adair v. Winter, Civil Action No. 00-566 (D.D.C. filed Mar. 17, 2000), and later consolidated before Judge Ricardo Urbina....

To continue reading

Request your trial
4 practice notes
  • Sandvig v. Barr, Civil Action No. 16-1368 (JDB)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • March 27, 2020
    ...must now demonstrate standing "with specific facts set out by affidavit or other admissible evidence," In re Navy Chaplaincy, 323 F. Supp. 3d 25, 39 (D.D.C. 2018) (internal quotation marks omitted). There are two ways in which litigants like plaintiffs here may establish the requisite ongoi......
  • Arnold v. Sec'y of Navy, Civil No. 19-2755 (JDB)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • April 21, 2020
    ...decade of litigation), the Court granted summary judgment to the Navy on the bulk of the chaplains' claims.1 See In re Navy Chaplaincy, 323 F. Supp. 3d 25, 29 (D.D.C. 2018). The chaplains' claims had consisted of both "systemic" claims—broad challenges to various Navy selection board polici......
  • Lancaster v. The Sec'y of Navy, Civil Action 2:19cv95 (RCY)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • August 30, 2021
    ...by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (“D.C. District Court”) in 2007 into In re Navy Chaplaincy. 323 F.Supp.3d 25, 29 (D.D.C. 2018). Lancaster attempted to join an earlier stage of this litigation in 2002, but he was rejected by the court. (Am. Compl. at 3.) He w......
  • Arnold v. Sec'y of Navy, 20-5330
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • November 12, 2021
    ...of litigation, demanded the resources of multiple district judges, and occupied several court of appeals panels. In re Navy Chaplaincy, 323 F.Supp.3d 25, 31 (D.D.C. 2018). In 2018, the district court granted summary judgment to the Navy as to the chaplains' systemic challenges to broadly ap......
4 cases
  • Sandvig v. Barr, Civil Action No. 16-1368 (JDB)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • March 27, 2020
    ...must now demonstrate standing "with specific facts set out by affidavit or other admissible evidence," In re Navy Chaplaincy, 323 F. Supp. 3d 25, 39 (D.D.C. 2018) (internal quotation marks omitted). There are two ways in which litigants like plaintiffs here may establish the requisite ongoi......
  • Arnold v. Sec'y of Navy, Civil No. 19-2755 (JDB)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • April 21, 2020
    ...decade of litigation), the Court granted summary judgment to the Navy on the bulk of the chaplains' claims.1 See In re Navy Chaplaincy, 323 F. Supp. 3d 25, 29 (D.D.C. 2018). The chaplains' claims had consisted of both "systemic" claims—broad challenges to various Navy selection board polici......
  • Lancaster v. The Sec'y of Navy, Civil Action 2:19cv95 (RCY)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • August 30, 2021
    ...by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (“D.C. District Court”) in 2007 into In re Navy Chaplaincy. 323 F.Supp.3d 25, 29 (D.D.C. 2018). Lancaster attempted to join an earlier stage of this litigation in 2002, but he was rejected by the court. (Am. Compl. at 3.) He w......
  • Arnold v. Sec'y of Navy, 20-5330
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • November 12, 2021
    ...of litigation, demanded the resources of multiple district judges, and occupied several court of appeals panels. In re Navy Chaplaincy, 323 F.Supp.3d 25, 31 (D.D.C. 2018). In 2018, the district court granted summary judgment to the Navy as to the chaplains' systemic challenges to broadly ap......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT