Larsen v. U.S. Navy, Civil Action No. 02-2005 (RMU).

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Writing for the CourtUrbina
Citation486 F.Supp.2d 11
Decision Date30 April 2007
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 02-2005 (RMU).
PartiesRev. Charles E. LARSEN et al., Plaintiffs, v. The UNITED STATES NAVY et al., Defendants.
486 F.Supp.2d 11
Rev. Charles E. LARSEN et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
The UNITED STATES NAVY et al., Defendants.
Civil Action No. 02-2005 (RMU).
United States District Court, District of Columbia.
April 30, 2007.

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Arthur A. Schulcz, Sr., The Law Office of Arthur A. Schulcz, Sr., Vienna, VA, for Plaintiffs.

Michael Q. Hyde, Christopher R. Hall, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GRANTING THE DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT; DENYING THE PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT "

URBINA, District Judge.


I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the court on the parties' cross motions for summary

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judgment. The plaintiffs, Charles Larsen, Gregory McNear and James Linzey, are three non-liturgical Protestant ministers who applied for but were denied commissions in the Navy Chaplain Corps (the "Corps" or "Chaplaincy").1 They bring suit against the Navy and the Secretary of the Navy (collectively, the "defendants") to challenge alleged prejudice in Corps hiring practices. Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that the Navy has established religious quotas for Navy chaplain accessions that intentionally favor liturgical clergy in violation of the First and Fifth Amendments.2 The parties now each seek summary judgment. Because the Navy's current chaplain accession program seeks legitimate military ends while accommodating individual rights to an appropriate (albeit limited) degree, the court grants the defendants' motion for summary judgment and denies the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment.

II. BACKGROUND
A. Factual Background

Because the facts of the present case are similar to several cases now pending before this court, the court limits its discussion of the plaintiffs' allegations to what is necessary to resolve the instant motion.

The plaintiffs are non-liturgical ministers, all with prior military service. Compl. ¶ 1. They applied to the Corps at various times in their careers, but the defendants rejected them because, the plaintiffs allege, of a "systematic and pervasive religious prejudice" against nonliturgical faith groups. Id. ¶ 2. As part of this prejudice, the Navy favors liturgical Protestants, despite the under-representation of liturgical Protestant service personnel and an overrepresentation of non-liturgical Protestant service personnel in the Navy generally. Id. ¶¶ 1-2.

The Defense Manpower Data Center ("DMDC") collects data on the religious preferences of individual Armed Forces members for the Department of Defense ("DOD"). Id. ¶ 8. According to the plaintiffs, this data indicates that:

In stark contrast to their low and declining percentage of [Navy] personnel, the Protestant liturgical chaplain category consistently comprises over 33% of the Chaplain Corps, about three times the actual percentage of [Navy] personnel who identify a religious preference. In contrast, non-liturgical chaplains have never come close to an equivalence of their faith group percentage of those who identify a religious preference.

Id. ¶ 13.

The plaintiffs claim that the over-representation of liturgical chaplains stems from the Navy's conscious decision to insure that liturgical chaplains control the Corps. Id. ¶ 18. "Prior to some time around 1988," the defendants based the composition of the Corps on the religious demography of the country. Id. ¶ 16. Because proportional representation led to an increased number of non-liturgicals, the Corps became "concern[ed]." Id. ¶ 17. The defendants thus abandoned their goal of proportional representation and, in 1988, imposed a "subjective quota system," Pls.' Mot. for Summ. J. ("Pls.' Mot.") at 4, known as the "Thirds Policy," id. ¶ 18. Under this policy, the defendants divided the Corps into thirds: Roman Catholic, Protestant liturgical, and non-liturgical

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Christian and Special Worship. Id. Since the defendants implemented their Thirds Policy, their accession goals for chaplain candidates have not only been arbitrary, but have also been a "deliberate misrepresentation of the Navy's free exercise needs ... for the purpose of minimizing the career opportunities for non-liturgical clergy and ... limit[ing] their influence in the Corps and in the Navy, and hindering the religious rights of non-liturgical personnel." Id. ¶ 22. In 2001, the Navy abandoned the Thirds Policy, preferring instead to "take the best qualified candidates, regardless of denomination." Pls.' Mot. at 6.

With regard to the individual plaintiffs, Rev. Larsen spent sixteen years in active duty in the Navy. Compl. ¶ 4(A). He left in 1982 to attend the Dallas Theological Seminary and complete the post-graduate education necessary to become a Navy chaplain. Id. While at Dallas Theological Seminary, Rev. Larsen applied to the Navy's Student Seminary Program, but he was not accepted. Id. In 1987, after graduating from Dallas Theological Seminary, Larsen applied to join the Corps, but the Corps rejected him with a letter stating that his non-liturgical faith group had "no quota." Id.

Rev. McNear served in the Air Force and the Colorado Air National Guard prior to completing seminary in 1981. Id. ¶ 4(B). In 1993, he applied to the Navy to become a chaplain, but he was told he needed additional post-graduate semester hours to meet the Corps' criteria. Id. Rev. McNear promptly completed these requirements and reapplied. Id. The Navy rejected his application because, among other things, Rev. McNear was too old and did not satisfy the "needs of the Navy." Id., Ex. 8 ¶ 2. According to the plaintiffs, the age explanation was a "sham" because liturgical Protestant candidates received waivers to join the Corps despite their age during the same period, and the "needs of the Navy" is a "code-phrase" for an illegal quota system disfavoring non-liturgical Protestants. Compl. ¶ 4(B).

Finally, Rev. Linzy is endorsed by the Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches, a nonliturgical group. Id. ¶ 4(D). He spent three years of active duty as an Army chaplain and applied to become a Navy chaplain. Id. The Navy rejected his application-despite a shortage of chaplains-and explained to Rev. Linzy that he would have been viewed more favorably if he were a "baby baptizer" — that is, if he were not non-liturgical. Id.; see also Compl. ¶ 7(A) (noting that liturgical denominations are sometimes referred to as "high church" or "baby baptizers").

B. Procedural Background

The court last issued a memorandum opinion in this case on November 18, 2004, 346 F.Supp.2d 122, denying in part and granting in part the defendants' motion to dismiss. In their motion to dismiss, the defendants moved for dismissal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. Mem. Op. (Nov. 18, 2004). Specifically, the defendants argued that the court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' demand to be commissioned as officers, id. at 127, that sovereign immunity barred the plaintiffs' request for monetary damages, id. at 128-29, that the plaintiffs failed to allege immediate or imminent injury necessary for constitutional standing, id. at 130, that the plaintiffs' claims were barred by the applicable statute of limitations, id. at 134-35, and that the plaintiffs had failed to state a claim under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, id. at 136.

Regarding subject-matter jurisdiction, the court construed the plaintiffs' complaint as seeking the opportunity to compete

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for commission in the Corps rather than, as the defendants had argued, asking the court to actually commission the plaintiffs in the Navy. Id. at 127-28. Noting the court's jurisdiction to entertain such claims, id. at 127 (citing Emory v. Sec. of Navy, 819 F.2d 291, 294 (D.C.Cir.1987)), the court denied the defendants' motion for dismissal. Because the plaintiffs never served as Navy chaplains, the court ruled that monetary damages (in the form of constructive and retirement credit), are inappropriate. Mem. Op. (Nov. 18, 2004) at 129-30 (citing 5 U.S.C. § 702).

With regard to standing, the court concluded that the plaintiffs' pleadings sufficed, at the motion to dismiss stage, in alleging a concrete plan to reapply to the Corps if the court ordered the Navy to remove the unconstitutional barriers they allege. Id. at 133. With this assessment, the court concluded that the plaintiffs' alleged harm was sufficiently imminent to establish standing. Id. Finally, the court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' Religious Freedom Restoration Act claims, concluding that the plaintiffs do not challenge a law of neutral or general applicability — a prerequisite for suits under that statute. Id. at 137-138.

III. ANALYSIS

Because of the procedural complexity of this case, the court takes a step back to briefly recount the plaintiffs' existing claims. The plaintiffs argue that the defendants' past Thirds Policy and its current chaplain accession plan violate the First and Fifth Amendments. Comps. ¶¶ 24-45. They seek declaratory relief, injunctive relief and an order from the court directing the defendants to eliminate current and past bias and to provide certain remedies to the plaintiffs. Id. at 24. As to declaratory relief, the plaintiffs request a judgment that: (1) the Navy's accession policies violate the First and Fifth Amendments, and DOD regulations; (2) the Navy has unlawfully denied Rev. Larsen an opportunity to compete for the Seminary Program, a commission, a career, and a promotion; (3) the Navy's conduct has denied the other plaintiffs an equal opportunity to compete for a commission; and (4) the Navy has unlawfully caused Rev. McNear to lose a career in the Naval Reserve. Id. at 24-25. As to injunctive relief, the plaintiffs ask the court to stop the defendants from discriminating in chaplain accession and career development decisions and to stop the...

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  • Nat'L Treasury Employees Union v. Whipple, Civil Action No. 07-168 (RWR).
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • July 20, 2009
    ...to Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the court has subject-matter jurisdiction." Larsen v. U.S. Navy, 486 F.Supp.2d 11, 18 (D.D.C.2007). "Because subject-matter jurisdiction focuses on the court's power to hear the claim, however, the court must give the pla......
  • Clayton v. District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 11–1889 (RWR).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • August 22, 2013
    ...where constitutional wrongs are alleged. Clayton primarily relies on two cases for her argument: Lilly and Larsen v. U.S. Navy, 486 F.Supp.2d 11 (D.D.C.2007). However, neither case provides support for Clayton's argument that the United States has waived sovereign immunity for claims for da......
  • Freedom Watch, Inc. v. Obama, Civil Action No. 09–2398 (RWR).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • August 12, 2011
    ...to Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the court has subject-matter jurisdiction.” Larsen v. U.S. Navy, 486 F.Supp.2d 11, 18 (D.D.C.2007); see also Moms Against Mercury v. FDA, 483 F.3d 824, 828 (D.C.Cir.2007). “A Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the legal sufficien......
  • Kurtz v. United States , Civil Action No. 10–1270 (RWR).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • July 26, 2011
    ...JURISDICTION “[T]he plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the court has subject-matter jurisdiction.” Larsen v. U.S. Navy, 486 F.Supp.2d 11, 18 (D.D.C.2007); see also Moms Against Mercury v. FDA, 483 F.3d 824, 828 (D.C.Cir.2007). A court “ ‘must accept as true the allegations in t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
30 cases
  • Nat'L Treasury Employees Union v. Whipple, Civil Action No. 07-168 (RWR).
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • July 20, 2009
    ...to Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the court has subject-matter jurisdiction." Larsen v. U.S. Navy, 486 F.Supp.2d 11, 18 (D.D.C.2007). "Because subject-matter jurisdiction focuses on the court's power to hear the claim, however, the court must give the pla......
  • Clayton v. District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 11–1889 (RWR).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • August 22, 2013
    ...where constitutional wrongs are alleged. Clayton primarily relies on two cases for her argument: Lilly and Larsen v. U.S. Navy, 486 F.Supp.2d 11 (D.D.C.2007). However, neither case provides support for Clayton's argument that the United States has waived sovereign immunity for claims for da......
  • Freedom Watch, Inc. v. Obama, Civil Action No. 09–2398 (RWR).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • August 12, 2011
    ...to Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the court has subject-matter jurisdiction.” Larsen v. U.S. Navy, 486 F.Supp.2d 11, 18 (D.D.C.2007); see also Moms Against Mercury v. FDA, 483 F.3d 824, 828 (D.C.Cir.2007). “A Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the legal sufficien......
  • Kurtz v. United States , Civil Action No. 10–1270 (RWR).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • July 26, 2011
    ...JURISDICTION “[T]he plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the court has subject-matter jurisdiction.” Larsen v. U.S. Navy, 486 F.Supp.2d 11, 18 (D.D.C.2007); see also Moms Against Mercury v. FDA, 483 F.3d 824, 828 (D.C.Cir.2007). A court “ ‘must accept as true the allegations in t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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