Leonard v. U.S. Dep't of Def.

Decision Date30 April 2014
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 13–1571 ESH
Citation38 F.Supp.3d 99
PartiesRay Leonard, et al., Plaintiffs, v. United States Department of Defense, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

Erin Elizabeth Mersino, Ann Arbor, MI, for Plaintiffs.

Adam D. Kirschner, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ELLEN SEGAL HUVELLE, United States District Judge

On October 14, 2013, Father Ray Leonard, a Catholic chaplain at the Naval Submarine Base in Kings Bay, Georgia, and Fred Naylor, one of his parishioners, filed suit against the United States Department of Defense, the United States Department of the Navy, the Secretary of the Navy, and the Secretary of Defense. In their suit, Leonard and Naylor allege that defendants violated their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb, et. seq. (Count I), and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (Counts II–IV) when, pursuant to the Anti–Deficiency Act, 31 U.S.C. § 1342, they prevented Father Leonard from performing his ecclesiastical duties, even voluntarily, during the recent government shutdown. (Compl., Oct. 14, 2013 [ECF No. 1].)

One day after plaintiffs filed their lawsuit, defendants informed Father Leonard that despite the lapse in government funding, he (and other chaplains like him) would be permitted to continue working during the shutdown.1 (Am. Compl., Jan. 3, 2014 [ECF No. 19], at ¶ 68.) On that day, Father Leonard signed a contract modification stating that, while the government did not presently have funds to pay him, he would be able to continue to perform his duties during Fiscal Year 2014 and would be paid [w]hen appropriated funds bec[a]me available.” (Opp. to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss (“Opp.”), Mar. 17, 2014 [ECF No. 21], at 5 & Ex. 1, Attach 1.) Two days later, the government shutdown ended and, by October 28, the Navy had resumed regular operations including the payment of civilian chaplains like Father Leonard. (Poole Decl. at ¶ 15.)

In the process of “reviewing the contract modification that Father Leonard signed on October 15, 2013,” the procurement director for the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Rebecca Washington, determined that Father Leonard “had never signed the underlying contract for religious services at Kings Bay for Fiscal Year 2014 and that the underlying contract omitted “standard contract provisions” required by the Federal Acquisition Regulation (“FAR”). (Decl. of Rebecca Washington (“Washington Decl.”), Mar. 3, 2014 [ECF No. 20–3], at ¶ 4.) In light of this discovery, the Navy informed Father Leonard that he would need to sign a new contract. (Am. Compl. at ¶ 73.) Father Leonard, however, refused to sign this new contract on the grounds that he “believed [the new terms] to be more onerous than what [he] had originally agreed,” including “requirements that [he] believed could potentially compromise priest-penitent confidentiality.” (Decl. of Father Ray Leonard (Leonard Decl.), Mar. 14, 2014 [ECF No. 21–1], at ¶¶ 31–32.) He also was “concerned that under this new agreement, [he] could be terminated for any reason....” (Id. at ¶ 33.)

Though Father Leonard was paid for the month of October, the Navy informed him on November 25 that unless he signed the new contract he would not be paid for the work he completed in November or any work going forward and would begin to look for his replacement. (Id. at ¶ 34.) In the Navy's view, “there was concern that Father Leonard could not be paid without a signed contract.” (Mot. at 6 n.7.) Yet, on December 11, the Navy reversed its decision and informed Father Leonard that even if he failed to sign a new contract, he would continue to be paid for the rest of Fiscal Year 2014 and would not be replaced. (See id. ; Leonard Decl. at ¶ 36.) Despite these assurances, the Navy rejected a purchase order submitted by Father Leonard on December 18 based on the fact that his contract was invalid—an error that the Navy rectified on December 23 by paying him in full. (See Leonard Decl. at ¶ 36; Washington Decl. at ¶ 8.)

Plaintiffs sought leave to file an amended complaint, which this Court granted. (Mot. to File Am. Compl., Jan. 2, 2014 [ECF No. 16].) In their amended complaint, plaintiffs added an additional count alleging that defendants' actions toward Father Leonard after he filed suit constitute unlawful retaliation (Count V). (See Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 107–10.) Though Father Leonard has not yet signed his new contract, he continues to work as the Catholic chaplain at the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay and has not alleged any further delays or lapses in payment. (See Washington Decl. at ¶ 12.)

The case is presently before the Court on defendants' motion to dismiss the amended complaint on the grounds that (1) plaintiffs' initial claims “became moot long ago when the shutdown ended,” and (2) Father Leonard does not have standing to bring his retaliation claim or alternatively, this claim is statutorily precluded by the Contract Disputes Act (“CDA”). (Mot. at 1.) Plaintiffs oppose this motion on the grounds that (1) [t]he Anti–Deficiency Act has not been repealed ... [such that] it is likely that when the government enters another shutdown, the First Amendment rights of Plaintiffs and other similarly situated individuals will again be violated,” and (2) Father Leonard has standing to bring his retaliation claim which is not a contractual claim governed by the CDA. (Opp. at 4, 14.) For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant defendants' motion to dismiss.

ANALYSIS
I. LEGAL STANDARD

On a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that the court has subject matter jurisdiction. See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992). The Court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and give the plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences from the facts alleged. See Jerome Stevens Pharms., Inc. v. FDA, 402 F.3d 1249, 1253–54 (D.C.Cir.2005). A court may dismiss a case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction only if ‘it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.’ Richardson v. United States, 193 F.3d 545, 549 (D.C.Cir.1999) (quoting Caribbean Broad. Sys., Ltd. v. Cable & Wireless PLC, 148 F.3d 1080, 1086 (D.C.Cir.1998) ). Where a court's subject matter jurisdiction is called into question, it may consider matters outside the pleadings to ensure that it has the power to hear the case. See Jerome Stevens Pharms., Inc., 402 F.3d at 1253.

II. PLAINTIFFS' FIRST AMENDMENT AND RFRA CLAIMS

In Counts I–IV, plaintiffs allege violations of their rights under RFRA and the First Amendment resulting from defendants' actions during the government shutdown. In their motion to dismiss, defendants respond that these claims are now moot. The Court agrees.

“Federal courts lack jurisdiction to decide moot cases because their constitutional authority extends only to actual cases or controversies.” Iron Arrow Honor Soc'y v. Heckler, 464 U.S. 67, 70, 104 S.Ct. 373, 78 L.Ed.2d 58 (1983). The constitutional case or controversy requirement “means that, throughout the litigation, the plaintiff must have suffered, or be threatened with, an actual injury traceable to the defendant and likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision.” Spencer v. Kemna, 523 U.S. 1, 7, 118 S.Ct. 978, 140 L.Ed.2d 43 (1998) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). “Even where litigation poses a live controversy when filed, the [mootness] doctrine requires a federal court to refrain from deciding it if events have so transpired that the decision will neither presently affect the parties' rights nor have a more-than-speculative chance of affecting them in the future.” Clarke v. United States, 915 F.2d 699, 701 (D.C.Cir.1990) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). An intervening event may render a claim moot if there is no reasonable expectation that the conduct will recur. Pharmachemie B.V. v. Barr Labs., Inc., 276 F.3d 627, 631 (D.C.Cir.2002). “Simply stated, a case is moot when the issues presented are no longer live or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome.” Larsen v. U.S. Navy, 525 F.3d 1, 3 (D.C.Cir.2008) (quoting Los Angeles Cnty. v. Davis, 440 U.S. 625, 631, 99 S.Ct. 1379, 59 L.Ed.2d 642 (1979) ).

Here, as a result of defendants' alleged violations of plaintiffs' constitutional and statutory rights, the amended complaint seeks (1) a declaratory judgment that Defendants' actions violate the [RFRA] and the First Amendment,” and (2) an injunction prohibiting defendants from inhibiting Father Leonard from performing his ecclesiastical duties based on the Anti–Deficiency Act.2 (Am. Compl. at Prayer for Relief.) The problem for plaintiffs, however, is that the need for this relief effectively ended when the shutdown did. At the conclusion of the shutdown Father Leonard was permitted to perform his job for Fiscal Year 2014. Likewise, once Father Leonard was no longer forbidden from performing his job, plaintiff Fred Naylor regained access to all the religious activities that he sought to participate in despite the fact that no court had issued declaratory or injunctive relief.

Therefore, even construing the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, as the Court must, there can be no allegation that defendants are presently violating any of plaintiffs' statutory or constitutional rights and their claims are therefore moot. See Nat'l Black Police Ass'n v. Dist. of Columbia, 108 F.3d 346, 349 (D.C.Cir.1997). Plaintiffs seemingly concede as much in the first sentence of their opposition when they describe their injuries in the past tense—[p]laintiffs' injuries are not speculative—they occurred .” (Opp. at 1 (emphasis in original).) Federal courts are, however, “not in the...

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