Uhl v. Swanstrom

Decision Date21 February 1995
Docket NumberNo. C 91-4012.,C 91-4012.
Citation876 F. Supp. 1545
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of West Virginia
PartiesKenneth P. UHL, Plaintiff, v. Dennis P. SWANSTROM, individually and in his official capacity as 185th TFG Commander, Iowa Ang, Warren G. Lawson, individually and as Adjutant General, Iowa Air National Guard, the Iowa Air National Guard, the United States and the Department of the Air Force, Defendants.

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

Blake Parker of Parker & Fors, Fort Dodge, IA, for Kenneth P. Uhl.

Grant Dugdale, Asst. Atty. Gen., for Iowa Air Nat. Guard, Col. Dennis P. Swanstrom, and Adjutant General Warren G. Lawson.

ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

BENNETT, District Judge.

                   I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND ............................................. 1548
                  II. STANDARDS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT .................................... 1551
                 III. FINDINGS OF FACT .................................................. 1553
                  IV. LEGAL ANALYSIS .................................................... 1554
                      A. The Statute Of Limitations For § 1983 Claims .............. 1555
                         1. The Applicable Statute ...................................... 1555
                         2. Accrual Of A § 1983 Claim .............................. 1556
                         3. Tolling Of The Statute Of Limitations ....................... 1556
                      B. The Statute Of Limitations For Privacy Act Claims .............. 1560
                      C. The Feres Doctrine ............................................. 1561
                         1. Rationale For The Doctrine .................................. 1561
                         2. The Test For Applicability Of The Doctrine .................. 1563
                         3. Claims To Which Feres Applies ............................... 1565
                            a. Claims By Service Personnel And Dependents ............... 1565
                            b. Claims By National Guard Members ......................... 1565
                         5. Application Of Feres In This Case ........................... 1567
                  V. CONCLUSION ......................................................... 1570
                

This case is a stark and troublesome reminder that the law does not always provide a remedy for every wrong. A former civilian technician and lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Air National Guard filed this lawsuit asserting violations of his rights to equal protection and due process, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, along with a claim for violation of the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. § 552 et seq. and a pendant state law claim pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act, arising from his discharge from his military position and resultant loss of his civilian position. The plaintiff has now moved for partial summary judgment on his claims of violation of his constitutional rights on the ground that the administrative processes of the armed forces have already concluded that his rights were violated in the course of his discharge. Defendants, plaintiff's superior officers and the Iowa Air National Guard itself, have moved for summary judgment as to all claims on the ground that such claims are barred by the Feres doctrine, which limits tort claims by military personnel against their superior officers for injuries incident to their military service. Defendants also assert that plaintiff's claims are time-barred by the applicable statute of limitations. For the reasons articulated in this opinion, the court is constrained to apply the Feres doctrine in the circumstances of this case, and to grant defendants' motion for summary judgment. The court finds that this result dictated by the Feres doctrine and controlling authority is harsh — depriving the plaintiff of a meaningful remedy even if he can establish constitutional and legal violations by his former superiors. This case demonstrates that "how one wishes to decide a case comes lightly to mind, on a wing; but often how one must decide it comes arduously, weighed down by somber thought." Letelier v. Republic of Chile, 748 F.2d 790, 791 (2d Cir. 1984), cert. denied, 471 U.S. 1125, 105 S.Ct. 2656, 86 L.Ed.2d 273 (1985).

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Kenneth P. Uhl filed this lawsuit on January 22, 1991. An amended complaint was filed on February 21, 1991. The amended complaint contains claims of violation of Uhl's constitutional rights to due process and equal protection brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, intentional interference with a contract, and violation of provisions of the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. § 552a(g)(1). Defendants originally included Uhl's commanding officer, Col. Dennis P. Swanstrom, the commander of the 185 Tactical Fighter Group of the Iowa Air National Guard stationed at Sergeant Bluff, Iowa, Warren G. Lawson, the Adjutant General of the Iowa National Guard, the Iowa Air National Guard (IANG), the United States of America and the Department of the Air Force.

On June 9, 1988, plaintiff Kenneth P. Uhl was honorably discharged from the IANG following a decision of the Medical Examination Board (MEB) finding him mentally unfit for world-wide service. Uhl initially pursued his claims arising from his discharge through administrative processes of the military. The Department of Defense Inspector General's (DoD/IG's) investigation concluded, in a final report issued January 24, 1989, that the MEB procedure in this case had been badly flawed and was furthermore wholly inappropriate. The DoD/IG recommended Uhl's reinstatement. Consequently, on June 21, 1990, the Air Force Board to Correct Military Records (AFBCMR) expunged the medical reasons for Uhl's discharge from his permanent record, which leaves Uhl fully qualified for continued military service.

On April 20, 1990, Uhl filed an administrative claim with the Department of the Army and Air Force National Guard Bureau under the Federal Tort Claim Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. §§ 2671-2680. This claim alleged wrongful discharge on the ground of violation of the constitutional right to equal protection, intentional interference with contract, and violation of the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. § 552a, et seq. The Department of the Air Force denied Uhl's FTCA claims on August 31, 1990.

The IANG refused to reinstate Uhl even in the face of the recommendation of the DoD/IG and the action of the AFBCMR. Uhl therefore filed suit, first in Iowa district court for Woodbury County, then in this federal district court. The petition filed in state court on May 25, 1990, against Swanstrom and the IANG, alleged defamation, state action "under color of state law, in discharging the Plaintiff and depriving him of rights protected by State and Federal Laws and federal rules and regulations," and sought monetary damages and injunctive relief reinstating him to his military and civilian positions with the IANG. Petition, Uhl v. Swanstrom, No. 100726C, Iowa District Court for Woodbury County, (State Petition) ¶¶ 4, 18, 19, Defendants' Exhibit C in Support Of Defendants' Motion For Summary Judgment. On November 26, 1990, the Iowa district court granted the IANG's motion to dismiss pursuant to the Feres doctrine,1 but denied Swanstrom's motion to dismiss on the same ground. Swanstrom's subsequent motion for summary judgment on the basis of the Feres doctrine was granted on September 24, 1991.

In the interim between filing and dismissal of his state court petition, Uhl filed this federal lawsuit on January 22, 1991. An amended complaint in this action was filed on February 21, 1991. The amended complaint is in four counts. Count I, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleges that by failing to follow the procedures mandated by Air Force, DoD, and ANG regulations and directives, defendants deprived Uhl of his property interest in his civil service position without the due process of law guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. This count seeks actual, incidental, and punitive damages, as well as interest, attorney fees, and costs.

Count II alleges wrongful discharge and also appears to be a cause of action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The wrongful discharge claim alleges that the wrongfulness of the discharge was denial of the right of equal protection in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.2 The claim in Count II was a claim filed under the FTCA in the appropriate administrative process described above, and denied in that process on August 31, 1990. Count II seeks actual, incidental, and punitive damages, as well as interest, attorneys fees, and costs.

Count III alleges violation of the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. § 552a, et seq. This count alleges that defendants failed to maintain accurate information in Uhl's military record, and in fact inserted inaccurate information without corroboration and without informing Uhl. In addition, it alleges dissemination of that information to medical professionals and to the press with the express purpose of injuring Uhl's reputation. The claim in Count III was also a claim filed under the FTCA in the appropriate administrative process described above, and denied in that process on August 31, 1990. Count III seeks actual, incidental, and punitive damages, as well as interest, attorneys fees, and costs.

Finally, Count IV alleges intentional interference with contract. It alleges that defendants intentionally, improperly, and maliciously altered Uhl's employment records in an attempt to interfere with Uhl's employment with the IANG. The claim in Count IV was also a claim filed under the FTCA in the appropriate administrative process described above, and denied in that process on August 31, 1990. The relief sought in this count, as in the other counts, includes actual, incidental, and punitive damages, interest, attorneys fees, and costs. In addition, as general relief, the amended complaint seeks (1) declaration that the acts of the defendants violated Uhl's rights to due process and equal protection, the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. § 552a...

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  • Bourassa v. United States
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of South Dakota
    • January 24, 2022
    ...("Filing of the administrative claim with the INS did not toll the statute of limitations for Bivens purposes."); Uhl v. Swanstrom , 876 F.Supp. 1545, 1559 (N.D. Iowa 1995), aff'd on other grounds, 79 F.3d 751 (8th Cir. 1996) (finding that because the FTCA administrative process was volunta......
  • Flowers v. First Hawaiian Bank, s. CIV. 99-00335SPK/KSC, CIV. 01-412SPK/BMK.
    • United States
    • Hawaii Supreme Court
    • October 31, 2003
    ...things, a Privacy Act claim against the military. See Uhl v. Swanstrom, 79 F.3d 751, 756 (8th Cir.1996) (affirming Uhl v. Swanstrom, 876 F.Supp. 1545 (N.D.Iowa 1995)). In contrast to the Privacy Act, the RFPA itself does not appear to contain such explicit protections for military personnel......
  • Cummings v. Department of Navy, Civ.A. 98-1183(JHG).
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • September 6, 2000
    ...barred by the statute of limitations, and then went on to hold that each claim was "non-justiciable under Feres." See Uhl, 876 F.Supp. 1545, 1561 & 1570 (N.D.Iowa 1995). The district court did not discuss whether or not Feres had traditionally been applied to Privacy Act cases, but instead ......
  • Bourassa v. United States
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of South Dakota
    • January 24, 2022
    ... ... See, e.g. Gonzalez-Rucci v. United States, 218 ... F.Supp.2d 161, 163 (D.P.R. Jul. 29, 2002) (''Filing ... of the administrative claim with the INS did not toll the ... statute of limitations for Bivens purposes.”); ... Uhl ... v. Swanstrom, 876 F.Supp. 1545, 1559 (N.D. Iowa ... 1995), affd on other grounds, 79 F.3d 751 (5th Cir ... 1996) (finding that because the FTCA administrative process ... was voluntary as to plaintiffs § 1983 claim, the FTCA ... administrative process did not toll the statute of ... ...
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