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RAMEY v. UNITED STATES

February 26, 1982

Joseph Barrett RAMEY, O.D., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES of America, et al.,* Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREEN

 JOYCE HENS GREEN, District Judge.

 This case is brought by 15 optometrists and one veterinarian, all of whom are now serving as qualified professionals in the United States Air Force, Army or Navy. Each of the plaintiffs participated in the Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program (AFHPSP) or similar military procurement programs including the Senior Student Program (SSP) and the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), under which the individuals received educational or monetary benefits in exchange for military service obligations. The plaintiffs claim that they were induced to enter the service by the representations of recruiters whose alleged promises of benefits and pay have not been honored by the government. All of the plaintiffs signed military service contracts between 1972 and 1975 and the plaintiffs entered into active duty after July 1, 1975.

 The plaintiffs sought and obtained certification of this proceeding as a class action, the class being defined under Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b)(1)(A) to include:

 
All optometrists and veterinarians who, because of one or more military recruiters' representations that they would receive $100 per month professional pay and receive longevity credit for time spent in optometry or veterinary school for purposes of calculation of pay and promotion, participated in the Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program or other military procurement program for professionals and thereby incurred an obligation to serve on extended active duty in the military, and who have been denied said professional pay and longevity credit by the United States Military.

 Following the certification of the class, plaintiffs filed an amended complaint for mandamus, declaratory judgment, injunctions and damages. They seek special pay for the period between July 1, 1975 and September 30, 1977, longevity credit *fn1" and constructive service credit *fn2" for their years in professional school and claim that the defendants' denial of those benefits allegedly promised by the recruiters constitutes a breach of contract by defendants. They argue that the representations of the recruiters operate to estop the government from denying plaintiffs the allegedly promised benefits. Plaintiffs also assert that they have been deprived of their Fifth Amendment due process rights because they are not given the same benefits accorded AFHPSP physicians and dentists.

 In response, the defendants filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings or, in the alternative, for summary judgment on the ground that the statutes which govern special pay, longevity credit, and constructive service credit do not authorize the benefits sought by the plaintiffs. Furthermore, the defendants state that all of the plaintiffs have received credit for promotion purposes and the SSP and ROTC participants have received longevity credit for purposes of calculating pay, albeit not to the extent or level purportedly promised by the recruiters.

 The defendants reject the plaintiffs' contention that the government is bound by the representations of its recruiters rather than by the letter of the applicable statutes when the two conflict. According to the defendants, any oral representations from the recruiters did not become a part of the plaintiffs' enlistment contracts and there is no basis for finding an implied contract right enforceable on an estoppel theory. The defendants further state that no violation of the equal protection clause of the Constitution exists because there is a rational basis for differentiating between optometrists and veterinarians on one hand and physicians and dentists on the other, in that the latter groups are more difficult to attract and retain in the service.

 Disposition by summary judgment is appropriate if no material issues of fact are disputed. (Fed.R.Civ.P. 56). The plaintiffs contend that a genuine issue remains as to the content of the recruiters' representations (that is, whether the recruiters indeed told the plaintiffs that they would receive the benefits sought in this action), but the resolution of that issue is not material to the disposition of this case. For the reasons discussed below, the plaintiffs' claims must be rejected with entry of summary judgment in favor of defendants.

 The acute need for physicians and dentists in the military provides a rational basis for differentiation in the pay and benefits awarded to members of those professions as opposed to veterinarians and optometrists. "Historically, [military physicians and dentists] have been among the most difficult groups to attract and retain on active duty." S.Rep. No. 95-400, 95th Cong., 1st Sess. 6, reprinted in [1977] U.S. Code Cong. & Ad.News 2548, 2554. Congress has structured its monetary incentive provisions accordingly. Any disparity of treatment merely reflects the severity of need for certain professionals in the military and does not support plaintiffs' claim under the equal protection clause.

 The Government Cannot Be Estopped by the Alleged Representations of its Recruiters from Applying Statutes Governing Special Pay and Credit for Purposes of Pay and Promotion.

 The plaintiffs charge that the various military recruiters represented to them that were they to participate in the AFHPSP or other military procurement program they would receive professional (bonus) pay of $100.00 a month for each month of active duty. The SSP participants do not claim to have been promised longevity or constructive service credit, but, the AFHPSP plaintiffs contend that the military recruiters with whom they spoke indicated that upon graduation the plaintiffs would enter the service in the rank of captain and would receive credit for their four years of professional education in calculation of pay.

 Assuming, for purpose of this ruling, that these promises were indeed made, then they were clearly in conflict with the controlling statutes in effect at that time. The statutes governing special pay for optometrists and veterinarians when the plaintiffs were recruited provided for special pay for officers called to active duty on or before July 1, 1975. (Amended in 1973 from "July 1, 1973.") On September 30, 1977, the statutes were amended to reinstate special pay for optometrists and veterinarians, effective October 1, 1977. No statute has ever authorized ...


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