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CASTLE v. CALDERA

November 1, 1999

CHRISTOPHER M. CASTLE, PLAINTIFF
v.
LOUIS CALDERA, SECRETARY OF THE ARMY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Roberts, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Before this Court are defendant's motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, for summary judgment, and plaintiffs cross-motion for summary judgment. At issue is the extent to which plaintiff is bound to fulfill a service obligation to the Department of the Army (the "Army") which plaintiff incurred by pursuing a Ph.D. at the Army's expense. Plaintiff contends that the Army should be enjoined from requiring him to serve an additional six years on active duty because his service agreement permitted him to resign voluntarily from the Army so long as he reimbursed the Army for various educational expenses. The Army counters that plaintiffs request for declaratory and injunctive relief should be denied either because: (1) plaintiffs claim raises a non-justiciable military personnel matter, or (2) plaintiffs service agreement unambiguously gives the Army sole discretion over whether plaintiff could withdraw from his service obligation.

Because I conclude that the Army has put forth the only reasonably objective interpretation of the service agreement, defendant's motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment is granted and plaintiffs cross-motion for summary judgment is denied.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff has been an active duty commissioned officer in the United States Army for twelve years. He has ascended to the rank of major and holds both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in architecture. By all accounts, he has an exemplary military record.

As part of the application process, Army regulations required plaintiff to submit a completed DA Form 3838. See Army Regulation ("AR") 351-3 § 4.4A(a)(1) (1988). DA Form 3838 contains the following "Obligatory Statement:"

  I understand and agree that if selected for training
  any tender of resignation or request for release from
  active duty on my part will be disapproved until the
  total period of obligated active service is completed,
  except for the convenience of the Government or in
  case of extreme compassionate circumstances. I
  understand that my service obligation will be computed
  in accordance with AR 351-3. . . .

DA Form 3838 at Block 55 (Ex. B to Pl.'s Mem.Supp.Summ.J.). Plaintiffs application for enrollment in the Program included DA Form 3838, but neither he nor an authorized Army representative ever actually signed the form. See id. at Blocks 57, 61. The form was apparently submitted on his behalf by someone at his command. See Second Castle Decl. at ¶ 4. The Army then processed plaintiffs application.

On November 5, 1995, plaintiff received a Statement of Service Obligation ("SSO") in the mail along with a letter congratulating him on being admitted into the Program. See id. at ¶ 5. Two days later, plaintiff signed the SSO. See id. The SSO contains two provisions of particular relevance to this dispute. The first, located in paragraph 1, reads:

  1. In accordance with Chapter 10, para 10-3(2), AR
  351-3, I understand that by participating in the
  [Program], I will incur an active duty obligation
  (ADSO) of three times the length of the education
  or training for the first year of [sic] portion
  thereof. Participation for periods of education or
  training in excess of 1 year will result in an ADSO
  of three times the length of the training, until a
  maximum of six years is incurred. This adso [sic]
  commences upon completion or termination of my
  education/training. All provisions of AR 351-3 apply.

SSO at ¶ 1 (Ex. A to Pl.'s Mem.Supp.Summ.J.). Plaintiff thus promised to incur an Active Duty Service Obligation ("ADSO") of a maximum of six years in return for the Army's promise to pay for his advanced schooling.

The second provision at issue is contained in the third paragraph of the SSO. It reads:

  3. I understand that in the event I voluntarily
  withdraw, or as a result of misconduct, fail to
  complete the required ADSO, I will reimburse the
  United States the cost of advance education, which
  includes tuition, books, supplies, and other costs
  clearly identified as paid by the United States, IAW
  ...

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