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Adair v. England

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA


July 31, 2002

ROBERT H. ADAIR ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
GORDON R. ENGLAND, SECRETARY OF THE NAVY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
CHAPLAINCY OF FULL GOSPEL CHURCHES ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
GORDON R. ENGLAND, SECRETARY OF THE NAVY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina, United States District Judge

Document No.: 60

MEMORANDUM OPINION

DENYING THE PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR A PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION TO DELAY THE NAVY'S CHAPLAIN PROMOTION BOARDS UNTIL AFTER THE COURT RULES ON THE PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT ON THE CONSTITUTIONALITY OF THOSE BOARDS

I. INTRODUCTION

These cases come before the court on the pla intiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction to delay the Navy's chaplain promotion boards until after the court rules on the plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment on the constitutionality of those boards. *fn1

The plaintiffs, current and former Navy chaplains and an ecclesiastical endorsing agency for military chaplains, bring these suits alleging that the Navy's policies and practices favor one religion over another in violation of the First Amendment's Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses, and in violation of the Fifth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. Specifically, the plaintiffs charge that the hiring, retention, and promotion policies of the Navy Chaplain Corps demonstrate an unconstitutional endorsement of liturgical Christian sects over non-liturgical Christian sects. *fn2 For the reasons that follow, the court denies the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction.

II. BACKGROUND

Although the above-captioned cases are not consolidated for all purposes, they have been consolidated for purposes of all pretrial pending motions. *fn3 In the Chaplaincy case, the plaintiffs are an endorsing agency for military chaplains and seven of its individual members. In the Adair case, the plaintiffs are 17 current and former non-liturgical chaplains in the Department of the Navy ("the defendants," "Navy," or "DON"). In both cases, the plaintiffs allege that the Navy has established and maintained an unconstitutional religious quota system for promotion, assignments, and retention of Navy chaplains, in violation of both the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that the Navy's policies and practices favor liturgical Christian chaplains over non-liturgical Christian chaplains. *fn4

On January 10, 2002, the court issued a Memorandum Opinion granting in part and denying in part the defendants' motion to dismiss. Adair v. England, 183 F. Supp. 2d 31 (D.D.C. 2002). The court held: that strict scrutiny applies to the plaintiffs' First Amendment and equal protection claims; that the plaintiffs did not need to exhaust their administrative remedies before filing suit in federal court; that the plaintiffs had stated a claim that the Navy's hiring and retention policies violate the Establishment Clause; that the Navy's practices of allowing chaplains to rate other chaplains for promotions and of allowing multiple chaplains to serve on promotion boards do not violate the Establishment Clause; that the plaintiffs had stated a claim that the Navy's practice of displaying the religious identity of chaplains up for promotion violates the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause; that the Navy's practice of having only "General Protestant" religious services could violate the Establishment Clause; and that the plaintiffs had stated a free speech claim. Id.

On January 4, 2002, the plaintiffs filed their third motion for injunctive relief in the above-captioned cases. *fn5 The plaintiffs sought to delay the convening of the Navy's chaplain promotion boards for fiscal year ("FY") 2003 that were scheduled to begin on February 4, 2002. In short, the plaintiffs challenged the legality of chaplain promotion boards on a number of grounds. On February 1, 2002, the court denied the plaintiffs' motion. Because the plaintiffs cannot demonstrate irreparable harm, they do not meet the high standard for the issuance of a preliminary injunction.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for Injunctive Relief

This court may issue a preliminary injunction only when the movant demonstrates:

(1) a substantial likelihood of success on the merits, (2) that it would suffer irreparable injury if the injunction is not granted, (3) that an injunction would not substantially injure other interested parties, and (4) that the public interest would be furthered by the injunction. Mova Pharm. Corp. v. Shalala, 140 F.3d 1060, 1066 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (quoting CityFed Fin. Corp. v. Office of Thrift Supervision, 58 F.3d 738, 746 (D.C. Cir. 1995)); see also World Duty Free Americas, Inc. v. Summers, 94 F. Supp. 2d 61, 64 (D.D.C. 2000).

The district court must balance the strengths of the moving party's arguments on each of the four factors. CityFed Fin. Corp., 58 F.3d at 747. "These factors interrelate on a sliding scale and must be balanced against each other." *fn6 Davenport v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 166 F.3d 356, 360-61 (D.C. Cir. 1999) (citing Serono Labs., Inc. v. Shalala, 158 F.3d 1313, 1318 (D.C. Cir. 1998)). *fn7

In addition, a particularly strong showing on one factor may compensate for a weak showing on one or more of the other factors. Serono Labs., Inc., 158 F.3d at 1318. "An injunction may be justified, for example, where there is a particularly strong likelihood of success on the merits even if there is a relatively slight showing of irreparable injury." CityFed Fin. Corp., 58 F.3d at 747. If the plaintiff makes a particularly weak showing on one factor, however, the other factors may not be enough to compensate. Taylor v. Resolution Trust Corp., 56 F.3d 1497, 1507 (D.C. Cir. 1995), amended on other grounds on reh'g, 66 F.3d 1226 (D.C. Cir. 1995).

It is particularly important for the movant to demonstrate a substantial likelihood of success on the merits. Cf. Benten v. Kessler, 505 U.S. 1084, 1085 (1992) (per curiam). Indeed, absent a "substantial indication" of likely success on the merits, "there would be no justification for the court's intrusion into the ordinary processes of administration and judicial review." Am. Bankers Ass'n v. Nat'l Credit Union Admin., 38 F. Supp. 2d 114, 140 (D.D.C. 1999) (internal quotation omitted).

Moreover, the other salient factor in the injunctive-relief analysis is irreparable injury. A movant must "demonstrate at least 'some injury'" to warrant the granting of an injunction. CityFed Fin. Corp., 58 F.3d at 747 (quotation omitted). Indeed, if a party makes no showing of irreparable injury, the court may deny the motion for injunctive relief without considering the other factors. Id.

Finally, because preliminary injunctions are extraordinary forms of judicial relief, courts should grant them sparingly. Mazurek v. Armstrong, 520 U.S. 968, 972 (1997). As the Supreme Court has said, "[i]t frequently is observed that a preliminary injunction is an extraordinary and drastic remedy, one that should not be granted unless the movant, by a clear showing, carries the burden of persuasion." Id. (citation omitted). Although the trial court has the discretion to issue or deny a preliminary injunction, it is not a form of relief granted lightly. Ambach v. Bell, 686 F.2d 974, 979 (D.C. Cir. 1982). In addition, any injunction that the court issues must be carefully circumscribed and tailored to remedy the harm shown. Nat'l Treasury Employees Union v. Yeutter, 918 F.2d 968, 977 (D.C. Cir. 1990) (citation omitted).

B. The Plaintiffs Fail to Show Irreparable Harm

The plaintiffs advance several arguments as to why the chaplain promotion boards are illegal. In its January 10, 2002 Memorandum Opinion, however, the court dismissed for failure to state a claim each of the plaintiffs' challenges to the constitutionality of the chaplain promotion boards except for the claim that a chaplain's religious affiliation should not be identified to a chaplain promotion board. Adair, 183 F. Supp. 2d at 59-63.

Accordingly, the only challenge that could possibly succeed on the merits would be the plaintiffs' claim that the religious affiliation of chaplains who are being considered for promotions should not be identified to the chaplain promotion board. *fn8

In its opposition to the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, however, the defendants proffer that the Navy no longer displays Additional Qualification Designator ("AQD") codes (alleged "faith codes") to chaplain promotion boards. Defs.' Opp'n at 14-15. AQD codes correspond to a chaplain's "endorsing agency or denomination/faith." Id. at 14. The defendants state unequivocally that "the Navy removes, and for two years has removed, the AQD codes of chaplain promotion candidates from the materials that are provided to the members of Navy selection boards." Id. As Lieutenant Commander Carey M. Sill declares:

My office began removing the AQD from the Officer Summary Record for chaplains [sic] corps promotion selection boards starting with the FY-01 Commander Chaplain Corps Promotion Selection Board held on April 13, 2000. The removal of the AQD from the Officer Summary Record for every chaplain corps promotion selection board, both active and reserve, continues to this day. The AQD is listed on no other documentation which goes before the chaplain corps promotion selection boards. Id. Ex. A (Sill Decl.) at 3.

The court notes the importance of this declaration by the defendants since it marks the first time the defendants have made such a representation to the court since the start of this litigation. The court also points out that the defendants changed their policy of including the AQD codes for the FY-01 chaplain promotion boards convened in April 2000, which means the Navy apparently altered this practice at the earliest possible juncture since the Chaplaincy and Adair plaintiffs filed their respective complaints in November 1999 and March 2000.

In response, the plaintiffs argue that in a July 2000 declaration in a Southern District of California case involving similar issues, the defendants admitted that the practice of displaying a chaplain's AQD code to a chaplain promotion board was continuing. Pls.' Reply at 9-10. The court does not consider this alleged admission, made nearly two years ago in a California case, to be nearly as important as the plaintiffs think. In contrast, the court grants much more weight to the declaration of Lieutenant Commander Sill made in this case as recently as January 17, 2002. As noted previously, Lieutenant Commander Sill's representation to the court is that the Navy has totally ceased displaying AQD codes for all chaplain promotion boards, both active and reserve.

Accordingly, at this point, the plaintiffs cannot demonstrate any irreparable harm that would justify the granting of an extraordinary remedy, i.e., the issuance of a preliminary injunction. As noted earlier, the D.C. Circuit has held that a movant must "demonstrate at least 'some injury'" to warrant the granting of an injunction. CityFed Fin. Corp., 58 F.3d at 747 (quotation omitted). In addition, if a party makes no showing of irreparable injury, the court may deny the motion for injunctive relief without considering the other factors. Id. In this case, the plaintiffs have not demonstrated any injury since the defendants have ceased this practice and have given no indication that they plan to resume their practice of including the AQD codes. Accordingly, since the plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate any injury, the court denies the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction and need not consider the other factors in the injunctive-relief test. Id.

IV. CONCLUSION

For all these reasons, the court denies the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction to delay the Navy's chaplain promotion boards until after the court rules on the plaintiffs' partial summary judgment motion on the constitutionality of those boards.


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