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Adair v. England

August 19, 2002


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

Document No. 46




This case comes before the court on the plaintiffs' motion for class certification. The plaintiffs, current and former Navy chaplains, bring this suit 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. *fn1 For the reasons that follow, the court grants the plaintiffs' motion for class certification.


The court has consolidated this case with a related case, Chaplaincy v. England, Dkt. No. 99cv2945, for purposes of all pretrial motions. *fn2 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. *fn3

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: (1) strict scrutiny applies to the plaintiffs' First Amendment and equal protection claims; (2) the plaintiffs did not need to exhaust their administrative remedies before filing suit in federal court; (3) the plaintiffs had stated a claim that the Navy's hiring and retention policies violate the Establishment Clause; (4) 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; (5) 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; (6) the Navy's practice of having only "General Protestant" religious services could violate the Establishment Clause; and (7) the plaintiffs had stated a free speech claim. Id.

On March 26, 2002, the plaintiffs filed a motion for class certification pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23. The plaintiffs include 17 former or current non-liturgical Christian chaplains and at least 17 additional non-liturgical chaplains who seek to join this litigation.*fn4 Pls.' Mot. to Certify the Class ("Pls.' Mot.") at 3. The plaintiffs ask the court to certify a class "defined as all Navy non-liturgical Protestant chaplains who served in the Navy at any time since fiscal year 1988." Id. at 4. The plaintiffs contend that the putative class "has been adversely affected by the Navy's and the Corps' culture of unlawful bias and prejudice, including the Navy's use of religious quotas not related to a compelling Navy objective." Id. The defendants oppose the plaintiffs' motion.


A. Legal Standard for a Motion for Class Certification

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 sets forth the requirements for class certification. FED. R. CIV. P. 23. Congress designed the rule to promote the efficie nt and economical conduct of litigation. Am. Pipe & Constr. Co. v. Utah, 414 U.S. 538, 553 (1974). A class action generally enables courts "to treat common claims together, obviating the need for repeated adjudications of the same issues." In re Gen. Motors Corp. Pick-up Truck Fuel Tank Prods. Liab. Litig., 55 F.3d 768, 783 (3d Cir. 1995). An exception to the usual rule that litigation is conducted by and on behalf of the individual named parties only, the class action is "peculiarly appropriate" when the "issues involved are common to the class as a whole" and when they "turn on questions of law applicable in the same manner to each member of the class." Gen. Tel. Co. v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 155 (1982) (quotations omitted). A party who seeks to certify a class bears the burden of establishing Rule 23's requirements. Heaven v. Trust Co. Bank, 118 F.3d 735, 737 (11th Cir. 1997); Reed v. Bowen, 849 F.2d 1307, 1309 (10th Cir. 1988).

To obtain class certification, a party must first demonstrate that it can meet the four prerequisites of Rule 23(a). FED. R. CIV. P. 23(a); Falcon, 457 U.S. at 156. Those requirements are that:

(1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable, (2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class, (3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class, and (4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class. FED. R. CIV. P. 23(a).

Once a party has demonstrated numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy, it still must satisfy one prong of Rule 23(b) to warrant class certification. FED. R. CIV. P. 23(b).

In determining whether to certify a class, the court should not consider the underlying merits of the plaintiff's claims. Eisen v. Carlisle & Jacquelin, 417 U.S. 156, 177-78 (1974); In re Lorazepam & Clorazepate Antitrust Litig., 202 F.R.D. 12, 14, 21 (D.D.C. 2001). Noting that Rule 23(c)(1) instructs district courts to rule on class status "[a]s soon as practicable after the commencement of an action brought as a class action," the Supreme Court has explained that in "determining the propriety of a class action, the question is not whether the plaintiff or plaintiffs have stated a cause of action or will prevail on the merits, but rather whether the requirements of Rule 23 are met." Eisen, 417 U.S. at 178 (quotation omitted); see also In re Cardizem CD Antitrust Litig., 200 F.R.D. 297, 303 (E.D. Mich. 2001) ("A Rule 23 determination is wholly procedural and has nothing to do with whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail on the substantive merits of its claim.") (quotation omitted). Moreover, the court accepts as true the allegations set forth in the complaint. Shelter Realty Corp. v. Allied Maint. Corp., 574 F.2d 656, 661 n.15 (2d Cir. 1978); In re Lorazepam, 202 F.R.D. at 21. Lastly, "when a court is in doubt as to whether to certify a class action, it should err in favor of allowing a class." In re Cardizem, 200 F.R.D. at 303 (quotation omitted).

C. The Plaintiffs Satisfy Rule 23's Requirements

Because the plaintiffs in this case satisfy all four of Rule 23(a)'s prerequisites as well as Rule 23(b)(1)(A), the court rules that they may proceed in this ...

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