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Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches v. England

May 6, 2004

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



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

Document No. 174 Document No. 97

MEMORANDUM OPINION DENYING THE PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR CERTIFICATION OF FINAL JUDGMENT

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the court on the plaintiffs' motion for certification of final judgment. The plaintiffs, current and former Navy chaplains, bring suit against the Secretary of the Navy, other Navy officials, and the Navy (collectively, "the defendants"), alleging that Navy policies and practices unconstitutionally favor liturgical Christian chaplains over non-liturgical Christian chaplains. In an earlier decision, the court dismissed some of the plaintiffs' claims, including two claims that chaplains should not rate other chaplains and that more than one chaplain should not sit on a chaplain promotion board.*fn1 Adair v. England (" Adair I "), 183 F. Supp. 2d 31, 60 (D.D.C. 2002). The plaintiffs now move the court to certify the dismissal of these two claims as final judgments under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b). Because there is just reason for delay and the case therefore is not an "exceptional case" meriting Rule 54(b) certification, the court denies the plaintiffs' motion.

II. BACKGROUND *fn2

In this consolidated action,*fn3 the plaintiffs' claims fall into three principal categories: First Amendment Establishment Clause claims, Free Exercise Clause claims and Equal Protection Clause claims. *fn4 Adair I, 183 F. Supp. 2d at 41. First, the plaintiffs charge that the Navy has established and maintained an unconstitutional religious quota system that permits them to hire, promote and retain chaplains from liturgical denominations at a rate greater than the liturgical Christians' representation among all Navy personnel. Id. at 41-42. Second, the plaintiffs allege a variety of constitutional problems with the Navy's chaplain-promotion system, including placing more than one chaplain on a promotion board, the use of chaplains to rate other chaplains, the application of "faith group identifier" codes, and the domination of the boards by liturgical Protestant and Catholic chaplains. Id. at 42-44. Finally, the plaintiffs assert that the Navy's discriminatory policies against and general hostility to non-liturgical denominations deny nonliturgical chaplains and their would-be congregants their constitutional right to the free exercise of their religion. Id. at 44-45.

In January 2002, the court dismissed two of the plaintiffs' claims: (1) that chaplains should not rate other chaplains, and (2) that more than one chaplain should not sit on a chaplain promotion board. Id. at 60. Among the many rulings that followed was the court's granting of the plaintiffs' motion to compel discovery. Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches v. Johnson, 217 F.R.D. 250 (D.D.C. 2003). After the defendants appealed the discovery ruling, the plaintiffs filed a motion to certify the January 2002 dismissal of the two claims as final judgments pursuant to Rule 54(b), and thereby permitting them to draw an appeal on these claims. The court now turns to the plaintiffs' motion.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for Rule 54(b) Certification of Final Judgment

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b) allows a district court in a case with multiple parties or multiple claims to "direct the entry of a final judgment as to one or more but fewer than all of the claims or parties only upon an express determination that there is no just reason for delay and upon an express direction for the entry of judgment." FED. R. CIV. P. 54(b). The purpose of Rule 54(b) is to "mediate[] between the sometimes antagonistic goals of avoiding piecemeal appeals and giving parties timely justice." Taylor v. Fed. Deposit Ins. Corp., 132 F.3d 753, 760 (D.C. Cir. 1997).

Whether a case is one of the "exceptional cases" qualifying for Rule 54(b) certification is a decision that falls within the discretion of the district court, which is "most likely to be familiar with the case and with any justifiable reasons for delay." Bldg. Indus. Ass'n of Super. Calif. v. Babbitt, 161 F.3d 740, 743 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (quoting Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Mackey, 351 U.S. 427, 437 (1956)). Under the rule, "the district court [functions] as a dispatcher, determining in its sound discretion when a claim should proceed on to appellate resolution and when it should await its fellows." Petties v. District of Columbia, 227 F.3d 469, 472 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (internal quotations omitted); see also Hill v. Henderson, 195 F.3d 671, 672 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (describing Rule 54(b) as an "escape hatch" permitting a partial disposition to become a final judgment).

The district court, however, must make certain determinations on the record before the appellate court can acquire jurisdiction. Bldg. Indus. Ass'n, 161 F.3d at 743; see also Haynesworth v. Miller, 820 F.2d 1245, 1253 (D.C. Cir. 1987) (noting that a district court's "[f]ailure to take the steps specified in Rule 54(b) is more than a mere technicality; without compliance, a federal court of appeals lacks jurisdiction to entertain challenges to the order"). First, the district court must ensure that it is dealing with a final judgment: "final" in the sense that it is "an ultimate disposition of an individual claim entered in the course of a multiple claims action," and "a 'judgment' in the sense that it determines a claim for relief." Bldg. Indus. Ass'n, 161 F.3d at 744 (quoting Curtiss-Wright Corp. v. Gen. Elec. Co., 446 U.S. 1, 7 (1980)).

Second, the court must determine whether there is any just reason for delay, keeping in mind that "[n]ot all final judgments on individual claims should be immediately appealable, even if they are in some sense separable from the remaining unresolved claims." Id. (quoting Curtiss-Wright Corp., 446 U.S. at 8). Before "departing from the norm" by certifying a final judgment. the court " must take into account judicial administrative interests," including "such factors as whether the claims under review were separable from the others remaining to be adjudicated and whether the nature of the claims already determined was such that no appellate court would have to decide the same issues more than once even if there were subsequent appeals." Id. (emphasis in original) (quoting Curtiss-Wright Corp., 446 U.S. at 8); see also Hill, 195 F.3d at 672 (noting that when review is deferred, "it is less ...


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