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Stainback v. Mabus

December 2, 2009

MATTHEW K. STAINBACK, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RAY MABUS, SECRETARY OF THE NAVY,*FN1 DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

The plaintiff, a former midshipman at the United States Naval Academy ("the Academy"), filed this action seeking judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 701-06 (2006) ("APA"), of a decision made on behalf of the Secretary of the Navy ("the Secretary")*fn2 to uphold a recommendation by the Academy's Academic Board ("the Board") to terminate the plaintiff's enrollment from the Academy and discharge him from the United States Naval Service pursuant to 10 U.S.C. § 6962 (2006). Amended Complaint ("Am. Compl.")

¶ 1. The plaintiff also seeks to prevent the Academy from recouping the cost of his education at the Academy based on his disenrollment. Id. Currently before the Court are the parties' cross- motions for summary judgment.*fn3 For the reasons set for below, the plaintiff's motion must be granted in part and denied in part, and the case remanded to the Secretary for further action consistent with this opinion.

I. BACKGROUND*fn4

United States Naval Academy Instruction ("the Academy Instruction" or "Acad. Instr.") 5420.24E sets forth the policies and procedures governing the Board, its constitution, and the standards and procedures it must comply with when making academic disenrollment recommendations to the Secretary. A.R. at 00469-84 (Acad. Instr. 5420.24E (1996)). Article II.A.1. of the Academy Instruction designates the Dean of Admissions as a staff member of the Board and details his or her responsibilities as follows:

The Dean of Admissions will be the Secretary of the Academic Board and will:

a. Prepare the Board agenda and make sure that supporting documents are available to the members.

b. Advise the members and others concerned as to the place and time of the meeting.

c. Prepare the minutes of the meeting.

d. Maintain the Academic Board files.

A.R. at 00472. Article III.J. of the Academy Instruction requires that the Board "[a]ct on all cases of academic deficiency," and further provides that "[u]nless the Academic Board recommends otherwise, midshipmen found deficient will be discharged from the Naval Academy and from the naval service." A.R. at 00474. Article IV.A.1. delineates what constitutes "[a]cademic [d]efficiency," A.R. at 00475-77, and subsection B of this Article defines what amounts to "[i]nsufficient [a]ptitude" and how this determination shall be made by the Board, A.R. at 00477-78. Specifically, Article IV.B.1. states that "[m]idshipmen are subject to discharge when the Commandant of Midshipmen recommends to the Academic Board that they be assigned an 'F' in military performance and discharged for insufficient aptitude." Id. at 00477. Article IV.B.2. further provides that in making an insufficient aptitude determination, the Board "will examine the entire record forwarded by the Commandant of Midshipmen, and such other evidence as the midshipman concerned desires to present to the Board or the Board desires to hear." Id. at 00477-78. Article V.A.1.c. also obligates the Board members to "discuss the information contained in the [midshipman's] record as a part of their review." Id. at 00478. Finally, a vote to discharge a midshipman must be "unanimously approved by the Board." Id.

In April 2004, shortly before the plaintiff's anticipated graduation from the Academy, the "Board voted, over [the plaintiff's] objection, that he 'possessed insufficient aptitude to become a commissioned officer in the naval service,'" citing his "aptitude remediation failure." Am. Compl. ¶¶ 8-9. The plaintiff objected to the Board's decision on the ground that the Board's conclusion was erroneous given that any alleged aptitude failure was cured in January 2004 by the plaintiff's successful completion of "an aptitude remediation program." Id. ¶¶ 6-7. Following the Board's vote and rejection of the plaintiff's position, on August 10, 2004, the Assistant Secretary affirmed the Board's recommendation on behalf of the Secretary, and ordered the Academy to recoup from the plaintiff the cost of his education. A.R. at 00427 (Aug. 10, 2004 Memorandum to the Superintendent U.S. Naval Academy from William A. Navas, Jr.). After his initial affirmance of the Board's recommendation, the Assistant Secretary received from the plaintiff a memorandum contesting some of the representations made before the Board, which the Assistant Secretary reviewed before reaffirming his disenrollment and recoupment decisions on October 19, 2004. A.R. at 00445 (Oct. 19, 2004 Letter from William A. Navas, Jr., to Mr. Eugne R. Fidell).

Citing a number of ways that the Board, and then ultimately the Secretary through his delegation to the Assistant Secretary, failed to abide by the Academy's regulations and therefore violated the APA -- including claims that the Board was improperly constituted, failed to afford the plaintiff notice and an opportunity to respond to all adverse information before it, and that both the Board and the Assistant Secretary considered an inaccurate or incomplete academic record -- the plaintiff filed this action challenging the legitimacy of the Board's decision to disenroll him, as well as the Assistant Secretary's subsequent affirmance of that decision, and the corollary decision to require the plaintiff to reimburse the Academy for the cost of his education. Am. Compl. ΒΆΒΆ 10-25, 27. The Secretary defends the recommendation of ...


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