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Leonard v. United States Department of Defense

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

April 30, 2014

RAY LEONARD, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE, et al., Defendants

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 101

For Ray Leonard, Father, Fred Naylor, Plaintiffs: Erin Elizabeth Mersino, THOMAS MORE LAW CENTER, Ann Arbor , MI.

For United States Department of Defense, Charles T. Hagel, United States Department of The Navy, Raymond Edwin Mabus, Jr., Bethany Germann, in her official capacity, U.S. Department of the Navy, Rebecca Washington, in her official capacity, U.S. Department of the Navy, Defendants: Adam D. Kirschner, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington , DC.

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MEMORANDUM OPINION

ELLEN SEGAL HUVELLE, United States District Judge.

On October 14, 2013, Father Ray Leonard, a Catholic chaplain at the Naval Submarine Base in Kings Bay, Georgia, and Fred Naylor, one of his parishioners, filed suit against the United States Department of Defense, the United States Department of the Navy, the Secretary of the Navy, and the Secretary of Defense. In their suit, Leonard and Naylor allege that defendants violated their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (" RFRA" ), 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb, et. seq. (Count I), and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (Counts II-IV) when, pursuant to the Anti-Deficiency Act, 31 U.S.C. § 1342, they prevented Father Leonard from performing his ecclesiastical duties, even voluntarily, during the recent government shutdown. (Compl., Oct. 14, 2013 [ECF No. 1].)

One day after plaintiffs filed their lawsuit, defendants informed Father Leonard that despite the lapse in government funding, he (and other chaplains like him) would be permitted to continue working during the shutdown.[1] (Am. Compl., Jan. 3, 2014 [ECF No. 19], at ¶ 68.) On that day, Father Leonard signed a contract modification stating that, while the government did not presently have funds to pay him, he would be able to continue to perform his duties during Fiscal Year 2014 and would be paid " [w]hen appropriated funds bec[a]me available." (Opp. to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss (" Opp." ), Mar. 17, 2014 [ECF No. 21], at 5 & Ex. 1, Attach 1.) Two days later, the government shutdown ended and, by October 28, the Navy had resumed regular operations including the payment of civilian chaplains like Father Leonard. (Poole Decl. at ¶ 15.)

In the process of " reviewing the contract modification that Father Leonard signed on October 15, 2013," the procurement director for the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Rebecca Washington, determined that Father Leonard " had never signed the underlying contract for religious services at Kings Bay for Fiscal Year 2014" and that the underlying contract omitted " standard contract provisions" required by the Federal Acquisition Regulation (" FAR" ). (Decl. of Rebecca Washington (" Washington Decl." ), Mar. 3, 2014 [ECF No. 20-3], at ¶ 4.) In light of this discovery, the Navy informed Father Leonard that he would need to sign a new

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contract. (Am. Compl. at ¶ 73.) Father Leonard, however, refused to sign this new contract on the grounds that he " believed [the new terms] to be more onerous than what [he] had originally agreed," including " requirements that [he] believed could potentially compromise priest-penitent confidentiality." (Decl. of Father Ray Leonard (" Leonard Decl." ), Mar. 14, 2014 [ECF No. 21-1], at ¶ ¶ 31-32.) He also was " concerned that under this new agreement, [he] could be terminated for any reason . . . ." ( Id. at ¶ 33.)

Though Father Leonard was paid for the month of October, the Navy informed him on November 25 that unless he signed the new contract he would not be paid for the work he completed in November or any work going forward and would begin to look for his replacement. ( Id. at ¶ 34.) In the Navy's view, " there was concern that Father Leonard could not be paid without a signed contract." (Mot. at 6 n.7.) Yet, on December 11, the Navy reversed its decision and informed Father Leonard that even if he failed to sign a new contract, he would continue to be paid for the rest of Fiscal Year 2014 and would not be replaced. ( See id. ; Leonard Decl. at ¶ 36.) Despite these assurances, the Navy rejected a purchase order submitted by Father Leonard on December 18 based on the fact that his contract was invalid--an error that the Navy rectified on December 23 by paying him in full. ( See Leonard Decl. at ¶ 36; Washington Decl. at ¶ 8.)

Plaintiffs sought leave to file an amended complaint, which this Court granted. (Mot. to File Am. Compl., Jan. 2, 2014 [ECF No. 16].) In their amended complaint, plaintiffs added an additional count alleging that defendants' actions toward Father Leonard after he filed suit constitute unlawful retaliation (Count V). ( See Am. Compl. at ¶ ¶ 107-10.) Though Father Leonard has not yet signed his new contract, he continues to work as the Catholic chaplain at the Naval ...


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