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Conservative Baptist Ass'n of America, Inc. v. Shinseki

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

May 16, 2014

CONSERVATIVE BAPTIST ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
ERIC K. SHINSEKI, in his official capacity as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Defendant

Page 126

For CONSERVATIVE BAPTIST ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA, Plaintiff: John B. Wells, LEAD ATTORNEY, LAW OFFICES OF JOHN B. WELLS, Slidell, LA.

For ERIC K. SHINSEKI, Defendant: Amy E. Powell, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, DC.

Page 127

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JOHN D. BATES, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Conservative Baptist Association of America, Inc. (" CBAA" ) brings this action against defendant Eric K. Shinseki, in his official capacity as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (" VA" ). CBAA asserts claims under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the First Amendment, and the Administrative Procedure Act. Presently before the Court is [8] VA's motion to dismiss for lack of standing and for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), respectively. Upon consideration of VA's motion and the parties' memoranda,[1] the applicable law, and the entire record, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant VA's motion to dismiss.

BACKGROUND

To obtain a full-time chaplain's position with VA, a military chaplain must complete a training course called the Clinical Pastoral Education (" CPE" ) program. Am. Compl. [ECF No. 6] ¶ ¶ 7, 33. Chaplains eligible to participate in the CPE program must be endorsed by an accredited organization. Decl. of Michael Pollitt [ECF No. 8-1] (" Pollitt Decl." ) ¶ 4; Ex. B to Pollitt Decl. (VA Handbook 5005, Part II, Appx. F1). CBAA is a non-profit corporation that is accredited to endorse chaplains for the CPE program. Am. Compl. ¶ 1. CBAA alleges that, over the course of 2012 and 2013, a CPE supervisor, Nancy Dietsch, " verbally harass[ed]" two CBAA-endorsed chaplains, Dan Klender and Steve Firtko. Id. ¶ ¶ 1, 38. For example, CBAA alleges that Dietsch stated that she and VA " do not allow Chaplains to pray 'in Jesus' name' in public ceremonies" ; that Dietsch told Firtko that he could not quote scripture in class; that Dietsch " impugned [Klender's] core faith beliefs stating they would not work in a clinical setting" ; and that Dietsch told Firtko that " 'if you believe your beliefs are right, and everyone else's [are] wrong, you do not belong in this program.'" Id. ¶ ¶ 12-23. After several confrontations with Dietsch, Firtko was placed on a six-week probationary period away from the CPE program on February 8, 2013. Id. ¶ 28. He was then dismissed from the CPE program effective March 1, 2013, via a letter from Dietsch stating that the " probation period is not yielding the results we both desire." Id. ¶ 30. Klender withdrew from the CPE program on February 8, 2013--the same day Firtko was placed on

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probation. Id. ¶ 29. CBAA alleges that Klender's withdrawal from the CPE program was a " constructive discharge . . . brought about solely because of Ms. Dietsch's successful persecution" of Klender and Firtko. Id.

Several months later, on July 19, 2013, Firtko and CBAA filed a " formal complaint" against Dietsch for religious discrimination and violations of the Association of Pastoral Continuing Education Standards. Id. ¶ 31. That same day, Klender and CBAA filed a similar complaint against Dietsch. Id. ¶ 32. CBAA's amended complaint before this Court does not allege where these " formal complaints" were filed--so it is unclear who or what entity would have received them. CBAA's amended complaint also does not allege what happened after these " formal complaints" were filed. In its opposition to VA's motion to dismiss, however, CBAA states that " [n]o response was ever received" to the July 19, 2013 complaints. Pl.'s Opp'n at 7. CBAA also states that, in addition to filing the " formal complaints" on July 19, 2013, it independently sent a letter to VA demanding that VA " cease and desist from the harassment of [CBAA-endorsed chaplains] and return both Chaplains Firtko and Klender to the [CPE] program." Id; Ex. 3 to Pl.'s Opp'n [ECF No. 10-3] (July 19, 2013 Letter from CBAA to VA). VA responded that it had " reviewed this matter" and was " confident the VA San Diego Healthcare System acted appropriately." Pl.'s Opp'n at 7; Ex. 4 to Pl.'s Opp'n [ECF No. 10-4] (Oct. 15, 2013 Letter from VA to CBAA).

Subsequently, CBAA--but not Firtko or Klender--brought this lawsuit against VA. In addition to other requested relief, CBAA requests that Firtko and Klender be reinstated to the CPE program. Am. Compl., Prayer for Relief ¶ ¶ 2-3. VA has now moved to dismiss, arguing that CBAA lacks standing to bring this suit and that CBAA fails to state a cause of action. See Def.'s Mot. at 5.

LEGAL STANDARDS

On a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction or for failure to state a cause of action, " the allegations of the complaint should be construed favorably to the pleader." Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974). Factual allegations must be presumed true, and the plaintiff must be given every favorable inference that may be drawn from the allegations of fact. Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113, 342 U.S. App.D.C. 268 (D.C. Cir. 2000). The Court need not, however, accept as true " a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation," nor inferences that are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint. Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286, 106 S.Ct. 2932, 92 L.Ed.2d 209 (1986); accord Trudeau v. FTC, 456 F.3d 178, 193, 372 U.S. App.D.C. 335 (D.C. Cir. 2006). " [W]here necessary, the court may consider the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record, or the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts." Herbert v. National Academy of Sciences, 974 F.2d 192, 197, 297 U.S. App.D.C. 406 (D.C. Cir. 1992).

Rule 12(b)(1) provides for the dismissal of an action for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Court may look beyond the allegations in the complaint to resolve a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss. Haase v. Sessions, 835 F.2d 902, 906, 266 U.S. App.D.C. 325 (D.C. Cir. 1987). Although the Court must construe the complaint liberally, a plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the elements of jurisdiction, including standing. See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 ...


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