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Maunz v. James

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

January 12, 2015

CHRISTOPHER M. MAUNZ, Plaintiff,
v.
DEBORAH LEE JAMES, Secretary of the Air Force, Defendant

For CHRISTOPHER M. MAUNZ, Plaintiff: David Patrick Sheldon, LEAD ATTORNEY, LAW OFFICES OF DAVID P. SHELDON, P.L.L.C., Washington, DC.

For DEBORAH LEE JAMES, Secretary of the Air Force, Defendant: Marian L. Borum, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Washington, DC.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JOHN D. BATES, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Christopher Maunz does not want to be in the Air Force. But he also does not want to reimburse the government the $27,000 (and change) in tuition, books, and other benefits the Air Force gave Maunz while he was a Reserve Officer Training Corps (" ROTC" ) cadet at James Madison University. A Department of the Air Force review board concluded that Maunz must choose one or the other--either serve as an Air Force officer or repay the money--a decision that Maunz believes was contrary to law. The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment,[1] and, for the reasons explained

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below, the Court will grant the Air Force's motion and deny Maunz's motion.

BACKGROUND

Maunz was a typical, if underperforming, Air Force ROTC cadet until April 2, 2009, when his commander " [d]isenrolled" him from the program. Att. 2 to J.A. [ECF No. 14-2] (" Att. 2" ) at 8; see also Att. 1 to J.A. [ECF No. 14-1] (" Att. 1" ) at 47 (" Cadet Maunz . . . has consistently ranked near the bottom of his [ROTC] class since entering the program." ). The form memorializing Maunz's disenrollment explains that he was dropped for " failure to maintain military retention standards." Att. 2 at 8.

What, specifically, did Maunz do wrong? The Air Force ROTC manual requires cadets to " report all . . . civil involvements [that is, run-ins with the law] to the detachment within 72 hours," Att. 1 at 18 (quoting Air Force ROTC Instruction 36-2011 ¶ 1.5.2.3), and Maunz failed to heed this requirement. North Carolina police had arrested Maunz in 2008 for, among other things, speeding, possession of marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia. See id. at 32-33. Rather than immediately report this incident, however, Maunz--acting on the advice of his father, a retired Air Force colonel--waited some fifty days before explaining his predicament in a letter to his detachment commander. See id. at 33, 36. Apparently, Maunz (and his father) thought it best to report these allegations only after he had cleared his name--which he did with some success. See id. at 33. In December 2008, North Carolina prosecutors elected to drop Maunz's marijuana and paraphernalia charges and reduce his traffic charges in exchange for community service. Id. But this development changed nothing for Maunz's ROTC superiors, who felt that " his failure to comply with [the 72-hour reporting] policy [was] a serious breach of trust" that deserved dismissal from the program. Id. at 47. After his dismissal, the Air Force notified Maunz that he was required to repay the government $27,746, which represented the sum total of his ROTC scholarship. Att. 2 at 10-11.

Maunz appealed the ROTC's decision in August 2010, submitting an application to the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records. See Att. 1 at 14. The Board consists of civilians (appointed by the Secretary of the Air Force), who will " [i]n appropriate cases, . . . direct[] correction of military records to remove an error or injustice." 32 C.F.R. § § 865.1, 865.2; see also 10 U.S.C. § 1552 (authorizing correction of military records by civilian boards). Maunz claimed just such an error or injustice, arguing that his ROTC chain of command had treated him far too harshly--he had voluntarily reported his arrest, after all, and he meant well when he delayed his report. And he asked the Board to " reinstate him into the Air Force ROTC program and the Air Force Reserve, stop the recoupment of his scholarship funds and grant relief for cause." Att. 1 at 23. " By granting the relief requested," Maunz's counsel wrote, " [the] Board will allow a dedicated and highly competent cadet to continue to pursue becoming an officer in the Air Force and provide sound leadership to the service." Id. at 29.

The Board agreed with Maunz. In a December 2011 opinion, it found that the 72-hour rule was not as unambiguous as it seemed, that Maunz eventually (and voluntarily) reported his arrest, and that this was Maunz's first disciplinary incident. See Att. 1 at 10. The Board therefore decided that Maunz " ha[d] established reasonable doubt as to whether his actions warrant[ed] disenrollment," and it " elect[ed] to resolve such doubt in [his] favor." Id. Moreover, the Board recommended that Maunz get all the relief he

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requested: first, the document finalizing his disenrollment from ROTC should " be removed from his record" ; second, the Air Force should stop " any and all recoupment action associated with his disenrollment" ; and third, the Air Force should take " [a]ppropriate actions . . . to effect his commission and promotion." Id. at 11.

Maunz, in short, had won. But his next steps would not show it. His attorney wrote a letter to the Board in May 2012, asking whether " Maunz is required to return to active duty in order to benefit from the [Board's] recommendations." Att. 3 to J.A. [ECF No. 14-3] (" Att. 3" ) at 29-30. " Mr. Maunz does not wish to return to active duty," the attorney explained, because he " has secured gainful employment with a civilian employer who is currently funding [his] graduate school education." Id. at 30. The Board replied with bad news. Maunz was, indeed, required to return to the Air Force, but (if he wanted " to change the relief already granted" ) he could ask the Board to reconsider his application--although reconsideration " may result in a less favorable outcome." Id. at 32. Undeterred, Maunz asked the Board to take another look at his case in July 2012. His latest request: " that all recoupment efforts be ...


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