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Reeder v. James

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

August 14, 2015

THE HONORABLE DEBORAH LEE JAMES, Secretary of the Air Force, Defendant

          For GEORGE WILLIAM REEDER, Plaintiff: Raymond J. Toney, LEAD ATTORNEY, THE LAW OFFICE OF RAYMOND J. TONEY, Woodland, CA; David Patrick Sheldon, LAW OFFICES OF DAVID P. SHELDON, P.L.L.C., Washington, DC.

         For DEBORAH LEE JAMES, Honorable, Secretary of the Air Force, Defendant: Claire M. Whitaker, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Washington, DC.

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         Thomas F. Hogan, Senior United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff George William Reeder (" Reeder" ) served in the United States Air Force from 1982 until 1998. He met and married fellow Air Force member Staff Sergeant Linda Graybill (" Graybill" ) while serving at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. Unfortunately, by all accounts, their relationship was dysfunctional and abusive. During the marriage, Graybill accused Reeder of giving her a black eye, and Reeder's commander found him guilty of that offense. Later, Reeder was found guilty of additional offenses related to the aftermath of the first offense. After being honorably discharged from the Air Force, Reeder appealed to the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records (" AFBCMR" or " the Board" )[1] seeking review of the

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commander's decisions. The AFBCMR upheld the commander's decisions, and Reeder then filed this lawsuit seeking review of the AFBCMR's decisions under the Administrative Procedures Act (" APA" ).

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Reeder's Relationship with Graybill, Allegations of Abuse, and Reeder's First Non-Judicial Punishment

         Reeder enlisted in the United States Air Force and began active duty service on June 4, 1982. Am. Compl. ¶ 19 [ECF No. 11], Reeder met Graybill on Thanksgiving Day, 1995; they were married on June 18, 1996 and divorced on April 21, 1997. Am. Compl. ¶ 24. On July 15, 1996, Major Roger Parsons, one of Reeder's commanders, filed a letter of reprimand against Reeder after Graybill alleged that he had damaged and disposed of some of his wife's clothes and photographs without her permission. See Administrative Record (" A.R." ) at 362. Reeder denied those allegations, but later admitted that he gave away some men's clothing he found in Graybill's apartment while she was away on a temporary duty assignment. See A.R. at 345.

         On August 9, 1996, Graybill sustained a black eye. See A.R. at 176, 341. On August 15, 1996, Graybill reported to a military police officer that Reeder had punched her in the eye. See A.R. 176, 307.[2] She also alleged that Reeder had beat her on their wedding night. Id. [3] On August 15, 1996, based on Graybill's allegations, Reeder's commander, Major Kobayashi, issued an order directing Reeder to have no contact with Graybill (hereinafter referred to as " the no-contact order" ). Am. Compl. ¶ 25; A.R. at 173. On August 22, 1996, Major Kobayashi notified Reeder that he intended to impose non-judicial punishment under Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (" UCMJ" )[4] for the alleged battery. Am. Compl. ¶ 27; A.R. at 179.

         Reeder was represented by counsel, decided to waive his right to trial by court-martial, and elected to proceed with non-judicial punishment. Am. Compl. ¶ ¶ 28-29. On September 4, 1996, Reeder presented a lengthy written statement to Major Kobayashi recounting his version of the events of August 9, 1996, where he admitted he caused her injury, and a detailed picture of his relationship with Graybill. A.R. at 341-51. Reeder contended that Graybill was the sole aggressor in their relationship, and that she consistently abused him but he never abused her. Id. Reeder insisted that Graybill sustained the black eye because he was defending himself

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when she attacked him.[5] Id. Reeder also submitted several statements from individuals who had observed Graybill's harsh and abusive treatment of Reeder. A.R. at 313-339. On September 11, 1996, Major Kobayashi directed that Reeder undergo a mental health evaluation. Am. Compl. ¶ 37. On October 2, 1996, Major Kobayahsi conducted the non-judicial punishment hearing and found Reeder guilty of the offense of battery. A.R. at 179-182. He sentenced Reeder to a reduction in grade to Senior Airman,[6] but suspended the sentence until April 1, 1997, so that the sentence would not take effect if he did not commit any further offenses during the time of suspension.

         B. Reeder's Second Non-Judicial Punishment

         On August 22, 1996, while the no-contact order was still in place, Reeder called Graybill's mother to find out if she knew where Graybill was and to inquire whether Graybill intended to stay married. PL's Cross-Mot. Summ. J. [ECF No. 14] 15; see also AR 323. When Reeder called Graybill's mother, she informed Reeder that Graybill was at her home, asked if he wanted to speak with her, and then gave Graybill the phone. Id. at 13-14. Reeder then spoke with Graybill for fifteen to twenty minutes. A.R. at 64. Reeder contends that he did not intentionally violate the no-contact order, and that he did not know Graybill would be there when he called Graybill's mother. A.R. at 374-75. On September 6, 1996, Major Kobayashi notified Reeder that he intended to impose non-judicial punishment under Article 15 for violating the no-contact order. A.R. at 25-26; PL's Cross-Mot. Summ. J. 16. On October 30, 1996, Major Kobayashi found Reeder guilty of disobeying a lawful order and ordered the punishment of " [forfeiture of $150.00 pay per month for 2 months." PL's Cross-Mot. Summ. J. 16; see also A.R. at 26.

         After Major Kobayashi found Reeder guilty of violating the no-contact order, Graybill's mother submitted a written statement supporting Reeder's version of the events. See A.R. at 366; see also A.R. at 368 (" I was to blame for [Reeder talking to Graybill], He told me at the beginning that he wasn't supposed to talk to her because he had an order not to -- I just handed her the phone." ).

         C. Vacation of Suspension of Reeder's First Sentence

         On October 8, 1996, Reeder drank alcohol excessively and cut his wrists in an apparent suicide attempt. PL's Cross-Mot. Summ. J. 17; see also A.R. at 46, 203-205. Reeder's roommate found him intoxicated and bleeding. A.R. at 203-205. Reeder threw an empty wine bottle at his

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roommate and told him to leave him alone so he could " do what he had to do." Id. The roommate stated that Reeder had been depressed about the Article 15s and had made jokes previously about killing himself. Id. The roommate called for help and Reeder was transported to the hospital by Turkish police. While in the hospital, Reeder was visited by a Senior Airman and a Master Sergeant. In their presence, Reeder used profane and disrespectful language.[7] On November 7, 1996, Major Kobayashi notified him that he was considering whether to vacate the suspension of Reeder's punishment of reduction in rank because of the disrespectful language Reeder used while in the hospital, throwing the wine bottle, and being drunk and disorderly. A.R. at 184-186. On November 18, 1996, Major Kobayashi found Reeder guilty of one or more of the offenses and directed the punishment of a reduction in rank to senior airman " with a new date of rank of 2 October 1996." A.R. at 184.

         D. Appeals, Discharge from the Air Force, and Applications to the AFBCMR

         Reeder appealed each of Major Kobayashi's decisions to Kobayashi's commander, Colonel Barry Shade, and each of the decisions were upheld. Am. Compl. ¶ ¶ 31 & 43. Reeder was honorably discharged from the Air Force on February 16, 1998 because of " high year tenure" as a Senior Airman. Am. Compl. ¶ 22. Reeder's separation was characterized as a " Reduction in Force." Id. In December 2001, the Department of Veterans Affairs (" VA" ) rated Reeder as 50% disabled due to PTSD from being battered and abused. Am. Compl. ¶ 47. In May 2002, the VA increased that rating to 100% disabled. Id.; see also A.R. at 225.

         Reeder first applied to the AFBCMR on November 2, 1998, requesting that his Article 15 records be set-aside. A.R. at 16-36. The AFBCMR denied his application on December 1, 1999. A.R. at 10-15.[8] On May 11, 2010, Reeder filed a second application that consisted of a memorandum of law and 50 enclosures. A.R. at 58-387. He also submitted additional medical records from the VA. A.R. 388-411. The second application argued that the evidence available to the commander did not establish Reeder's guilt of domestic violence (A.R. at 68-81); Reeder did not willfully violate the no-contact order (A.R. at 81-83); Reeder was mentally unstable when he committed the offense of disrespect (A.R. at 83-85); and Reeder's separation from the Air Force resulted from his mental condition and the miscarriage of

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justice he suffered (A.R. at 85-86). The AFBCMR denied Reeder's second application on May 25, 2011. A.R. at 415-417. On September 6, 2011, Reeder, through counsel, submitted a letter informing the AFBCMR that its decision provided an insufficient explanation of its rationale for denial and requested further consideration. A.R. at 412-13. The AFBCMR denied the application again on January 30, 2013 by a vote of 2-1. A.R. at 1-5 .

         Reeder filed his complaint in this Court on November 6, 2014, alleging that the AFBCMR's decision was arbitrary, capricious, and unsupported by evidence or otherwise contrary to law. See Compl. [ECF No. 1]. With the Secretary's consent, Reeder filed an amended complaint on April 23, 2015. See Am. Compl. [ECF No. 11]. Reeder seeks to set aside the AFBCMR decisions under review and remand the matter to the AFBCMR for expungement of the Article 15 records in his Official Military Personnel File.

         II. ...

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