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In re Navy Chaplaincy

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 9, 2016



Gladys Kessler United States District Judge

Plaintiffs, 65 current and former Non-liturgical Protestant chaplains in the United States Navy, their endorsing agencies, and a fellowship of non-denominational Christian evangelical churches, bring this consolidated action against the Department of the Navy and several of its officials. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants discriminated against Non-liturgical Protestant chaplains on the basis of their religion, maintained a culture of denominational favoritism in the Navy, and infringed on their free exercise and free speech rights.

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion for Modification and/or Clarification of the Court's Decision to Dismiss Certain Plaintiffs under the Statute of Limitations ("Motion") [Dkt. No. 203]. Upon consideration of Plaintiffs' Motion, and Plaintiffs' Errata [Dkt. No. 206], Defendants' Opposition to the Motion [Dkt. No. 2 08], Plaintiffs' Reply [Dkt. No. 212] , and the entire record herein, and for the reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs' Motion shall be denied.


A brief recitation of the facts is necessary to resolve Plaintiffs' Motion. For a more detailed summary of the facts and procedural history, see this Court's September 26, 2014 Memorandum Opinion resolving the Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment [Dkt. No. 194].

This consolidated case is composed of three cases filed by the same counsel: Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches v. England, Civ. No. 99-2945 ("CFGC"); Adair v. England, Civ. No. 00-566 ("Adair"); and Gibson v. Dep't of Navy, Civ. No. 06-1696 ("Gibson"). CFGC and Adair were filed in this Court on November 5, 1999, and March 17, 2000, respectively, and were consolidated for pretrial purposes on September 26, 2 000 [Adair Dkt. No. 21]. On April 28, 2006, Plaintiffs' counsel filed Gibson as a separate putative class action in the Northern District of Florida, and that case was subsequently transferred to this District pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404. See Mem. Order, dated August 17, 2006, at 1 [Gibson Dkt. No. 1].

On June 18, 2007, the Court consolidated all three actions, concluding that they raise "substantially similar constitutional challenges to the Navy Chaplaincy program." Mem. Order, dated June 18, 2007, at 4 [Dkt. No. 11]. Between 2002 and 2009, the parties conducted discovery, interspersed with collateral litigation and three interlocutory appeals to the D.C. Circuit. At the Court's request, on October 3, 2012, Plaintiffs filed a Consolidated Complaint [Dkt. No. 134] comprised of all the claims at issue in the consolidated case.

On September 26, 2014, the Court granted Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, finding that many of Plaintiffs' claims were time-barred.[1] See Memorandum Opinion on Motions for Partial Summary Judgment ("Summary Judgment Opinion")[Dkt. No. 194]. The Court also ordered the parties to submit a joint Notice identifying the remaining claims following its Order. Id. The parties submitted their Notice on October 24, 2014 [Dkt. No. 199] and a Status Conference was held on November 5, 2014.

On November 19, 2014, Plaintiffs filed their present Motion for Modification and/or Clarification [Dkt. No. 203], Defendants filed their Opposition on December 18, 2014 ("Opp'n") [Dkt. No. 208], and Plaintiffs filed their Reply on January 12, 2015 ("Reply") [Dkt. No. 212].


Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b) the Court has discretion to reconsider its own interlocutory decisions as justice requires at "any time before the entry of a judgment adjudicating all the claims and all the parties' rights and liabilities[, ]" Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b).

Our Court has consistently held that Rule 54 (b) reconsideration may be granted "as justice requires." Cobell v. Jewell, 802 F.3d 12, 25 (D.C. Cir. 2015); Judicial Watch v. Pep't of Army, 466 F.Supp.2d 112, 123 (D.D.C. 2006) . Under the "as justice requires" standard, a court may consider whether it "has patently misunderstood a party, has made a decision outside the adversarial issues presented to the [c]ourt by the parties, has made an error not of reasoning, but of apprehension, or where a controlling or significant change in the law or facts [has occurred] since the submission of the issue to the court." Judicial Watch, 466 F.Supp.2d at 123 (quoting Cobell v. Norton, 224 F.R.D. 266, 272 (D.D.C. 2004)). "Errors of apprehension may include a Court's failure to consider 'controlling decisions or data that might reasonably be expected to alter the conclusion reached by the court.'" Singh v. George Washington Univ., 383 F.Supp.2d 99, 101 (D.D.C. 2005) (quoting Shrader v. CSX Transp., Inc., 70 F.3d 255, 257 (2d Cir.1995)).

Ultimately, the "as justice requires" standard amounts to determining "whether reconsideration is necessary under the relevant circumstances." Judicial Watch, 466 F.Supp.2d at 123. While the court has a great deal of discretion under 54(b), it is limited by the law of the case doctrine and "subject to the caveat that, where litigants have once battled for the court's decision, they should neither be required, nor ...

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