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Stewart v. Mabus

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 24, 2016

ALEXANDER E. STEWART, Plaintiff,
v.
RAY MABUS, Defendant.

AMENDED MEMORANDUM OPINION

GLADYS KESSLER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

This is a sad case. A distinguished, award-winning doctor who has served the Navy for more than 24 years, whose undergraduate education, medical studies, and advanced medical education were paid for by the United States Government, and who received regular salary increases in exchange for agreeing to remain in the military for a specific number of years, is suing the Government because it miscalculated the years he was required to serve. Because of that miscalculation, which the Government does not deny, the doctor signed agreements to remain with the Navy until 2015. The Government now claims that he must remain on active duty until 2018 --a difference of three years.

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Plaintiff Captain Alexander E. Stewart ("Plaintiff" or "Stewart") brings this action against Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus ("Defendant, " "the Government, " or "the Navy") seeking review of certain determinations by the Board for Correction of Naval Records ("the Board") regarding the period of Stewart's obligation to remain on active duty in the Navy in exchange for substantial educational and financial benefits. See generally Compl. [Dkt. No. 1].

In exchange for Special Pay offered to naval physicians, Stewart executed several contracts, which, by their written terms, extended his active duty obligation to the Navy to at least 2015. When the Navy discovered that the service obligation dates specified in the contracts had been miscalculated and failed to account for pre-existing service obligations, it amended its records and the contracts with Stewart to reflect a later service obligation date of 2018. Stewart petitioned the Board to reverse these amendments, and the Board denied Stewart's request. Stewart then appealed the Board's decision to this Court.

This matter is currently before the Court on the Government's Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. No. 12] and Plaintiff's Cross Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. No. 16]. For the reasons that follow, the Government's Motion to Dismiss shall be denied, the Government's Motion for Summary Judgment shall be granted, and Plaintiff's Cross Motion for Summary Judgment shall be denied.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background[1]

1. Stewart's Early Career

Captain Stewart has had a long and distinguished career in the United States Navy. He has served for over twenty-four years in the Navy's Medical Corps as a physician and has received numerous awards for his academic, research, and professional accomplishments. See e.g., AR 117.

Stewart's career with the Navy began in 1987 when he matriculated at the United States Naval Academy ("USNA"). Stewart graduated from the USNA in 1991 and, in exchange for his studies, incurred an obligation to serve in the Navy for five years. 10 U.S.C. § 6959(a); AR 6; Compl. ¶ 8.

From 1991 to 1995, Stewart attended medical school at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences ("USUHS"). Because Stewart remained in school, he did not accrue credit toward his initial five-year service obligation while at USUHS. When Stewart graduated from USUHS in May of 1995, he incurred an additional seven-year service obligation to the Navy to be served consecutively with his existing five-year obligation. 10 U.S.C. '§ 2114(c); AR 10; Font ana v. White, 334 F.3d 80, 8.6 (D.C. Cir. 2003).

Thus, upon receipt of his medical degree in 1995, Stewart had a 12-year service obligation, requiring that he engage in qualifying service in the Navy until at least May of 2007. In other words, May 2007 constituted Stewart's approximate obligated service date ("OSD"), which is the time at which a service member may leave active duty in the Navy without having to complete additional required service or pay back money or other benefits received from the Government. See e.g., 37 U.S.C. § 302(f) ("An officer who does not complete the period for which the payment was made under [relevant subsections] shall be subject to the repayment provisions of section 303a(e) of [title 37].").

From 1995 to 1996, Stewart completed a one-year medical internship, during which time his 12-year service obligation was stayed. 10 U.S.C. § 2114(d). Accordingly, when Stewart completed his medical internship in 1996, his twelve-year obligation remained, committing him to remain in the Navy -- and extending his OSD - until at least 2008.[2]

From 1996 to 1999, Stewart served as a flight surgeon, which satisfied three years of his 12-year active duty service obligation. Upon completion of his tour of duty in 1999, Stewart owed nine years of service, and his OSD remained at 2008.

From 1999 to 2004, Stewart completed a medical residency in otolaryngology. This period of further training again stayed his service obligation to the Navy. 10 U.S.C. § 2114(d). Upon completion of the residency in 2004, Stewart still owed nine years of service, and his OSD was moved up to 2013.[3]

2. MSP Agreements

In July of 2004, Stewart applied for his first "Multi-Year Special Pay" ("MSP") agreement with the Navy. AR 45-46. MSP agreements provide Navy Medical Corps officers with annual lump-sum payments in addition to their normal pay in exchange for the commitment to remain on active duty in the Navy for a specified period of time. See 37 U.S.C. § 302. Section 302 provides that "[a]n officer may not be paid additional special pay ... or incentive special pay . . . for any twelve-month period unless the officer first executes a written agreement under which the officer agrees to remain on active duty for a period of not less than one year beginning on the date the officer accepts the award of such special pay." 37 U.S.C. § 302(c)(1).

Stewart's first MSP request was for a two-year MSP agreement effective July 27, 2004 ("the first MSP Agreement"). AR 45. In the formal request that he executed, Stewart stated, "If my application for MSP is approved, I agree to not tender a resignation or request release from active duty that would be affected during this MSP service obligation. This obligation will be for a period of two years beyond any existing active military service obligation for education or training." AR 45 (emphasis in original). As described above, as of July 2004, Stewart was already obligated to remain on active duty for at least nine more years in exchange for the extensive education and training he had received. Since Stewart's OSD was set at 2013 before he requested the first MSP agreement, an additional two-year obligation in exchange for Special Pay would have increased his OSD to 2015.

Unfortunately, when Stewart requested the first MSP agreement, the Navy made a significant mistake in calculating his OSD. That error was not discovered until nearly seven years later. When the Navy calculated Stewart's OSD in response to the first MSP request, it neglected to include Stewart's five-year service obligation incurred by his attendance at the USNA. AR 42. Thus, the Navy's OSD calculation worksheet mistakenly set Stewart's pre-MSP OSD at July 2008; two additional years yielded a post-MSP OSD of July 31, 2010. Id.

This error was included in the first MSP agreement itself, which states, "Pursuant to [cited authority], [Stewart's first MSP request] is approved for Otolaryngology, for two years, at $12, 000 per year, effective 27 July 2004. [Stewart's] new obligated service date, as computed on enclosure (2) [the OSD calculation worksheet] is July 2010." AR 40.

After having received one annual payment of $12, 000 under the first MSP agreement, Stewart decided to request a new MSP agreement. In a request dated November 8, 2004, Stewart requested that his first MSP agreement be terminated in favor of a longer, four-year MSP agreement ("the second MSP agreement") with more attractive annual payments of $25, 000. In his request, Stewart acknowledged that the "obligation [under the new MSP agreement] shall be for a period of 4 years beyond any existing active military service obligation for education or training." AR 54. Stewart also acknowledged that he would "repay the unearned portion of [the July 2004] MSP contract[.]" Id.

Stewart's second MSP agreement was approved on December 10, 2004. AR 51. The second MSP agreement had a retroactive effective date of October 1, 2004 and served to terminate Stewart's first MSP agreement as of September 30, 2004. Id. In calculating Stewart's new OSD pursuant to the second MSP agreement, the Navy again included its previous error. AR 56. Failing to account for Stewart's five-year USNA obligation, the Navy set Stewart's pre-MSP OSD in July 2008, added two months for the period that the first MSP agreement was in force, and added an additional ...


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