United States District Court, District of Columbia
BERYL A. HOWELL CHIEF JUDGE
plaintiffs Kanwar Bir Singh, Harpal Singh, and minor A.S.G.,
who are all observant Sikhs, bring this lawsuit against the
United States Department of Defense (“DOD”), the
United States Department of the Army (“Army”),
and three military officials-James C. McConville, Deputy
Chief of Staff, G-1, of the Army; Ashton B. Carter, Secretary
of Defense; and Patrick J. Murphy, Acting Secretary of the
Army-alleging various violations of the Religious Freedom
Restoration Act (“RFRA”), 42 U.S.C. §§
2000bb, et seq., and the First and Fifth Amendments
of the United States Constitution pertaining to the
Army’s allegedly unlawful grooming and personal
appearance regulations and discriminatory treatment with
respect to each of their requests for religious
accommodations. See generally Compl., ECF No. 1.
Contemporaneously with the Complaint, the plaintiffs filed a
Notice of Related Case, ECF No. 2, indicating that this case
“involves common issues of fact” with Singh
v. Carter, No. 16-cv-399 (BAH), an earlier-filed case
assigned to the undersigned Chief Judge. As a result, this
case was also assigned to the undersigned Chief Judge,
pursuant to Local Civil Rule 40.5(c)(1). See LCvR
40.5(c)(1) (“Where the existence of a related case in
this Court is noted at the time the indictment is returned or
the complaint is filed, the Clerk shall assign the new case
to the judge to whom the oldest related case is
assigned.”). Pending before the Court are (1) the
defendants’ objection to the related-case designation,
pursuant to Local Civil Rule 40.5(c)(3) (“Defs.’
Obj.”), ECF No. 37; (2) the plaintiffs’ Motion to
Consolidate this case with Singh v. Carter
(“Pls.’ Mot. Consolidate”), ECF No. 27; and
(3) the plaintiffs’ Application for Preliminary
Injunction (“Pls.’ Mot. Prelim. Inj.”), ECF
No. 9. The defendants’ objection to the related-case
designation is addressed first before turning to the
all new cases filed in this courthouse are randomly assigned,
see LCvR 40.3(a), in order “to ensure greater
public confidence in the integrity of the judicial
process,” “guarantee fair and equal
distribution of cases to all judges, avoid public
perception or appearance of favoritism in assignments, and
reduce opportunities for judge-shopping,” Tripp
v. Exec. Office of the President, 196 F.R.D. 201, 202
(D.D.C. 2000) (Calendar Committee three judge panel). The
local rules contain an exception, however, in the interest of
judicial economy, for “related cases.”
Id.; see LCvR 40.5; Doe v. Von
Eschenbach, No. 06-cv-2131, 2007 WL 1655881, at *1
(D.D.C. June 7, 2007) (“In some cases, . . . the
interests of judicial economy served by the related case rule
. . . outweigh the fundamental interests served by the random
assignment rule.”). “Civil . . . cases are deemed
related when the earliest is still pending on the merits in
the District Court and they” (1) “relate to
common property,” (2) “involve common issues of
fact,” (3) “grow out of the same event or
transaction,” or (4) “involve the validity or
infringement of the same patent.” LCvR 40.5(a)(3).
party objects to a related case designation, “the
matter shall be determined by the judge to whom the case is
assigned.” LCvR 40.5(c)(3). If that judge
“determines that the cases in question are not related,
the judge may transfer the new case to the Calendar and Case
Management Committee,” and the Committee either
“shall cause the case to be reassigned at
random,” or “may return the case to the
transferring judge,” depending on its findings
regarding whether good cause exists for the transfer. LCvR
40.5(c)(1). The party requesting the related-case
designation bears the burden of showing that the cases are
related under Local Civil Rule 40.5. United States v.
Volvo Constr. Equip. AB, 922 F. Supp. 2d 67, 68 (D.D.C.
2013); Autumn Journey Hospice, Inc. v. Sebelius, 753
F. Supp. 2d 135, 140 (D.D.C. 2010). Notably, a related-case
inquiry is separate and distinct from an inquiry regarding
case consolidation, which mechanism provides courts with
broad discretionary authority to consolidate actions
involving “a common question of law or fact.”
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 42(a); Stewart v.
O’Neill, 225 F. Supp. 2d 16, 19–21 (D.D.C.
it is undisputed that the earlier-filed case, Singh v.
Carter, No. 16-cv-399, is still pending on the merits
and the plaintiffs rely on the second factor in Local Civil
Rule 40.5(a)(3), requiring that cases “involve common
issues of fact,” LCvR 40.5(a)(3)(ii), as the basis for
the cases’ relatedness. The defendants concede that
“both cases involve followers of the Sikh faith who
requested religious accommodations to deviate from the
Army’s uniform and grooming standards” and that
“[t]he complaints are based on alleged violations of
the [RFRA],” as well as the same “Constitutional
provisions.” Defs.’ Obj. at 2. Nonetheless, the
defendants object to the “common issues of fact”
basis for relatedness, arguing that “the similarities
between the cases . . . are not sufficient to overcome the
default rule favoring random assignment of cases.”
Id. The defendants point to the
“individualized” and “case-by-case”
analysis required under RFRA and Army regulations governing
religious accommodations and emphasize the factual
differences between the plaintiffs. Id. at
2–3; see also Singh v. Carter, Case No.
16-cv-399, Mem. Op. (May 6, 2016) at 19–20, ECF No. 47
(discussing factual differences between plaintiffs).
defendants’ ignore, however, the common issues of fact
in the two cases related to the defendants’ policies
and actions. In Autumn Journey, the court overruled
the defendant’s objection to the plaintiff’s
related case designation for six separate actions in which a
hospice care provider “challenge[d] the validity of [a]
regulation” on the same grounds, namely, “whether
the regulation impermissibly conflict[ed] with the underlying
statute and, if so, what relief should be afforded to the
plaintiff hospices.” 753 F. Supp. 2d at 140–41.
Since “[e]ach case thus present[ed] identical issues
for resolution,” the court reasoned that “there
[was] substantial overlap in both the factual underpinning
and the legal matters in dispute in each of these hospice cap
cases . . . . such that judicial economy would be served by
having these matters resolved by the same judge.”
Id. at 140; cf. Boyd v. Farrin, No.
12-cv-1893, 2012 WL 6106415, at *1–2 (D.D.C. Dec. 10,
2012) (finding cases not properly deemed related where
plaintiffs brought entirely different claims for relief).
in Assiniboine & Sioux Tribe of the Fort Peck Indian
Reservation v. Norton, 211 F. Supp. 2d 157 (D.D.C.
2002), the court rejected the defendants’ objection to
the related case designation in a case in which, like an
earlier-filed case brought by individual Indians, the
plaintiff Indian tribe “allege[d] that the federal
government’s trustee-delegates . . . breached . . .
their fiduciary duties” required by the 1994 Indian
Trust Fund Management Reform Act. Id. at 158, 160.
The court noted that, in both cases, the Indian
plaintiffs’ “‘ultimate goal’”
was to get “an accounting of their funds held in trust
by the United States” and explained that, in both
cases, the court would “have to determine . . . whether
the defendants [were] administering the leases in
accordance with their fiduciary obligations” and
whether the defendants were properly managing funds.
Id. at 158–59 (citation omitted).
Autumn Journey, the plaintiffs in both cases at
issue here challenge the same Department of Defense and Army
regulations governing requests for religious accommodations
on the same grounds. For example, they challenge the
regulatory process for obtaining religious accommodation,
see Compl. ¶¶ 237–241, Case No.
16-cv-581 (“The process for obtaining an accommodation
. . . is onerous.”); Compl. ¶¶ 122–27,
Case No. 16-cv-399, ECF No. 1 (same), the neutrality and
general applicability of the Army’s grooming and
personal appearance regulations, see Compl.
¶¶ 275, 278, Case No. 16-cv-581; Compl.
¶¶ 161, 163, Case No. 16-cv-399, and allege that
the regulations constitute content and viewpoint
discrimination, see Compl. ¶¶
301–02, Case No. 16-cv-581; Compl. ¶¶
188–89, Case No. 16-cv-399. The plaintiffs in both
cases also challenge the validity of defendants’
“interest in excluding Sikhs from the U.S.
military,” Compl. ¶ 263, Case No. 16-cv-581;
Compl. ¶ 148, Case No. 16-cv-399; and allege that the
defendants have intentionally discriminated against them
based on their requests for religious accommodations,
see Compl. ¶¶ 22–36, No. 16-cv-581;
Compl. ¶¶ 98–115, No. 16-cv-399. Thus, the
Court will be required to make similar factual determinations
in both cases related to the defendants’ process for
issuing religious accommodations, the defendants’
justifications for their regulations and policies, and the
defendants’ discriminatory conduct and/or intent, if
any. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009)
(“Where the claim is invidious discrimination in
contravention of the First and Fifth Amendments, our
decisions make clear that the plaintiff must plead and prove
that the defendant acted with discriminatory
purpose.”); see also Pls.’ Reply
Defs.’ Objection Pls.’ Notice Related Case at 2,
ECF No. 41 (“Each Plaintiff has experienced
discrimination from the Army as a result of the Army’s
policies and practices, and each Plaintiff’s
accommodation is under the review of the same decision makers
within the Army, who are evaluating the same stated military
interests.”); id. at 3 (“Both cases
challenge the Army’s processing of Plaintiffs’
accommodations [and] . . . . the scope of the temporary
accommodations that were granted . . . .”).
as in Assiniboine, the plaintiffs in both cases seek
the same relief, including “a permanent injunction (1)
enjoining Defendants from enforcing the Army’s grooming
and personal appearance regulations against Plaintiffs
insofar as they require Plaintiffs to cut their hair, shave
their beards, or cease wearing their turbans; (2) ordering
Defendants to permit Plaintiffs to continue serving in the
Army without regard to their unshorn hair, beards and
turbans; and (3) ordering that the injunction will apply to
all Army posts that Plaintiffs will hold in the future,
unless the Army makes an individualized showing of a
compelling governmental interest that cannot be satisfied by
less restrictive means.” Compl. at 53 ¶ b, Case
No. 16-cv-581; see Compl. at 34 ¶ d, Case No.
16-cv-399 (same). The fact that the Court will conduct an
individual analysis with respect to each plaintiff to
determine whether each plaintiff is entitled to the relief he
seeks does not obviate the need for factual determinations
related to the defendants’ regulations and policies,
and their administration of those regulations and policies,
which are common to both cases.
the Court finds that “[i]t would waste judicial
resources . . . to have another court address the same
factual issues,” Assiniboine, 211 F. Supp. 2d
at 159, and the cases were properly designated as related.
The instant case will not be referred to the Calendar
Committee for reassignment.
MOTION FOR CONSOLIDATION
same motion for case consolidation that the plaintiffs have
filed in this case was filed by the plaintiff in Singh v.
Carter. The Court denied the motion, after discussing it
in detail, in a recent Memorandum Opinion issued in that
case. See Mem. Op. (May 6, 2016) at 18–20,
Case No. 16-cv-399. For the same reasons outlined in that
Memorandum Opinion, the plaintiffs’ motion to
consolidate this case with Singh v. Carter is
MOTION FOR ...