United States District Court, District of Columbia
Martin L. Manning, Plaintiff,
Eric Fanning,  Defendant.
P. Mehta United States District Judge.
1997, Plaintiff Martin L. Manning became eligible to
participate in a survivor benefit plan, based on his years of
service in the Armed Forces. At that time, Plaintiff selected
his paraplegic daughter as the beneficiary of the plan,
listing her as a “dependent child” on the
relevant form. Fifteen years later, in 2012, Plaintiff
applied to the Army Board for Corrections of Military Records
(“ABCMR” or “the Board”), requesting
that it change his beneficiary selection, based, in part, on
the fact that his daughter had not met the criteria for a
“dependent child” at the time Plaintiff filled
out the form. After several rounds of review by the ABCMR-all
of which resulted in denial of Plaintiff's application
for modification-Plaintiff now brings suit in this court.
Among other requests, he asks the court to void his
beneficiary selection, as well as order various changes to
ABCMR forms and regulations. In response, Defendant Eric
Fanning, Secretary of the Army, has filed a Motion to Dismiss
and for Summary Judgment. After consideration of the
parties' pleadings and the administrative record, the
court grants Defendant's motion in its entirety.
various times since 1969, Plaintiff Martin L. Manning has
served his country honorably in the U.S. Army, the Arizona
National Guard, and the U.S. Army Retired Reserve.
Administrative Record, ECF No. 18 [hereinafter A.R.], at
208-09, 370-72, 382, 410. Based on this service, in September
1997, Plaintiff received a letter notifying him that he was
“eligible for retired pay upon application at age
60.” Id. at 325. As part of his retired pay
benefit, Plaintiff also became eligible to participate in a
“Survivor Benefit Plan.” See Id.
Accordingly, on October 31, 1997, Plaintiff completed a
“Survivor Benefit Plan Election Certificate”
(“Form 1883”), on which he listed his paraplegic
daughter as his sole beneficiary, writing her name in the box
for “unmarried dependent children.” Id.
at 63, 321; see also Am. Compl., ECF No. 13, ¶
5. Plaintiff further chose “immediate coverage”
under the plan, selecting the option that would
“provide an immediate annuity beginning on the day
after [the] date of [his] death, whether before or after age
60.” A.R. at 321. Form 1883 expressly advised Plaintiff
that his decision was “a permanent irrevocable
decision” and warned him to “consider [his]
decision and its effect very carefully.” Id.
Plaintiff, however, asserts that his unit's Personnel
Staff Noncommissioned Officer, SFC Stephen F. Schrader, told
him that “if he did not name [his] daughter as [his]
beneficiary no one would ever be able to collect any benefits
. . . and that [he] would be able to make another election
when [he] turned 60.” Am. Compl. ¶¶ 5, 7-8;
A.R. at 63, 4.
2004, Plaintiff was honorably discharged from the Arizona
National Guard, and, later that year, married his current
wife. A.R. at 209. Seven years later, in 2011, during the
application process for retired pay, Plaintiff filled out a
form selecting his wife as the sole beneficiary of the
Survivor Benefit Plan. Id. at 275. In July 2012,
however, Plaintiff learned that he was not entitled to change
his previous selection of his daughter as his beneficiary.
Id. at 5.
later, Plaintiff sought relief from the Army Board for
Corrections of Military Records (“ABCMR” or
“the Board”), requesting that his original Form
1883 be modified to state that he “decline[s] to make
an election at this time.” Id. at 213. After
his application was denied on March 27, 2013, id. at
206-212, Plaintiff submitted a request for reconsideration,
id. at 138-141. The Board re-reviewed
Plaintiff's application, but once again, on May 28, 2014,
the Board denied Plaintiff's request to void his
beneficiary election. Id. at 128-137.
November 20, 2014, Plaintiff filed suit before this court,
challenging the ABCMR's decision. See generally
Compl., ECF No. 1. Several months later, on February 2, 2015,
pursuant to a request by Defendant, the case was remanded to
the ABCMR, so that the Board could better explain how it had
distinguished Plaintiff's case from a previous, similar,
ABCMR case. See Order of Feb. 4, 2015, ECF No. 7.
Plaintiff also was permitted to submit additional arguments
and materials to the Board. See Def.'s Mot. to
Dismiss and for Summ. J., ECF No. 14 [hereinafter Def.'s
Mot.], Def.'s Statement of Facts, ECF No. 14-1, ¶ 19
(citing A.R. 22-124). Nonetheless, on September 17, 2015, the
ABCMR again denied Plaintiff his requested relief. A.R. at
3-21. A month later, Plaintiff filed his Amended Complaint,
challenging the ABCMR's decision, as well as a related
procedural regulation concerning requests for
reconsideration. See generally Am. Compl. In
response, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss and for Summary
Judgment. See generally Def.'s Mot.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Motion, Defendant contends that: (1) Plaintiff lacks standing
to bring his claims regarding the ABCMR's procedural
regulation and, therefore, those claims should be dismissed
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1); and (2)
Defendant is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's
claims regarding the ABCMR's decision not to modify his
records, because the ABCMR did not act arbitrarily and
capriciously or otherwise contrary to law. See generally
Motion to Dismiss
motion to dismiss for lack of standing brought under Rule
12(b)(1), a federal court must presume that it “lack[s]
jurisdiction unless the contrary appears affirmatively from
the record.” DaimlerChrysler Corp. v. Cuno,
547 U.S. 332, 342 n.3 (2006) (citation and internal quotation
marks omitted). The burden of establishing the elements of
standing “rests upon the party asserting
jurisdiction.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co.
of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994); Lujan v. Defenders
of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992). A plaintiff must
establish standing “for each claim” and
“for each form of relief sought, ”
DaimlerChrysler, 547 U.S. at 352 (citation and
internal quotation marks omitted), “with the manner and
degree of evidence required at the successive stages of
litigation, ” Lujan, 504 U.S. at 561.
assessing a motion to dismiss predicated on lack of standing,
the court must accept “well-pleaded factual allegations
as true and draw all reasonable inferences from those
allegations in the plaintiff's favor.” Arpaio
v. Obama, 797 F.3d 11, 19 (D.C. Cir. 2015). The court is
not required to assume the truth of legal conclusions or
accept inferences that are not supported by the facts set out
in the complaint. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009); Islamic Am. Relief Agency v. Gonzales,
477 F.3d 728, 732 (D.C. Cir. 2007). “Threadbare
recitals of the elements of [standing], supported by mere
conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal,
556 U.S. at 678. If a complaint lacks sufficient facts
“to state a claim [of standing] that is plausible on
its face, ” the court must dismiss it. Id.
(quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
570 (2007)); see also Arpaio, 797 F.3d at 19. When a
court is assessing a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, it has broad
discretion to consider materials outside the pleadings if
they are competent and relevant. Finca Santa Elena, Inc.
v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng'rs, 873 F.Supp.2d 363, 368
(D.D.C. 2012) (citing 5B Charles Wright & Arthur Miller,
Federal Practice & Procedure § 1350 (3d ed.
pro se complaints are held to a less strict standard
than lawyer-drafted complaints, see Erickson v.
Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (“A document filed
pro se is to be liberally construed . . . .”)
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted), a court need
not make or accept inferences that are unsupported by
allegations of fact, see Henthorn v. Dept. of Navy,
29 F.3d 682, 684 (D.C.Cir.1994). Ultimately, however, a
pro se plaintiff “must present a claim upon
which relief can be granted.” Id. (citation
and internal quotation marks omitted).
Review of the ABCMR's Decision
well established that federal courts have the competency to
review the decision of a military board of correction using
“familiar principles of administrative law.”
Kreis v. Sec'y of Air Force, 866 F.2d 1508,
1511. Such review is limited, however. As stated
in Kreis: “Adjudication of these claims
requires the district court to determine only whether the
Secretary's decision making process was deficient, not
whether his decision was correct.” Id. The
court performs “nothing more than the normal review of
agency action” and “require[s] only that the
agency exercise its discretion in a reasoned manner, but . .
. defer[s] to the agency's ultimate substantive
decision.” Id. at 1512. “The focal point
for [such] judicial review should be the administrative
record already in existence, not some new record made
initially in the reviewing court.” Camp v.
Pitts, 411 U.S. 138, 142 (D.D.C. 2010).
judgment is the “mechanism” by which the court
may review the agency action to ensure that it “is
supported by the administrative record and is otherwise
consistent with the APA standard of review.” Se.
Conference v. Vilsack, 684 F.Supp.2d 135, 142 (D.D.C.
2010). Under the APA, a court must set aside an agency
action, finding, or conclusion if it is “arbitrary,
capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in
accordance with law.” 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A) (2012).
Judicial review under the “arbitrary and
capricious” standard is “highly
deferential” and “presumes the agency's
action to be valid.” Envtl. Def. Fund, Inc. v.
Costle, 657 F.2d 275, 283 (D.C. Cir. 1981).
court first considers Plaintiff's arguments regarding the
Board's denial of his application for correction. It then
turns to his challenge of the Army regulation concerning
requests for reconsideration.
The ABCMR's Decision
contends that summary judgment should be entered in its favor
because the Board's decision not to amend Plaintiff's
Form 1883 “was supported by substantial evidence”
and “was not arbitrary and capricious or otherwise
contrary to law or regulation.” Def.'s Mot. at 1.
Plaintiff, on the other hand, as best the court can tell,
offers three reasons why the ABCMR's decision was, in
fact, unsupported, arbitrary, and capricious. See
generally Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. to
Dismiss, Statement of Facts, ECF No. 16 [hereinafter
Pl.'s Opp'n]. Specifically, Plaintiff argues that
Defendant: (1) inappropriately applied the definition of
“dependent child” under 10 U.S.C. § 1447,
id. at 10-13; (2) neglected to refer to ...