United States District Court, District of Columbia
CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
nation ponders current political controversies, this case
evokes one from the past: the Reagan Administration's
covert effort to undermine Nicaragua's Sandinista
government in the 1980s. Pro se plaintiff Richard
Grell is a U.S. Army veteran who was deployed to Central
America in the 1980s and objects to how the government
categorizes the missions in which he served. Grell insists
that he engaged in combat operations in aid of an undeclared
war in Nicaragua, while the military classifies his service
as mere training and war games exercises. In a sprawling,
98-page complaint, Grell brings suit against five government
defendants in their official capacities: President Donald
Trump, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, Speaker of the House
Paul Ryan, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
(collectively, “defendants”). Grell alleges
unspecified constitutional violations on his own behalf and
on behalf of other veterans who served in similar
circumstances. Grell's complaint also vaguely sketches a
claim under the Administrative Procedure Act
(“APA”), seeking review of an Army Board for
Correction of Military Records (“ABCMR”)
determination. He requests both monetary damages and
equitable relief to remedy the loss of recognition and
benefits that he claims to have suffered as a result of the
government's misclassification of his service.
move to dismiss all claims on either jurisdictional or merits
grounds; alternatively, they urge the Court to strike
Grell's Amended Complaint. After review of the
parties' briefing, the Court concludes that Grell's
constitutional claims are barred by the political question
doctrine and therefore grants defendants' motion to
dismiss them. But the Court will strike the remainder of the
Amended Complaint, and permit Grell to re-file a more concise
complaint that clarifies any APA claim he wishes to bring
against a proper government defendant.
Grell, a U.S. Army veteran, was stationed in Central America
from approximately September 1983 to August 1985. Amended
Complaint (“Am. Compl.”) at 2. During that
period, he was deployed to Honduras for three months in 1984.
Id. at 6-7. He was part of an assignment in Panama
with a military police company for about three weeks in 1985.
Id. at 7. And in the spring of 1985, he was part of
a military police special reaction team assigned to guard a
residential facility in Panama. Id. at 7-8.
stints in Honduras and Panama have been classed as
“training and war games” exercises rather than
“combat zones.” Id. at 4, 8, 17-18, 22,
26, 33, 36. Grell objects to this categorization.
Id. He believes that his military assignments were
not practice or simulation but efforts to overthrow
neighboring Nicaragua's Sandinista government,
clandestinely ordered by President Ronald Reagan to avoid
congressional oversight. Id. at 2, 10, 19, 20, 33,
64. According to Grell, this means that he and his fellow
soldiers were in an active war zone, id. at 6-9, 11,
as part of efforts that violated the War Powers Resolution.
Id.; 50 U.S.C. §§ 1541-1548. Grell
contends that the government labeled these
“practice” missions to surreptitiously circumvent
legislative restrictions on military involvement in
Nicaragua. Am. Compl. at 2, 10, 19, 20, 33, 64.
alleges that he and other soldiers who served in Central
America from 1979 to 1992 have suffered unspecified
constitutional violations. Id. at 2. He states that
neither the Army nor any other part of the U.S. government
has recognized his role in a “combat mission” or
in “support of a combat mission, ” in spite of
his active combat. See id. at 4, 24, 17, 19-20.
Grell contends that he and his fellow soldiers have suffered
myriad injuries from their inability to claim involvement in
combat operations: (1) lack of administrative recognition,
including denial of consideration for various military awards
and societies; (2) denial of special pay for hostile-fire
service; (3) denial of death-classification as “killed
in action”; (4) withholding of tax credits; (5) denial
of special leave and “rest and recuperation”
periods; (6) lost employment opportunities; (7) denial of
veterans' discounts and related perks; (8) denial of
disability benefits; and (9) denial of more expansive
employment and healthcare benefits. Id. at 3-4, 15.
requests numerous forms of relief. Id. at 92-98.
Specifically, he asks the Court to issue an order directing
the executive and legislative branches to: (1) designate
Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala
during the relevant time periods as “combat zone areas,
” “combat zone tax exclusion areas, ”
“direct support of combat operations areas, ”
“qualified hazardous duty areas, ” “hostile
fire/imminent danger areas, ” and/or “hardship
duty locations”; (2) create and/or issue various medals
to Grell and other soldiers; (3) declare that the various
incidents in Central America were hostile and, therefore,
should have been reported under the War Powers Resolution and
the Arms Export Control Act; (4) create an independent
bipartisan commission to investigate congressional
misconduct; (5) direct the formation of an independent
veterans' commission; (6) classify soldier Jeffry Schwab
as “killed in action”; (7) issue various
posthumous medals to Mr. Schwab; (8) issue “gold
stars” to the Schwab family; (9) determine that
Grell's return date from Honduras to Panama was May 11,
1984; and (10) correct military documents to reflect
Grell's requests. Id. Grell also asks that this
Court assert permanent jurisdiction over all issues raised in
the Amended Complaint. Id. at 96.
also seeks monetary damages for himself and other soldiers in
the form of: (1) back-payment of federal/state income taxes
and interest (Grell personally seeks $296, 572.98); (2)
unpaid hostile-fire pay and hardship pay (Grell personally
seeks $187, 255.99); (3) back-payments in compensation for
denied leave and “rest and recuperation periods”;
(4) back-payment of withheld “special savings account
allotments”; and (5) compensation for Service Group
Life Insurance payments (Grell personally seeks $2, 636.41).
Id. at 92-98.
now move to dismiss Grell's complaint in its entirety.
They raise various objections to this Court's
jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1).
And even assuming the Court has jurisdiction, defendants
argue that Grell has failed to state a claim under Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). In the alternative,
defendants ask the Court to strike Grell's long,
discursive complaint and instruct him to file a new one that
conforms to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8's
requirement that complaints contain a “short and
plain” statement of their claims.
evaluating a motion to dismiss under either Rule 12(b)(1) or
12(b)(6), a court must “treat the complaint's
factual allegations as true . . . and must grant [the]
plaintiff ‘the benefit of all inferences that can be
derived from the facts alleged.'” Sparrow v.
United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir.
2000) (internal citations omitted), quoting Schuler v.
United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir.
1979); see also Am. Nat'l Ins. Co. v. FDIC, 642
F.3d 1137, 1139 (D.C. Cir. 2011). Nevertheless, a court need
not accept inferences drawn by a plaintiff that are
unsupported by facts alleged in the complaint, nor must the
court accept a plaintiff's legal conclusions.
Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir.
Subject Matter Jurisdiction
Rule 12(b)(1), a plaintiff bears the burden of establishing
jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. See
Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992);
Shekoyan v. Sibley Int'l Corp., 217 F.Supp.2d
59, 63 (D.D.C. 2002). Federal courts are courts of limited
jurisdiction and the law presumes that “a cause lies
outside this limited jurisdiction.” Kokkonen v.
Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994).
“[B]ecause subject-matter jurisdiction is ‘an
Art[icle] III as well as a statutory requirement . . . no
action of the parties can confer subject-matter jurisdiction
upon a federal court.'” Akinseye v. District of
Columbia, 339 F.3d 970, 971 (D.C. Cir. 2003), quoting
Ins. Corp. of Ireland, Ltd. v. Compagnie des Bauxites de
Guinee, 456 U.S. 694, 702 (1982). When reviewing a