United States District Court, District of Columbia
N. MCFADDEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
spring night weeks before his expected graduation, Midshipman
Brandon Turner returned intoxicated to his U.S. Naval Academy
dormitory from a night on the town. J.A. 41. Instead of
sleeping it off, he entered a female classmate's room
without her permission, “cornered her in a position
where she felt trapped, ” and asked for a kiss. J.A.
50. She refused, so he “called her a derogatory,
gender-specific name” and left. J.A. 41. He then
confronted another female classmate in the hallway. Without
her consent, he put his arm around her, “began to
stroke her hair, ” and touched her inappropriately.
Id. The classmate managed to break free and escape
to her room, locking the door behind her. Id. After
classmates reported his behavior, Mr. Turner was ordered to
the dormitory's main office. Id. There, he took
a breathalyzer test that registered a Blood Alcohol Content
of 0.20%, well above the legal threshold for intoxication.
an investigation and disciplinary proceedings, an Assistant
Secretary of the Navy expelled Mr. Turner from the Academy.
J.A. 39. He was also discharged from the Navy and ordered to
repay roughly $180, 000 in educational benefits. Id.
Mr. Turner appealed this decision to the Board for
Corrections of Naval Records (the “Board”), which
upheld the Assistant Secretary's order. J.A. 237. He now
brings this challenge, alleging that the Navy violated the
Administrative Procedure Act (APA), his constitutional right
to due process, and the prohibition on unlawful military
command influence. The Court finds that the Navy complied
with its regulations and applicable laws and that Mr. Turner
received a fair process. It will thus grant summary judgment
for the Defendants.
Turner was a student, or “midshipman, ” in the
Naval Academy's Class of 2013. Midshipmen must abide by
the Academy's rules of conduct set forth in the
Administrative Performance and Conduct System Manual (the
“Manual”). When a midshipman engages in
unsatisfactory behavior, the Manual authorizes the Commandant
of Midshipmen-the Academy's second-in-command-to
investigate, review the student's record, and hold a
hearing. J.A. 201. Based on his findings, the Commandant may
(1) elect to take no disciplinary action, (2) place the
midshipman on conduct probation or remediation, or (3)
recommend the midshipman for separation from the Academy.
Id. While the Commandant may impose lesser
punishments at his “sole discretion, ” only the
Academy's Superintendent “may authorize late
graduation.” Id.; J.A. 215.
Commandant believes a midshipman's conduct merits
disenrollment, he must submit a memorandum articulating the
reasons for this recommendation to the Superintendent. J.A.
201. The Superintendent may then conduct his own hearing or
review of the record. J.A. 202. If he agrees, the
Superintendent must inform the midshipman of this decision in
writing. Id. The student may then submit a statement
to the Secretary of the Navy “showing cause why he/she
should be retained at the Naval Academy.” Id.
The Superintendent is also required to submit to Navy
leadership a “full report of the facts.” 10
U.S.C. § 6962. If the Secretary of the Navy believes
that the Superintendent's recommendation is
“reasonable and well founded, ” he may discharge
the midshipman from the Academy and naval service.
the Commandant launched an investigation shortly after
learning of Mr. Turner's misconduct. Compl. 4. The
investigating officer found that the midshipman's
intoxication “was of a nature to bring discredit upon
the naval service, ” that he engaged in “risky
drinking, ” and that his “acts amounted to sexual
harassment” in violation of the Academy's rules.
J.A. 53-54. Based on these findings, the Deputy Commandant
forwarded the case to the Commandant with a recommendation
that Mr. Turner be separated from the Academy. J.A. 29.
Commandant then held a hearing. He reviewed Mr. Turner's
record, finding that the midshipman had amassed numerous
prior infractions including two “major offenses,
” and that his overall class standing was 1078 out of
1080 students. J.A. 50. The Commandant noted that, like the
Deputy, Mr. Turner's Platoon and Battalion Commanders had
first “recommended separation based on the egregious
nature of the offense.” J.A. 37. But they changed their
minds “after listening to the support of the character
witnesses and [the] plan for evaluation over the
this hearing concluded, the Commandant “orally
informed” Mr. Turner that “he had decided not to
recommend separation.” Compl. 6. Instead, the
Commandant would recommend “a delayed graduation
pending sucessful [sic] completion of dignity and respect
remediation, anger management, 30 hours of community service
w/a battered women [sic] shelter, and 1 month at sea on a
frigate/destroyer/cruiser with a recommendation from the
commanding officer.” J.A. 28. But two days later, the
Commandant “called [Mr. Turner] and his chain of
command into his office and told [them] that he was changing
his recommendation to the Superintendent and will now be
forwarding [Mr. Turner] for separation.” Id.
Superintendent then conducted a “personal interview
with Midshipman Turner.” J.A. 41. He too
“determined [Mr. Turner's] conduct to be
unsatisfactory, ” and so “recommend[ed]
Midshipman Turner be discharged from the Naval
Academy.” Id. On behalf of the Secretary of
the Navy, the Assistant Secretary agreed and ordered Mr.
Turner's separation and required him to reimburse the
Navy for the full cost of his Academy education, noting that
he had “carefully reviewed the matters” and had
made his decision based on the Superintendent's
recommendation. J.A. 39.
Turner appealed this order to the Board. He argued that Navy
regulations did not permit the Commandant to reconsider his
initial recommendation. Compl. 7. Even if this
reconsideration were permissible, he added, the
Commandant's final decision must have been unlawfully
influenced by the Superintendent in violation Article 37(a)
of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Compl. 10. The Board
rejected these claims. It found that Mr. Turner was
disenrolled “in compliance with all applicable
regulations and statutes” and “did not find
evidence of unlawful command influence.” J.A. 237. It
also “substantially concurred” with the
conclusions of an advisory opinion prepared by a Staff Judge
Turner relies on similar arguments here. First, he contends
that the Commandant's initial recommendation was a
“final decision” that “ended consideration
of the Plaintiff's separation for conduct reasons.”
Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. 10, ECF No. 14-1
(“Pl.'s Mem.”). When the Commandant changed
his mind, he “re-open[ed] the hearing without prior
notice” to Mr. Turner. Id. at 13. Neither the
Manual nor the “applicable standards of due process,
” he claims, allowed the Commandant to do so.
even if the Navy's regulations allowed the Commandant to
reconsider, the “apparent influence of the
Superintendent on the Commandant's decision regarding
separation . . . constituted unlawful command
influence.” Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Cross-Mot.
for Summ. J. 5, ECF No. 17 (“Pl.'s
Response”). Mr. Turner alleges that a “reasonable
person could . . . believe under the circumstances that the
Superintendent” disagreed with the Commandant and
improperly “directed [him] to change his
recommendation” to disenrollment. Id. at 6.
Defendants-Secretary Richard Spencer, Superintendent Walter
Carter, and Commandant Robert Chadwick-maintain that the
Naval Academy staff complied with applicable law. Defs.'s
Mem. in Supp. of Cross-Mot. for Summ. J. 2, ECF. No. 16
(“Defs.' Mem.”). They also contend Mr. Turner
“failed to introduce any evidence demonstrating that
the Commandant's ultimate recommendation of ...