We’ve posted the opinion here.
Judge Scullin initially holds that the Judge Advocate General of the Navy had the authority to discipline Mr. Partington. Judge Scullin relies on Article 36’s delegation of procedural rule-making authority to the President. He also notes that, in connection with the case that led to the disciplinary proceeding against him, Mr. Partington had certified that he was familiar with and agreed to abide by authorities including the Navy Rules of Professional Conduct. “Therefore, pursuant to clear constitutional and statutory authority, the Court finds that the Navy JAG had the authority to initiate disciplinary proceedings and ultimately suspend Plaintiff, a civilian attorney, from the practice of law before naval courts. Furthermore, given Plaintiff’s certification that he would abide by all rules and regulations for such proceedings, he cannot now reasonably assert that the naval court before which he argued lacked jurisdiction over him to impose discipline.” Partington v. Houck, No. 1:10-CV-162, slip op. at 6-7 (D.D.C. Jan. 10, 2012). Judge Scullin also rejected Mr. Partington’s argument that CAAF had no authority to impose reciprocal discipline on him since that claim rested on the premise that the Judge Advocate General of the Navy’s discipline was null and void. Id., slip op. at 7 n.4.
Judge Scullin then rejected a due process challenge to Mr. Partington’s suspension, concluding that Mr. Partington “has not demonstrated a legitimate claim of entitlement to the practice of law before [naval] courts.” Id., slip op. at 8. He therefore “has no cognizable property interest in this limited practice of law.” Id. He reasoned: “Plaintiff has cited no . . . source of law, state or federal, to support his argument that a lawyer has a constitutionally-protected property interest in his ability to represent clients before naval courts. Although Plaintiff’s business may suffer as a result of his suspension, this alone is insufficient to warrant the relief Plaintiff seeks because Defendants have not wholly deprived him of his law license or his ability to practice law.” Id. Judge Scullin also rejected the argument that Mr. Partington has a constitutionally “cognizable liberty interest in the limited practice of law before naval courts.” Id., slip op. at 9.
Having concluded that the Due Process Clause did not apply to Mr. Partington’s suspension from practice before naval courts, Judge Scullin noted that “the Court need not address what process is due or whether or not that process was provided to Plaintiff.” Id.
Judge Scullin then analyzed whether the decision to discipline Mr. Partington could be challenged under the Administrative Procedures Act. Judge Scullin held that CAAF, as a Court of the United States, isn’t an “agency” for APA purposes and therefore dismissed the APA claim against CAAF. Id., slip op. at 1o-11. Then, citing McKinney v. Caldera, 141 F. Supp. 2d 25 (D.D.C. 2010), aff’d sub nom., McKinney v. White, 291 F.3d 851 (D.C. Cir. 2002), Judge Scullin held that the Judge Advocate General of the Navy isn’t an “agency” for purposes of the APA and, therefore, dismissed the APA claim against that official as well.
Finally, Judge Scullin dismissed Bivens claims against four defendants in their individual capacities because “Plaintiff has not identified a constitutionally-protected Fifth Amendment liberty or property interest in the limited practice of law before naval courts. . . . [The Court does not] need to analyze Plaintiff’s Bivens claim any further because the only constitutional rights at issue concern potential due process violations.” Id., slip op. at 13. Judgment was entered in the Defendants’ favor.
We’ll continue to monitor the case to see if an appeal is filed in the D.C. Circuit.