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Verbil v. Commander, Eleventh Coast Guard District

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

January 29, 2015

CHRISTOPHER J. VERBIL, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMANDER, ELEVENTH COAST GUARD DISTRICT, ET AL., Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Re: Docket No. 35)

PAUL S. GREWAL, Magistrate Judge.

Created under 14 U.S.C. § 821, the Coast Guard Auxiliary is a non-military organization consisting of non-salaried civilian volunteers administered by the Commandant of the United States Coast Guard.[1] The Auxiliary assists the Coast Guard in "performing any Coast Guard function, power, duty, role, mission, or operation, authorized by law."[2] Auxiliary Membership, subject to certain restrictions, is open to U.S. citizens.[3] Although members are not considered federal employees, they must still adhere to the standards for conduct and behavior set forth by the Commander.[4] Violating such standards may lead to a member's disenrollment.[5]

Defendants Commander of the Eleventh Coast Guard District, Curtis L. Sumrok and Auxiliarists Ronnie L. Darcey, Lawrence G. Olson and Rodney E. Collins move for summary judgment against Plaintiff Christopher J. Verbil's claims.[6] The questions before the court are whether Defendants' decision to disenroll Verbil from the Coast Guard Auxiliary membership was arbitrary or capricious, and whether Defendants deprived Verbil of procedural due process in doing so. Because Defendants were neither arbitrary nor capricious in determining Verbil's disenrollment and did not deprive Verbil of due process, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.

I.

Summary judgment generally is appropriate when "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."[7] Pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act, however, when a court reviews an agency's final action, different legal standards apply. A reviewing court's role is limited to considering only the administrative record.[8] In doing so, the court does not serve as a fact finder and material facts thus are not disputed.[9] As long as the defendant agency's decision was not arbitrary or capricious, such a decision may not be set aside.[10] When applying this standard, the court must consider "whether the [agency's] decision was based on a consideration of the relevant factors and whether there has been a clear error of judgment."[11]

Two and a half years ago, Verbil applied for membership in the Auxiliary.[12] Nine months later he became a member.[13] All members are required to complete classroom training sessions with an Auxiliary instructor.[14] Before completing his training, however, Verbil emphatically expressed his dissatisfaction with the training.[15] During his training, Verbil ignored multiple warnings from instructors and repeatedly refused to conduct himself with the requested decorum.[16] Specifically, Verbil interrupted the class, argued with his instructors and paced back and forth within the classroom.[17] Verbil also sent a full two-page email to his fellow member trainees critiquing the instruction.[18]

The instructors requested that Verbil refrain from attending the final session.[19] Ignoring their request, Verbil attended the session and acted as he had before.[20] Four instructors submitted detailed statements as to Verbil's uncooperative behavior.[21] Based on these statements, Commander Sumrok subsequently informed Verbil that his conduct may constitute infractions of the Coast Guard's policies, [22] to which Verbil responded that he "never displayed disruptive behavior."[23]

Verbil then brought the matter to the attention of the Commanding Officer of the Coast Guard Air Station in San Francisco, as well as the Auxiliary's legal counsel, accusing the Auxiliary of "contributing to an environment where flight safety is potentially at risk" and threatening to "go national."[24] The Commanding Officer notified Verbil that upon comprehensive review, Verbil was disallowed to serve as an Auxiliary member.[25] At the same time, Commander Sumrok notified Verbil that he was disenrolled from membership with cause, due to his unwillingness to cooperate and disruptive behavior toward the normal operations and functions of the Auxiliary.[26] Verbil appealed his disenrollment, denying all improper behavior, claiming that he was never appropriately counseled about his alleged indiscretions.[27] A month later, Rear Admiral Karl Schultz sustained the disenrollment.[28]

Verbil then filed this court, seeking reversal.[29] Verbil brings claims under (1) the APA for arbitrary and capricious agency decision and violation of due process, (2) Title VII for harassment and retaliation and (3) the Federal Tort Claims Act for negligence; the court has since dismissed the latter two claims.[30] Defendants now move for summary judgment on Verbil's remaining APA claim.[31]

II.

This court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.[32] The parties further consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned magistrate judge under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a).[33]

III.

Defendants assert that Verbil's disenrollment was neither arbitrary nor capricious nor in violation of Verbil's due process rights.[34] In response, Verbil urges the court not to grant summary judgment for Defendants because there are genuine issues of material fact.[35] While the court construes Verbil's arguments liberally, Verbil's arguments are ultimately unpersuasive for the following reasons.[36]

First, Section 706(2)(A) of the APA provides that a federal agency's final decision is generally improper only when the agency's adjudication is arbitrary or capricious.[37] The Ninth Circuit has held that a reviewing court should consider whether "the decision was based on a consideration of the relevant factors and whether there has been a clear error of judgment."[38] An agency decision is valid "if a reasonable basis exists for [the agency's] decision."[39] In conducting such a review, courts may consider only the administrative record, save ...


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