Torres v. Harker

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA OSCAR D. TORRES, on behalf of himself and others similarly situated, Plaintiffs, Case No. l:21-cv-306-R~ v. ~fLED UNDER SEAL* [ f 6 '( '2/2. I CARLOS DEL TORO, in his official capacity as Secretary of the Navy, Defendant. MEMORANDUM OPINION From time to time, servicemembers in the United States Armed Forces are separated from service due to medical disability. The Department of Defense ("DoD'') and the Navy have created a system, consisting of two primary parts, to evaluate Navy servicemembers for disabilities that render them unfit. The first part is a "medical evaluation" of the servicemember for potentially I unfitting conditions. If the Navy servicemember advances to the second part, he or she will be subject to a "disability evaluation" and then, if applicable, a disability rating that affects benefits upon separation. Between 2016 and 2018, the Navy implemented a new procedure to govern this process, called the "Properly Referred Policy." That policy ensured that only conditions "properly referred" by the medical evaluation phase would be considered during the disability evaluation phase. The Navy rescinded the Properly Referred Policy in 2018. Sergeant Oscar Torres subsequently filed this class-action lawsuit arguing that the Navy's policy unlawfully prevented him and similarly situated servicemembers from receiving full consideration during their disability evaluations. He seeks declaratory and injunctive relief under the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"), 5 U.S.C. § 706. After considering the administrative record ("AR"), the applicable law, 1 and the parties’ briefing, this Court will GRANT Mr. Torres’s motion for summary judgment and DENY the Secretary of the Navy’s motion for summary judgment. I. BACKGROUND This Court has already addressed at length the background facts, procedural history, and relevant statutes for this lawsuit. See Torres v. Del Toro, No. 1:21-cv-306 (RCL), 2021 WL 4989451, *1–4 (D.D.C. Oct. 27, 2021), ECF No. 36. Therefore, the Court will only overview what is most directly relevant to the Court’s decision on the cross-motions for summary judgment. A. Overview of the Disability Evaluation System and Statutory Constraints When a military servicemember is set to be discharged from service due to medical disability, Chapter 61 of Title 10 of the U.S. Code provides the general guidelines for the process that the servicemember is due. Most of the details, however, are defined through rules generated by the Secretary of Defense and secretaries of the military services pursuant to Congressional authorization. See 10 U.S.C. §§ 1216, 1222(c). The Disability Evaluation System (“DES”), created by the DoD, governs the process for servicemembers facing separation or retirement due to disability. AR 1942–1999. That system involves several steps that together determine whether a servicemember is unfit to continue serving. See id. The Navy has further built on the DoD’s general DES framework with more specific procedures for servicemembers within the Navy’s purview. See AR 2000–2300. To enter the Navy’s DES, a servicemember is referred by a commanding or medical officer for medical evaluation. See AR 1967–70, 2054–56. That referral is memorialized in Department of …

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