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Woods v. Major General J.J. Sheehan

filed: March 15, 1993.

JOEL C. WOODS, JR., PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
MAJOR GENERAL J.J. SHEEHAN, U.S. MARINE CORPS; THOMAS STARR, COMMANDING OFFICER-INSPECTOR 6TH ENGINEER SUPPORT BATTALION; LT. COLONEL SWANSON, COMMANDING OFFICER 6TH ENGINEER SUPPORT BATTALION, RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Oregon. D.C. No. CV-91-6139-BU. James M. Burns, District Judge, Presiding.

Before: John F. Kilkenny, Thomas Tang, and Melvin Brunetti, Circuit Judges. Opinion by Judge Tang.

Author: Tang

TANG, Circuit Judge:

United States Marine Corps Reserve Corporal Joel Corey Woods, Jr. ("Woods") sought a discharge as a conscientious objector. The Marine Corps Reserve ("Marine Corps") denied Woods' claim of conscientious objector status. Woods thereafter petitioned the district court for habeas corpus relief.*fn1 The district court dismissed the petition. On appeal, Woods argues he established a prima facie case for conscientious objector status and that the district court erred in finding that the Marine Corps had a basis in fact for denying him conscientious objector status. Woods also argues that he was denied a fair administrative hearing and that the district court erred in failing to examine the entire record. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We affirm the dismissal of the petition.

BACKGROUND

On December 9, 1986, Corporal Joel C. Woods, Jr. enlisted in the Selected Marine Corps Reserve for a term of eight years. At the time, he was an eighteen year old high school student, an "A" student who lettered in three sports. Woods successfully completed three months of boot camp, received a Military Occupational Specialty classification as a combat engineer, and was assigned to his unit after completing his training. He satisfactorily completed all required drills which included weapons training, gas chamber training, bridge building, and construction projects. Although Woods states that he was shaken by the emphasis placed on violence, brutality, and force as a necessary part of training for war, he never mentioned this stress to anyone in his chain of command before filing his conscientious objector application. While in the unit, Woods has always been seen to be a Marine of good character. Sergeant Todd W. Butler, his superior non-commissioned officer, stated that he has worked with Woods for over three years, and has always found Woods to be an able Marine of good character who performed his duties efficiently and skillfully. Another superior non-commissioned officer of Woods, Sergeant Steven W. Anderson, stated that he has also served with Woods for over three years and has never known Woods to be other than professional and sincere.

On November 28, 1990, two-thirds of Woods' reserve unit was activated in support of Operation Desert Shield. Woods reported to his unit, signed his orders, and applied for conscientious objector status. On December 8, 1990, pursuant to Marine Corps Order ("MCO") 1306.16E(6)(c), Woods was personally interviewed by Battalion Chaplain, B. A. Rumsch. Chaplain Rumsch concluded that Woods' opposition to war is morally based.*fn2 On December 18, 1990, Clinical Psychologist Larry W. Bailey, Ph.D. interviewed Woods as required by MCO 1306.16E(6)(c). Dr. Bailey opined that Woods appears to be sincere in his application for conscientious objector status.

On December 17, 1990, Captain James P. Gladbach was appointed as the hearing officer to conduct the investigation of Corporal Woods' claim as a conscientious objector. Captain Gladbach held a hearing on December 21, 1990. During the hearing, Woods was given an opportunity to express or present any evidence in support of his application for conscientious objector status. Woods answered Captain Gladbach's questions at that time, submitted a sworn written statement on his behalf, and provided Captain Gladbach with letters/references from certain people. Thereafter, Captain Gladbach then contacted Woods' references and past employers.

On January 4, 1991, Captain Gladbach submitted a written report. The report concluded that Corporal Woods was not sincere and recommended that Woods be denied conscientious objector status. Corporal Woods submitted a rebuttal on January 14, 1991, to Captain Gladbach's Conclusions and recommendations. On June 24, 1991, after a lengthy review/recommendation process, Woods' application for conscientious objector status was denied.*fn3

Woods thereafter petitioned the district court for habeas corpus relief. The district court found that the Marine Corps had a basis in fact for denying Woods conscientious objector status and denied Woods' habeas petition. Woods timely appeals.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

We ordinarily review de novo a district court's denial of a habeas corpus petition, while examining for clear error any of its factual determinations. Thomas v. Brewer, 923 F.2d 1361, 1364 (9th Cir. 1991). However, in a conscientious objector case in which the applicant has asserted a prima facie claim for relief, the government has the burden of demonstrating a "basis in fact" for its denial of the application. Koh v. Secretary of the Air Force, 719 F.2d 1384, 1385 (9th Cir. 1983). Because the "basis in fact" test is "the narrowest review known to the law," we review the government's decision with the utmost deference, looking only for "some proof that is incompatible with the applicant's claims." Id.

I.

Under 32 C.F.R. ยง 75.5 and Marine Corps Order 1306.16E(4)(b), (5), a person seeking conscientious objector status has the initial burden of demonstrating: 1) that he or she is conscientiously opposed to participation in war in any form; 2) the opposition is based on religious training and beliefs; and 3) the person's position is ...


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