Doyle v. United States
In Doyle v. United States, 220 Ct.Cl. 285, 599 F.2d 984, as amended, 220 Ct.Cl. 326, 609 F.2d 990 (1979), cert. denied, 446 U.S. 982, 100 S.Ct. 2961, 64 L.Ed.2d 837 (1980), former Army Reserve officers challenged their release from active duty after they had been passed over twice for promotion by selection boards in 1974 and 1975. 599 F.2d at 988.
At the time a statute required that Boards considering the promotion of reserve officers "`should include an appropriate number of Reserves.'" Id. at 986 (citing 10 U.S.C. 266(a) (1976)).
Those selection boards had no reserve members.
When the error was discovered, the Secretary created new boards that had reserve members, and the reconstituted boards reconsidered all officers whom the original boards had considered. Id. at 991.
"Although the reconstituted boards recommended promotion of some officers who were not selected by the original boards, none of the plaintiffs was among those recommended for promotion by either of the boards reconstituted for 1974 or 1975." Id. at 992.
The government conceded, and the Court of Claims held, that "the original 1974 and 1975 selection boards were improperly constituted because they did not include any Reserve officers as members." Id.
The government contended, however, that since all the plaintiffs had again been passed over for promotion by the reconstituted selection boards which contained reserve officers, the lack of such officers on the original selection boards was harmless error because, even if those original boards had contained reserve members, they still would not have promoted the plaintiffs. Id.
The Court of Claims refused to apply the doctrine of harmless error. Noting that the "defective composition" of the original selection boards, id. at 993, was "directly related to the purpose and functioning of selection boards," id. at 994, and violated the reserve officers' "rights to fair procedure or process," the court concluded that "the doctrine of harmless error cannot be applied to this type of procedural error." Id. at. 996.