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Hinkel v. England

November 14, 2003


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (Dist. Court No. 01-CV-1971) Magistrate Judge: J. Andrew Smyser

Before: Sloviter, Roth and Chertoff, Circuit Judges

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chertoff, Circuit Judge


Submitted Under Third Circuit LAR 34.1(a) October 15, 2003


Appellants are GS-11 level employees of the United States Navy. They allege that the Navy determined that their jobs should be classified at the GS-12 level but has failed to implement the classification. They filed suit seeking a writ of mandamus compelling defendant Gordon England, Secretary of the Navy, to classify them accordingly. Appellants appeal the Magistrate Judge's decision granting defendant's motion for summary judgment.*fn1 We shall affirm.

This Court exercises plenary review over a district court's grant of summary judgment and applies the same standard the district court should have applied. See Farrell v. Planters Lifesavers Co., 206 F.3d 271, 278 (3d Cir. 2000). We generally review mandamus decisions for abuse of discretion, but we review non-discretionary elements de novo. See Stehney v. Perry, 101 F.3d 925, 929 (3d Cir. 1996).


Appellants Paul Hinkel and Don Reynolds are Program Managers in the Navy's Ships Systems Department, a subdivision of the Ships Support Directorate; at all times relevant to this lawsuit their positions were classified at the GS-11 level. In 1997 their supervisor, Valerie Steinman, identified eleven Program Manager positions under her supervision (including appellants) that she felt, given those positions' job responsibilities, should be classified to the GS-12 level.*fn2 Steinman submitted a proposal for appellants' reclassification to Gail Sheffer in the Human Resources office. Sheffer performed a sample "desk audit" of two of the eleven positions and concluded that, given the job duties of the positions, they were GS-12 level.

Steinman then submitted the proposal to James Ramsey, Deputy Director of the Ships Support Directorate. Appellants allege that Ramsey approved the proposal and the Navy has failed to implement their reclassification to the GS-12 level. The Secretary of the Navy contends that appellants have not become GS-12 level employees because Ramsey determined that reclassification was unwarranted and rejected Steinman's proposal. This factual dispute is immaterial to the resolution of appellants' claim, however, and we assume for purposes of this decision the facts as alleged by appellants.


There are two prerequisites to issuing a writ of mandamus. Appellants must show that (1) they have no other adequate means to attain their desired relief; and (2) their right to the writ is clear and indisputable. See In re Patenaude, 210 F.3d 135, 141 (3d Cir. 2000); Aerosource, Inc. v. Slater, 142 F.3d 572, 582 (3d Cir. 1998). To assess appellants' entitlement to a writ of mandamus, we turn to two statutes: The Classification Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 5101 et seq. and the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, Pub. L. No. 95-454, 92 Stat. 1111 et seq. (codified in various provisions of Title 5 of the United States Code) ("CSRA").

The Classification Act makes it the responsibility of each federal agency to place every position under its jurisdiction in the appropriate class and grade in conformity with standards published by the Office of Personnel Management ("OPM"). 5 U.S.C. § 5107. An employee who wishes to challenge the appropriateness of his position's classification may appeal to the OPM, which is authorized to, inter alia, (1) "decide whether a position is in its appropriate class and grade"; and (2) "change a position from one class or grade to another class or grade when the facts warrant." 5 U.S.C. § 5112(a). The OPM is statutorily required to entertain an employee's appeal of his classification. 5 U.S.C. § 5112(b).

In the past, courts reviewed classification decisions under mandamus jurisdiction. In Haneke v. Sec'y of Health, Educ. & Welfare, 535 F.2d 1291 (D.C. Cir. 1976), for example, the court ordered the Civil Service Commission (OPM's predecessor agency) to determine whether the plaintiff should be reclassified based on the fact that other employees at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare were classified at a higher level even though they were doing the same work. See also United ...

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