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Law School Case Brief

Pruitt v. Cheney - 963 F.2d 1160 (9th Cir. 1992)


A complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief. Even more to the point, a party does not need to plead specific legal theories in the complaint, as long as the opposing party receives notice as to what is at issue in the lawsuit. The complaint should not be dismissed merely because plaintiff's allegations do not support the legal theory he intends to proceed on, since the court is under a duty to examine the complaint to determine if the allegations provide for relief on any possible theory. 


Reverend Pruitt served in the U.S. Army between January 1971 and July 1975, ultimately rising to the rank of Captain. After leaving active service to seek ordination as a methodist minister, Pruitt remained an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve (USAR). On May 25, 1982, Pruitt was notified of her selection for promotion to the rank of Major effective February 6, 1983. On January 27, 1983, the Los Angeles Times published an interview with Pruitt which revealed that she was a *** and had twice gone through ceremonies of marriage to other women. Through this article the Army first learned of Pruitt's homosexuality. On the basis of this information, the Army suspended Pruitt's promotion to Major pending an investigation to determine whether Pruitt should be separated from the USAR pursuant to AR 135-175, which mandated the discharge of homosexual service members. Pruitt filed suit, declaring that she was homosexual, and alleging that the Army was barred by the first amendment from discharging her solely on the basis of her admission of homosexuality. The district court denied Pruitt's motion for summary judgment, and granted the Army's motion to dismiss, stating that the Army's determination that homosexual personnel are incompatible with its military mission is entitled to substantial deference. 


Was dismissal of the free speech claim proper?




The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's free speech claim against defendant United States Army because plaintiff's public admission of homosexuality established her identity as a member of a class of persons who were barred from military service. Nevertheless, the court found that the complaint impliedly stated a claim for violation of plaintiff's equal protection rights. The court reversed and remanded for determination of whether the Army's discrimination against homosexuals was rationally related to a permissible governmental purpose.

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