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Feres Doctrine Cited in Fed's Motion to Dismiss Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Lawsuits

Apr 17, 2012 | Parker Waichman LLP
Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Lawsuits

'Feres Doctrine' Deprives Military Personnel Of Their Legal Rights

The U.S. Government is once again trying to deprive military personnel of their legal rights by pushing a Court to expand the so-called Feres Doctrine.  This time, the Department of Justice is trying to have three lawsuits filed on behalf of former Marines allegedly sickened by contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, dismissed under the Feres Doctrine.

The Feres Doctrine, which originated with a 60-year-old Supreme Court decision, holds that service members may not sue under the Federal Torts Claims Act for injuries “arising out of or sustained incident to military service.”   In a motion filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Northern Georgia, the Department of Justice seeks to have three lawsuits currently pending in Camp LeJeune water contamination multidistrict litigation dismissed, citing the Feres Doctrine.

A second motion filed the same day seeks to dismiss all seven lawsuits pending in the multidistrict litigation on the basis of the Federal Tort Claims Act,  which prohibits lawsuits based upon the government’s performance or failure to perform a discretionary function or duty.  The government - which concedes in both motions that its water disposal methods did play a role in the Camp Lejeune water contamination – argues that because the Plaintiffs' cannot argued that because the plaintiffs cannot point to any statute that imposes duties upon the U.S. to provide safe water, such duties are “discretionary.”

Clarifications Over 'Feres Doctrine'

This is not the first time the federal government has tried to expand the Feres Doctrine.  In fact, courts have already held that the Doctrine bars military personnel from filing medical malpractice lawsuit over stateside medical care provided by U.S. military facilities.   Recently, the government has been trying to convince court that the Feres Doctrine also applies to the families of military men and women.

Advocates for military personnel, who have long lobbied Congress to amend the Federal Tort Claims Act to eliminate the Feres Doctrine, argue that it was only ever intended to cover situations that occur during battle or in the course of armed forces activities.

"The Feres Doctrine was never intended to protect the U.S. Government from lawsuits that have nothing to do with military actions.  It most certainly was not intended to protect it from basic duties owed by every U.S. municipality to provide all citizens and residents of the nation with life-sustaining services, including clean water," says William Dubanevich, environmental attorney with Parker Waichman LLP.  "The U.S. Government should be disgraced at their attempt to hide from their alleged wrongdoings, knowingly exposing service men and women, their spouses and children and civilians to chemical laden water, by invoking the Feres Doctrine in this case."

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