An appellate court rejected a $100-million wrongful death claim by the family of Raheel Siddiqui, a Marines recruit from Michigan.
Siddiqui, writes The Detroit Free Press, died after falling off the top of a building. His family filed the lawsuit after uncovering evidence of extreme hazing at the Marines’ training base in Parris Island, North Carolina.
Last year, Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for mistreating recruits, including Siddiqui.
Prosecutors at Felix’s military trial said the drill sergeant would frequently taunt Siddiqui. Felix seemed especially bothered by the 20-year old recruit’s faith, calling him a “terrorist.”
After his sergeant slapped him, Siddiqui ran out a door in his barracks and leapt over a third-floor railing.
The death was initially declared a suicide. But his family argued against the ruling, saying it wasn’t likely a faithful son and observant Muslim would take his own life.
However, this week’s ruling may make it more difficult for Siddiqui’s family to get recompense. The claim was rejected out of hand due to a controversial and decades-old Supreme Court precedent. Shiraz Khan, an attorney for the family, said it’s possible they’ll try escalating the case.
“This case needs to be looked at specifically in parts, the wrongs committed against Raheel Siddiqui long before his enlistment and all that transpired after,” Khan said. “[His family members] are relentless in their pursuit for justice, not only for their son but for [anyone] who wants to serve his or her country.”
The suit, notes the Free Press, repeatedly mentions Felix—and the fact that the sergeant had a bad reputation before Siddiqui ever arrived at Parris Island. In the past, Felix had even been accused of ordering another Muslim recruit into a drying machine, then turning it on.
But the court felt its hand was forced by precedent. Whether the judges liked it or not, they felt compelled to abide by a 1950 decision that’s become known as the Feres doctrine.
Under Feres, the government cannot be sued under the Federal Tort Claims Act for injuries sustained by active duty military personnel—including recruits—even if the injuries were caused by negligence.
U.S. District Judge Arthur Tarrow, who first dismissed the case last November, expressed regret at the outcome and his own ruling, unfairly bound by the restrictions of Feres.
As recently as spring, writes The Free Press, Thomas blasted the Feres doctrine while rejecting another case related to medical malpractice, saying its “unfair repercussions” continue to “ripple through our jurisprudence.”
The appeals court noted the controversy in their decision.
“Plaintiffs call upon us to disregard or overrule Feres,” they wrote. “We would not be the first court to consider doing so. As [another panel] noted, ‘We can think of no judicially created doctrine which has been criticized so stridently, by so many jurists, for so long.’
“[But] unless the Supreme Court overturns Feres, we remain bound by it.”