Law School Case Brief
Purcell v. United States - 656 F.3d 463 (7th Cir. 2011)
The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C.S. §§ 1346(b), 2671-2680, provides that the United States shall be liable respecting the provisions of this title relating to tort claims, in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances. 28 U.S.C.S. § 2674. Excepted from this waiver of sovereign immunity, however, are claims arising out of the combatant activities of the military or naval forces, or the Coast Guard, during time of war. 28 U.S.C.S. § 2680(j). In Feres v. United States, the United States Supreme Court further held that the Government is not liable under the FTCA for injuries to servicemen where the injuries arise out of or are in the course of activity incident to service.
Navy and Department of Defense (DOD) personnel were called to the decedent's barracks after being informed that the decedent planned to kill himself. They arrived at his residence before he attempted suicide, but did not find the gun they were told he had. Later, they permitted him to go to the bathroom accompanied by his friend. Upon entering, he pulled a gun from his waistband and committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest. Plaintiff family sought relief in federal court on a wrongful death claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C.S. §§ 1346(b), 2671-2680, following decedent's suicide while he was serving on active duty in the Navy. The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois found the case barred by the Feres doctrine, which provides that "the Government is not liable under the FTCA for injuries to servicemen where the injuries arise out of or are in the course of activity incident to service." The family appealed and the judgment was affirmed.
Did the district court correctly dismiss plaintiff's suit based on the Feres doctrine?
The district court correctly dismissed the lawsuit based on Feres. At the time he committed suicide, which occurred in his on-base residential building, the decedent was on active duty; living in the barracks on a military base, experiencing, according to the decedent's father, various social and emotional problems that developed shortly after he enlisted; and deliberately avoiding Navy and DOD personnel sent to the decedent's barracks to help him, whom the father claimed failed to follow their own military regulations, and some of whom, he explained, faced courts-martial and were punished via an extrajudicial proceeding for failing to adequately search and supervise the decedent.
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