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Daniel v. United States

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

May 7, 2018

Walter Daniel, individually and as personal representative of the estate of Rebekah Daniel, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
United States of America, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued and Submitted April 11, 2018 Seattle, Washington

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington Robert J. Bryan, Senior District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. 3:15-cv-05748-RJB

          J. Andrew Hoyal II (argued), Luvera Law Firm, Seattle, Washington, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

          Lowell Sturgill Jr. (argued), Appellate Staff, Civil Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.; Sarah K. Morehead and Patricia D. Gugin, Assistant United States Attorneys; Annette L. Hayes, United States Attorney; United States Attorney's Office, Seattle, Washington; for Defendant-Appellee.

          Before: Michael Daly Hawkins and Susan P. Graber, Circuit Judges, and James A. Teilborg, [*] District Judge.

         SUMMARY[**]

         Feres Doctrine

         The panel affirmed the district court's Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) dismissal of plaintiff's tort action brought against the United States for the tragic death of his wife, who was serving in the Navy, as barred by the jurisdictional bar recognized in Feres v. United States, 340 U.S. 135 (1950).

         The Federal Tort Claims Act effected a broad waiver of sovereign immunity, rendering the United States liable for the tortious acts of its employees as a private individual would be under like circumstances. The Feres doctrine limits the Act's waiver of sovereign immunity, and provides governmental immunity from tort claims involving injuries to service members that were "incident to military service."

         The panel followed the holding in Atkinson v. United States, 825 F.2d 202 (9th Cir. 1987), which similarly involved medical treatment of an active duty service person at a domestic military hospital for a condition of pregnancy unrelated to military service. The panel concluded that plaintiff's medical malpractice claims were barred by the Feres doctrine.

          OPINION

          HAWKINS, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         We must determine whether the oft-criticized jurisdictional bar recognized in Feres v. United States, 340 U.S. 135 (1950)[1] (commonly known as the "Feres doctrine")-providing governmental immunity from tort claims involving injuries to service members that are "incident to military service"-bars Walter Daniel's tort action against the United States for the tragic death of his wife, Navy Lieutenant Rebekah Daniel, due to a complication following childbirth. As we have done many times before, we regretfully reach the conclusion that his claims are barred by the Feres doctrine and, therefore, affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         Like most cases implicating the Feres doctrine, the claims at issue here arise out of personal tragedy. See, e.g., Ritchie v. United States, 733 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2013); Costo v. United States, 248 F.3d 863, 864 (9th Cir. 2001). Rebekah Daniel served honorably as a Lieutenant in the United States Navy, and she worked as a labor and delivery nurse stationed at the Naval ...


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