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Feres Doctrine - Further Readings

court military united government

A doctrine that bars claims against the federal government by members of the armed forces and their families for injuries arising from or in the course of activity incident to military service.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1950, in Feres v. United States, 340 U.S. 135, 71 S. Ct. 153, 95 L. Ed. 152, that the federal government could not be held liable under the statute known as the FEDERAL TORT CLAIMS ACT (28 U.S.C.A. §§ 1291, 1346(b), (c), 1402(b), 2401(b), 2402, 2671-80) for injuries to members of the armed forces arising from activities incident to military service. The Federal Tort Claims Act allows persons intentionally or negligently wronged by a government employee to sue the government for their injuries. The Supreme Court's decision barring suits involving injuries to members of the armed forces became known as the Feres doctrine. The doctrine remains in force, as the Supreme Court has rejected attempts to over-rule the decision.

Feres involved a suit brought by the executor of a soldier who had died when his barracks caught fire. The executor charged that the United States had been negligent in housing the soldier in barracks whose defective heating system was known to be unsafe. First, the Supreme Court rejected the argument that such a suit could be brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act of 1946, which had waived the government's traditional IMMUNITY from claims in many circumstances. Noting that the statute said that "[t]he United States shall be liable … in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances" (28 U.S.C.A. § 2674), the Court concluded that the relationship between the government and members of its armed forces is "distinctively federal in character." Therefore, it would be anomalous to have the government's liability depend on the law of the state where the soldier was stationed. Second, the Court observed that in several enactments, Congress had established a "no-fault" compensation plan that provides pensions to injured members of the ARMED SERVICES.

Commenting on the Feres doctrine in United States v. Brown, 348 U.S. 110, 75 S. Ct. 141, 99 L. Ed. 139 (1954), the Court emphasized that discipline and "[t]he peculiar and special relationship of the soldier to his superiors" might be affected if suits were allowed under the Tort Claims Act "for negligent orders given or negligent acts committed in the course of military duty." This view became one of the bedrock justifications for the doctrine in the years following Brown.

The U.S. Supreme Court has stressed that the Feres doctrine "cannot be reduced to a few bright-line rules," but rather "each case must be examined in light of the [Tort Claims Act] as it has been construed in Feres and subsequent cases" (United States v. Shearer, 473 U.S. 52, 105S. Ct. 3039, 87 L. Ed. 2d 38 [1985]).

The doctrine does not bar a claim arising from an independent injury committed by the government after a soldier has been discharged (Brown). In Brown, an injury suffered by a veteran during treatment at a VETERANS ADMINISTRATION hospital for a prior injury that he had sustained during military service was not barred by Feres. The Court distinguished Brown from Feres on the ground that in Brown, the second injury did not arise from or in the course of military service.

The doctrine did apply, however, to a suit involving the death of a soldier who was off the military base on authorized leave when he was kidnapped and murdered by a fellow soldier with a known history of violence (Shearer). The mother of the murdered soldier charged that the Army had been negligent in failing to warn the other soldiers that the murderer was dangerous and in failing to restrict the murderer's movements while his discharge was being processed. The Supreme Court denied her claim under the Feres doctrine on the ground that the suit would require a civilian court to second-guess military decisions that are directly involved in the management of the armed forces. If such suits were allowed, "commanding officers would have to stand prepared to convince a civilian court of the wisdom of a wide range of military and disciplinary decisions." As a result, military discipline would suffer the detrimental effects that the Feres doctrine was designed to prevent.

The doctrine also applies to third parties seeking indemnity from the federal government. In Stencel Aero Engineering Corp. v. United States, 431 U.S. 666, 97 S. Ct. 2054, 52 L. Ed. 2d 665 (1977), an injured NATIONAL GUARD officer brought a suit against Stencel, the manufacturer of the ejection system in his fighter aircraft. Stencel then filed a cross-claim against the United States for indemnity (reimbursement for damages that it might pay to the officer), alleging that any malfunction of the ejection system was due to faulty government specifications and components. The Supreme Court held that the same reasoning that prevented a member of the armed services from recovering under the Tort Claims Act would limit a third party from recovering in an indemnity action.

The Feres doctrine was challenged in two cases decided by the Supreme Court in 1987. The doctrine had long been criticized as unfair to service members. In United States v. Johnson, 481 U.S. 681, 107 S. Ct. 2063, 95 L. Ed. 2d 648, the United States was sued for injuries sustained by a service member as the result of the NEGLIGENCE of air traffic controllers, who are civilian employees of the federal government. On a 5–4 decision, the Court reaffirmed the application of the Feres doctrine. The Court noted that civilian employees may also "play an integral role in military activities. In this circumstance, an inquiry into the civilian activities would have the same effect on military discipline as a direct inquiry into military judgments."

In United States v. Stanley, 483 U.S. 669, 107S. Ct. 3054, 97 L. Ed. 2d 550 (1987), the United States was sued not only under the Federal Tort Claims Act but also directly under the Constitution. The Court rejected this attempt to circumvent Feres. It affirmed the lower court's decision to dismiss the lawsuit because of the principles set out in the Feres decision.

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about 8 years ago

As many of you know by now, the Feres Doctrine "protects" the US Government from being sued for things like medical malpractice. The most recent unfortunate case being SGT Carmelo Rodriguez and going all the way back to the time when an airman complained of stomach pains after surgery - only to find out that a 7-inch surgical towel with "Property of US Air Force" written on it was found inside of him. Be aware that Feres also protects the US military from legal malpractice.

While I was on active duty with the US Army, I was threatened by a US Army lawyer named Captain Matthew Fitzgerald to do something which was contrary to the US Army legal regulations (which I did not know at the time but he did). Fitzgerald’s motive was to tout this as his first accomplishment on his annual performance report of which I later got a copy. This threat resulted in my losing over $50,000 of my personal funds.

When I asked the top lawyer (now Lieutenant General Dana Chipman) for assistance, the first thing they did was appoint Fitzgerald’s previous boss and a very obvious friend to "investigate." Since there was no wrongdoing found as a result of this faux investigation but specifics were protected by the Privacy Act , I filed the same complaint with Fitzgerald’s Oregon State Bar which is NOT PROTECTED under privacy laws. Evidence showed that Fitzgerald lied no less than 10 times to his Oregon State Bar.

It was all thrown out of federal court due to Feres although I had a slam-dunk case with all evidence in my favor. Just to add insult to my financial injury, Fitzgerald got promoted to Major.

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over 9 years ago

Time sensitive: Please forward this e-mail to everyone you know!

Remembering the meaning of Veterans Day. Remembering our Soldiers.
Remembering the People.

As Veterans Day approaches, November 11, 2009, for some it's a day of honor, for others it's just a day off from work, and for many businesses a veterans day sale! It is, in fact, a day of remembrance. One honoring all those who have fought and died for our country, and for showing gratitude and respect for those who are currently fighting and dying for our country. Those people are your fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, friends, relatives, somebody you know or even yourself.

You are receiving this letter because we know that you are going to act on it and to do the right thing in response.

U.S. Military Health Care has a law called the Feres Doctrine that does not allow military doctors to be held accountable for negligent care. That means that if you or a loved one is seriously injured because of military medical malpractice that you are pretty much S.O.L.!

NY Congressman Hinchey's Bill; The Carmelo Rodriguez Military Malpractice Accountability Act of 2009 H.R. 1478 and NY Senator Schumer's sister bill S. 1347 will change that! These Bills have a great chance of being voted into law very soon, but only if everyone of us tells our congressmen and senators that we, their respective constituents insist that they at the very least vote in favor of these bills or better still become cosponsors of the bills. That's all you have to do! LET THEM KNOW NOW that you support the bills too!

We've made it so easy for you to follow through. Here's how.

1. Attached to this email, you will find The Veterans Day Proposal and a Petition for all of you to sign. Have everyone you know sign it too.

We would like to collect as many signed petitions by the 25th of November, so please hurry. Even if you don't live in Oregon, send your petition to us and we can get it to the right place.

2. Also please CALL your senators and congressman and have everyone you know do so as well on Veterans Day. Let them know where you stand on this issue! There is information on finding your Congressmen in The Veterans Day Proposal.

3. Please PASS this email onto your friends and families. We need to make and impact on November 11, 2009

4. Please visit www.erniesfootprints.com for updates and additional information.

Thank you for making Veterans Day 2009 the day you can truly say "I supported the troops!" "I supported our veterans!" "I support the lives of people I care about!"

If you have any questions and want to speak to someone directly, simply call us at

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over 9 years ago

The Feres Doctrine boggles the mind. This needs to be overturned. My son Michael Fremer was killed at Fort Polk, La on 2/13/08 because of Army Negligence during a training exercise. The Army can not be held accountable because of the Feres Doctrine. Why is the Army exempt from being held accountable for Negligence? Our young men and woman are risking their lives. This is how our country treats the soldiers and the families? How many others die because of poor training? It seems the Army keeps this quiet.

There are other cases that involve the feres Doctrine. For example Medical Malpractice in the army. Also Marines being exposed to Toxic chemicals on US Bases. The Military is exempt from being held accountable on all of these matters. The Feres Doctrine needs to be overturned.

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over 10 years ago

what are her three children doing today, 8/29/08?