|From the Defense Department: "Jeffrey and Sheryll Pearson look at the |
portrait of their son, Army Pfc. Michael Pearson, before the Purple Heart
and Defense of Freedom award ceremony on Fort Hood, Texas, April 10,
2015. The event honored the 13 people killed and more than 30 injured in
a gunman’s 2009 shooting rampage on the base. U.S. Army photo by Daniel
To the dismay and torment of those involved, this case has dragged on for nearly a decade. Hasan admitted to the shootings in a 2013 court-martial and was sentenced to death. He is presently awaiting execution, pending judicial review, at Fort Leavenworth. The civil claims accuse the Government of negligence in the supervision of Hasan, who was permitted to work as a medical corps psychiatrist despite superior's concerns about his own mental fitness. While Hasan's case was under way and then on appeal, the Army repeatedly asked the trial court to stay civil proceedings, provoking "anger, frustration and suspicion" on the part of the plaintiffs, in their words.
The dismissal was predicated principally on grounds of the Feres doctrine. Arising from the 1950 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Feres v. United States (Justia), the Feres doctrine bars tort claims arising from active-duty service when the claims otherwise might be authorized by the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The Feres doctrine has made news in recent years in allowing the government to resist medical malpractice claims against healthcare providers of Veterans Affairs.
Plaintiffs in the Ft. Hood case knew that Feres would be a problem, but hoped to work around it, as some victims were not on active duty at the time of the shooting, and some defendants were federal law enforcement officials rather than active-duty military. The ambiguous status of some persons involved in the shooting, as well Hasan's motivations, was at issue in the intervening years in an ugly collateral dispute over victims' entitlements to military honors, which the Government for a time resisted. In this same vein of ambiguity, the court did allow some plaintiffs' claims to proceed in administrative processes, dismissing them without prejudice for failure to exhaust remedies as the FTCA requires.
Information and privacy law aficionados might recollect the name of Judge Kollar-Kotelly. For seven years after 9/11, she was the presiding judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.