Monday, May 07, 2018

Daniel v. United States (9th Cir. - May 7, 2018)

Well put, Judge Hawkins.

"Like most cases implicating the Feres doctrine, the claims at issue here arise out of personal tragedy. . . . 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 Hospital in Bremerton, Washington. . . . In 2013, Rebekah and Walter learned that they were expecting a daughter. Rebekah made arrangements to resign from her post, and with the family leave she planned to take following the birth of her daughter, she did not expect to resume her duties prior to her anticipated detachment from service in May 2014. On March 9, 2014, while still on active duty status, Rebekah was admitted to Naval Hospital Bremerton as a patient and gave birth to her daughter. Although her pregnancy had been considered low-risk, Rebekah experienced postpartum hemorrhaging and died approximately four hours after delivery."

The family sues for medical malpractice, but the district court dismisses the case on the pleadings, holding that it's barred by the Feres doctrine, which prohibits suits arising out of military service.  Judge Hawkins quotes Justice Scalia's dissent in Johnson, in which the latter argued that “Feres was wrongly decided and heartily deserves the widespread, almost universal criticism it has received."  But the panel is nonetheless constrained to affirm, holding that existing doctrine does indeed bar the lawsuit.

But Judge Hawkins concludes the opinion by saying:  "Lieutenant Daniel served honorably and well, ironically professionally trained to render the same type of care that led to her death. If ever there were a case to carve out an exception to the Feres doctrine, this is it. But only the Supreme Court has the tools to do so."

Hear, hear.