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Family asks Supreme Court to reconsider $100M lawsuit in Marine recruit’s death

The Supreme Court of the United States, March 2017. (Phil Roeder/Flickr)

The parents of a Marine Corps recruit who died in 2016 after an incident during boot camp on Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island are asking the nation’s highest court to reconsider a decision dismissing a wrongful death case.

A federal judge dismissed the $100 million lawsuit against the government in 2018, and a three-judge panel declined last year to rehear the case. In a petition filed in January, the recruit’s parents asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider.

Raheel Siddiqui died in 2016 after falling three stories in a barracks stairwell on the base. Shortly before the fall, the 20-year-old Michigan native was struck in the face by a Parris Island drill instructor — one the Marine Corps said should not have been supervising recruits since he was under investigation for abusing other trainees.

Siddiqui’s parents, Ghazala and Masood Siddiqui, alleged in the lawsuit filed in 2017 that negligence by the military and government led to their son’s death. The case was thrown out under the Feres doctrine, based on a controversial 1950 Supreme Court ruling that shields the federal government from being sued for injuries service members sustain while on duty.

The Siddiquis’ attorney, Shiraz Khan, argued on appeal that the doctrine’s reach has grown too broad and should be reversed or reconsidered by the Supreme Court. The precedent doesn’t allow appropriate recourse for those hurt or killed by government negligence, the petition said.

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A phone message for Khan wasn’t immediately returned Thursday.

The appeal and petition argue that the government’s negligence in Siddiqui’s case began when he was a civilian in a Michigan recruitment office before a “military relationship” was established, as required under the Feres ruling.

Recruiters misled Raheel Siddiqui and his family, who are Muslim, by not telling them of torture and abuse of Muslim recruits that had been documented on Parris Island before Siddiqui arrived, the court documents allege.

The Siddiquis’ petition argues the landscape has changed in the 70 years of the Feres doctrine and that military personnel now face the prospect of incidents such as mass shootings, sexual abuse and hazing “that are clearly not unique to their military service.”

In the petition, Khan implores the court to set a precedent in establishing exceptions to government immunity in cases involving civilians and military recruits.

“This case gives this Court the opportunity now to overturn an outdated and heavily criticized Feres in the interests of a nation that faces new challenges along the very blurred lines of civilian/military relations,” the petition reads.

A petition does not compel the nine justices to hear the case. A court response to the filing is due by Feb. 21, according to online court records.

The Marine Corps called Siddiqui’s death a suicide, saying he jumped to his death. His family disputes the finding, with the petition calling the determination an “unverified and uncorroborated allegation.”

Siddiqui’s drill instructor, then-Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix, was convicted of hazing and abusing Siddiqui and other Muslim recruits at a court-martial in 2017. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and a dishonorable discharge.

His commanding officer, Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon, later pleaded guilty to charges in part related to failing to prevent Felix — who was already under investigation for abuse — from supervising Siddiqui’s platoon.

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© 2020 The Island Packet