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Supreme Court won’t hear wrongful death claim in case of Marine recruit

The Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, D.C., on September 25, 2018.(Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a wrongful death claim against the U.S. Marine Corps brought by the family of a 20-year-old Taylor recruit who died at boot camp four years ago.

The court entered an order in federal court in Detroit on Tuesday acknowledging that the justices had decided not to hear the appeal brought by the family of Raheel Siddiqui, who died after a fall from a third-floor walkway balcony at Parris Island, S.C., in 2016.

The denial, which came without explanation, effectively brings the $100-million wrongful death claim to an end, unless some new ground for appeal is found.

Siddiqui’s death came after he had been hit and verbally abused by his drill instructor, Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix, who was later convicted by a military court and sentenced to 10 years’ confinement for mistreating recruits, including Siddiqui. Felix was accused of referring to Siddiqui, a Muslim, as a “terrorist” and, the previous year, of having ordered another Muslim recruit into an industrial-sized dryer at the camp and turning it on.

Prosecutors said Siddiqui had complained of a sore, bleeding throat and asked to seek medical attention on the morning he died but was instead ordered to run laps inside the barracks. When he collapsed, Felix struck him at least once, and Siddiqui ran out a third-story door, jumping over an exterior railing.

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The death was ruled a suicide though the family has refused to accept that he would kill himself. The incident led to investigations of abuse across the boot camp.

Through their lawyer, the Siddiqui family had argued that they and Raheel should have been warned beforehand about the investigation into Felix’s prior behavior and that the Marine Corps failed to adequately protect him from discrimination and hazing.

But the lawsuit ran against established legal precedent from the beginning. Last year, a federal appellate court held that the claim was disallowed under a 70-year ruling, known as the Feres doctrine, that the government can’t be held responsible for injuries sustained to active duty military personnel, including recruits, even if it was caused by negligence.

That precedent has been much criticized by judges, including some in the Siddiqui case, but barring a Supreme Court reversal or Congress passing a law overturning it, it remains in effect.

The family’s lawyer, Shiraz Khan, said the family will continue looking for ways to make their voices heard.

“This case was an ideal opportunity for the court to address the injustice that the Feres doctrine has perpetuated for decades,” said Khan. “While we are disappointed that we will not have an opportunity to argue this case before the Supreme Court, our fight for justice is not over. Evidence has a way of speaking for itself and we will be looking into the possibility of legislative solutions for the benefit of all Americans.”

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© 2020 the Detroit Free Press