Washington — The parents of a Taylor Marine recruit who died at boot camp are fighting a motion from the government to dismiss their $100 million lawsuit alleging that negligence by the military contributed to their son’s death.
The federal government filed a motion last month to dismiss the case, saying that federal civil court lacks jurisdiction over the matter.
The U.S. Supreme Court has long held that the military courts are the “exclusive avenue” for claims arising from injuries in military service, the government argues. Under what’s known as the Feres doctrine, claims related to injuries to active duty military personnel are not actionable in civil courts.
“Plaintiffs claims arise from injuries to a recruit” on a military base during military training, an attorney for the government wrote in its brief.
“Recruits are awarded the rank of private in the active duty military and, even if recruits were not full members of the military, courts have consistently held that the Feres doctrine bars claims against the government for claims by students, trainees, and members of the military reserves.”
The parents of Raheel Siddiqui of Taylor had sued the Marine Corps in October, alleging that he was assaulted, hazed and discriminated against at the training depot on Parris Island, South Carolina, because of his Muslim faith.
The lawsuit argues that military officials were negligent in failing to protect Siddiqui, who died after falling from a third-story building.
Siddiqui’s parents, Ghazala and Masood Siddiqui, also argue the government also was negligent by almost immediately declaring their son’s March 2016 death a suicide without a full investigation.
Shiraz K. Khan, attorney for the Siddiqui family, last week urged the court to deny the government’s motion to dismiss, arguing the Feres doctrine does not apply to the case because Raheel Siddiqui had not yet started his active military service and was a civilian when he first started meeting with Marine recruiters in 2015.
Khan argued in a legal brief that the “negligent and deliberate misrepresentations” made by the recruiters to Siddiqui and his parents “throughout the process leading up to enlistment, and eventually leading to the death of Raheel Siddiqui, are not protected by Feres and/or any other authority cited by defendant.”
Khan also cited Marine literature stating that recruits are not officially Marines until they graduate after 12 weeks of recruit training. Siddiqui died a couple days into his training.
In court records, Khan accused the government of “essentially trying to evade complete responsibility from any and all claims in this case under the blanket of Feres.”
Khan declined to comment Monday due to the pending litigation.
He and lawyers for the government are scheduled to meet with the judge in his chambers later this month, according to the court docket.
Siddiqui, 20, died nearly two years ago after falling three stories after a confrontation with Gunnery Sgt. Joseph A. Felix, one of his drill instructors.
Felix was sentenced to 10 years in military prison after a November court martial for abusing three Muslim recruits including Siddiqui, among other charges, including violating general orders by making physical contact with recruits, including striking and choking them.
Felix was not charged in Siddiqui’s death, which the military categorized as a suicide. Siddiqui’s family has maintained that their son did not kill himself but was targeted because of his religion.
Defendants listed in the Siddiquis’ suit included the U.S. Marine Corps, the Parris Island Depot, the U.S. Navy and 20 unnamed individuals.
The government in its motion to dismiss the suit called Siddiqui’s death a “tragedy” and said the Marine Corps has taken the matter “extremely seriously.”
It noted the command investigation conducted into the recruit’s death that led to “corrective measures,” including the criminal charges brought against Felix.
The government also said that Siddiqui’s parents received a payment of $100,000 through the Marine Corps’ death benefits program, as well as $400,000 under the Servicemen’s Group Life Insurance program.
Kahn’s brief disputes the military’s version of certain facts in the case and highlights inconsistencies in the government’s official records, such as when and where exactly Siddiqui died.
His death certificate put his death at 5:45 a.m. March 18, 2016, but his autopsy by the Medical University of South Carolina lists Siddiqui’s date of death as 10:45 a.m. that same day – five hours later.
And a casualty report by the Marines says Siddiqui died at 10:06 a.m. at Parris Island, listing his death as “self-inflicted” and states that he died “outside a medical treatment facility.”
Khan argues in the court records that the inconsistencies highlight the need to continue the matter, going so far as to allege Siddiqui perhaps was never taken to the hospital.
“Clearly put, transport from Parris Island to the Medical University in South Carolina is in serious question and may have never happened,” Khan wrote.
“If registered entries as important as the date and place of death are so vastly different in multiple records, it is unjust to allow such unsupported allegations of self-inflicted suicide to remain intact by allowing the defendant absolute, impenetrable protection under the law.”
The Siddiqui family, as well as their congresswoman, Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell of Dearborn, last year asked the coroner in Beaufort County, South Carolina, to revise the manner of death listed on Siddiqui’s death certificate from suicide to “undetermined” or another classification.
They argued that the original finding of suicide was based on the facts available immediately after he died, but a series of Marine Corps investigations later found systemic hazing and abuse of recruits within the 3rd Recruit Training Battalion at Parris Island.
Coroner J. Edward Allen said Monday he had not yet made a decision.