Shaw v. U.S.

Decision Date29 July 1988
Docket NumberNo. 86-1727,86-1727
Citation854 F.2d 360
PartiesDouglas SHAW, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. UNITED STATES of America and Thomas Boender, an individual, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Tenth Circuit

Redmond Kemether, Oklahoma City, Okl., for plaintiff-appellant.

Richard K. Willard, Asst. Atty. Gen., and Joan M. Bernott, Sp. Litigation Counsel, Civil Div., Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C., William S. Price, U.S. Atty., and Eleanor Darden Thompson, Asst. U.S. Atty., W.D. Okl., Oklahoma City, Okl., for defendants-appellees.

Before McKAY, SEYMOUR and BALDOCK, Circuit Judges.

McKAY, Circuit Judge.

After examining the briefs and appellate record, this panel has determined unanimously that oral argument would not materially assist the determination of this appeal. See Fed.R.App.P. 34(a); 10th Cir.R. 34.1.8. The cause is therefore ordered submitted without oral argument.

I.

Plaintiff, Douglas Shaw, an enlisted member of the United States Army, brought this action under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. Secs. 2671-2680 (1982), and its jurisdictional component, 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1346(b) (1982), on a claim for damages arising out of the alleged negligent operation of a military vehicle by another member of the Army. Determining that the United States was immune from liability, the district court granted the United States' motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. We affirm.

II.

It is well settled that the United States may not be sued without its consent. United States v. Testan, 424 U.S. 392, 399, 96 S.Ct. 948, 953, 47 L.Ed.2d 114 (1976) (quoting United States v. Sherwood, 312 U.S. 584, 586, 61 S.Ct. 767, 769, 85 L.Ed. 1058 (1941)); accord United States v. Mitchell, 463 U.S. 206, 212, 103 S.Ct. 2961, 2965, 77 L.Ed.2d 580 (1983); LaBash v. United States Department of the Army, 668 F.2d 1153, 1154 (10th Cir.), cert. denied, 456 U.S. 1008, 102 S.Ct. 2299, 73 L.Ed.2d 1303 (1982). However, the FTCA waives the United States' sovereign immunity in actions arising out of tortious conduct by governmental employees who are acting within the scope of their office or employment, under circumstances in which the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the plaintiff under the law of the place where the tortious act occurred. See, e.g., 28 U.S.C. Secs. 1346(b), 2674 (1982). The scope of this waiver is limited by exceptions contained in the FTCA itself and by judicial interpretation and application of the FTCA.

In Feres v. United States, 340 U.S. 135, 146, 71 S.Ct. 153, 159, 95 L.Ed. 152 (1950), the United States Supreme Court decided that the FTCA does not waive the United States' immunity from liability "for injuries to servicemen where the injuries arise out of or are in the course of activity incident to service." Accord United States v. Johnson, --- U.S. ----, 107 S.Ct. 2063, 2066-67, 95 L.Ed.2d 648 (1987) (Feres doctrine bars "all suits on behalf of service members against the Government based upon service-related injuries"); see also United States v. Stanley, --- U.S. ----, 107 S.Ct. 3054, 3057, 95 L.Ed.2d 648 (1987); Madsen v. United States ex rel. United States Army, 841 F.2d 1011, 1012 (10th Cir.1987); Martelon v. Temple, 747 F.2d 1348, 1351 (10th Cir.1984), cert. denied, 471 U.S. 1135, 105 S.Ct. 2675, 86 L.Ed.2d 694 (1985); LaBash, 668 F.2d at 1154. This judicially created exception is informally known as the Feres doctrine. Atkinson v. United States, 825 F.2d 202, 204 (9th Cir.1987), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 108 S.Ct. 1288, 99 L.Ed.2d 499 (1988).

In formulating the Feres doctrine, the Supreme Court noted that historically, "the relationship of military personnel to the Government has been governed exclusively by federal law." Feres, 340 U.S. at 146, 71 S.Ct. at 159. The Court then opined: "We do not think that Congress, in drafting [the FTCA], created a new cause of action dependent on local law for service-connected injuries or death due to negligence." Id. The Court also found persuasive the fact that "most states have abolished the common-law action for damages between employer and employee and superseded it with workmen's compensation statutes which provide, in most instances, the sole basis of liability." Id. at 143, 71 S.Ct. at 158. According to the Court, recoveries under the military compensation system, i.e., payments by the Veterans Administration, "compare extremely favorably with those provided by most workmen's compensation statutes." Id. at 145, 71 S.Ct. at 159.

The Supreme Court later identified the three rationales underlying the Feres doctrine. See Stencel Aero Engineering Corp. v. United States, 431 U.S. 666, 671-72, 97 S.Ct. 2054, 2057-58, 52 L.Ed.2d 665 (1977); see also Johnson, 107 S.Ct. at 2065 n. 2, 2068-69; Chappell v. Wallace, 462 U.S. 296, 299, 103 S.Ct. 2362, 2365, 76 L.Ed.2d 586 (1983); accord Madsen, 841 F.2d at 1013; Walls v. United States, 832 F.2d 93, 95 (7th Cir.1987); Atkinson, 825 F.2d at 204; Hefley v. Textron, Inc., 713 F.2d 1487, 1490-92 (10th Cir.1983); Carter v. City of Cheyenne, 649 F.2d 827, 829-30 (10th Cir.1981). The first rationale is the distinctively federal nature of the relationship between the government and members of its armed forces. The second is the availability of alternative military compensation systems. See Feres, 340 U.S. at 144-45, 71 S.Ct. at 158-59. And the third rationale, first explicated in United States v. Brown, 348 U.S. 110, 112, 75 S.Ct. 141, 143, 99 L.Ed. 139 (1954), is the fear of damaging the military disciplinary structure.

In analyzing the Feres doctrine, this court has stated that the doctrine

is based in part on the perceived deleterious effects of service-related suits on military discipline and the express provision by Congress of another remedy through the Veterans' Benefits Act, which provides compensation for medical care and a limited income allowance to those injured while in the military, regardless of whether the government is at fault.

LaBash, 668 F.2d at 1154; see also McKay v. United States, 703 F.2d 464, 467 (10th Cir.1983) (to allow suit "would create an impossible situation wherein every person who received an injury in the military service, in combat or otherwise, would have the right to sue the government"). This court has also indicated that "[a] test for liability that depends on the extent to which particular suits would call into question military discipline and decision-making would itself require judicial inquiry into, and hence intrusion upon, military matters." Madsen, 841 F.2d at 1014 (quoting Stanley, 107 S.Ct. at 3063).

III.

The issue presented in this case is whether the injuries sustained by Mr. Shaw 1 as a result of the collision arose out of or were in the course of activity incident to Mr. Shaw's military service. In resolving this issue, we consider whether or not the rationales that underlie Feres support the application of the Feres doctrine in the present case.

On the morning of August 24, 1984, Mr. Shaw and his wife were driving in their privately owned vehicle from their off-post residence to Mr. Shaw's place of duty on a military post, Fort Sill, Oklahoma. En route, a collision occurred between the Shaws' vehicle and a 2 1/2-ton cargo truck owned by the United States Army and operated at the time by a serviceman, Private First-Class Thomas Boender. Both Mr. Shaw and his wife sustained personal injuries as a result of the accident.

At the time of the accident, Mr. Shaw was an active member of the United States Army. He had been relieved from duty at 4:00 p.m. the previous day and had obtained permission to leave the post to attend to his personal affairs. He was expected to report for duty at 7:30 a.m. the day of the accident. The accident occurred on the military post at approximately 7:10 a.m.

We believe that these facts, viewed together, demonstrate that at the time of the accident Mr. Shaw was involved in activity incident to his service, i.e., activity that is "related in some relevant way to his military duties." Johnson v. United States, 704 F.2d 1431, 1438 (9th Cir.1983). Clearly, the fact that Mr. Shaw was on the post and on his way to work was directly connected to Mr. Shaw's military service and the circumstances of the accident. 2 As the district court stated, "[Mr. Shaw] would not, except in the event of the rarest coincidence, have been in the same place at the same time with the same purpose, had it not been incident to his active status in the military." Record, vol. 1, doc. 12, at 5-6.

Mr. Shaw contends that Brooks v. United States, 337 U.S. 49, 69 S.Ct. 918, 93 L.Ed. 1200 (1949), rev'g 169 F.2d 840 (4th Cir.1948), is factually similar to the present action. We disagree. In Brooks two servicemen on leave or furlough were riding along a public highway in their privately owned vehicle when they were struck by an Army truck. Unlike Mr. Shaw, the servicemen were on personal business which was not connected in any way and bore no relationship to their military service. They were not en route to a place of duty, and the accident occurred off-post. Based on these facts, the Supreme Court determined that the servicemen's injuries did not arise out of activity incident to military service. Indeed, "the two soldiers would have been injured had they never worn a uniform at all." Brown, 348 U.S. at 114, 75 S.Ct. at 144 (Black, J., dissenting); accord Walls, 832 F.2d at 96 (that servicemen in Brooks "were in the military was totally unrelated to the circumstances of the accident"). As discussed above, we believe that the facts in the present case dictate a different conclusion. Mr. Shaw's effort to analyze each fact separately is unavailing. Although each fact standing alone may not be dispositive and does not automatically bar the establishment of an FTCA claim, the totality of the facts and circumstances surrounding the accident and Mr. Shaw's injuries brings the Feres doctrine into play.

Mr. Shaw's reliance on ...

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