Local Military News

The fight over a $100 million Parris Island wrongful death suit continues on appeal

The parents of a deceased Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island trainee are appealing a federal judge’s seemingly reluctant dismissal of their $100 million wrongful death lawsuit against the military and government.

Their attorney, Shiraz Khan, filed the appeal Monday according to court records, less than two weeks after Senior U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Tarnow of Michgan’s Eastern District dismissed the case, which alleged negligence caused the March 2016 death of Raheel Siddiqui.

Siddiqui, a 20-year-old Muslim-American of Pakistani descent from Taylor, Mich., died after a three-story fall from his barracks on Parris Island. Shortly before the fall, he was hazed and struck in the face by then-senior drill instructor Joseph Felix, whom a military court later convicted of targeting Siddiqui and other Muslim recruits with abuse.

Siddiqui had earlier threatened to harm himself, according to a Marine Corps investigation, but recanted and was returned to training. Officials classified his death as a suicide, which his parents, Ghazala and Masood Siddiqui, dispute. They have requested that officials re-examine the incident and change the manner of death to “pending” or “undetermined.”

A Marine Corps investigation found Felix should not have been supervising Siddiqui’s platoon because Felix was already under investigation for hazing.

In his Nov. 27 order, Tarnow dismissed the Siddiqui family’s lawsuit despite “serious questions that remain” about the circumstances of Siddiqui’s death, according to court documents and previous reporting by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette.

“Nevertheless, and despite strong reservations, the Court remains bound by Feres and its progeny (to dismiss the case),” Tarnow wrote, citing the Feres doctrine, the long-upheld but controversial legal precedent he used to justify his decision — the same doctrine he pointedly criticized in his order.

Feres, in essence, bars active-duty service members from suing the government for injuries incurred “incident to (military) service.”

Critics worry that its scope has been broadened too much, preventing some cases from being heard in court.

Cases involving alleged military medical malpractice have drawn recent attention in the media.

In November, Task & Purpose reported Army Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal intends to file a lawsuit alleging military physicians failed to detect a mass in one of his lungs, despite it showing up on a January 2017 CT scan. Now he has terminal cancer. Still, he and his attorneys worry the case won’t go to trial because of Feres.

Navy Lt. Rebekah Daniel bled to death in a military hospital hours after childbirth in 2014, according to the Seattle Times. She was healthy and her pregnancy was low-risk. Since his wrongful-death case was dismissed, husband Walter Daniel and his attorney have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to amend Feres to allow service members to sue for medical malpractice.

In the Siddiqui case, Khan has argued that government negligence began while Siddiqui was being recruited, before he was an active-duty trainee. Khan argued that the Marine Corps pitched a golden opportunity to Siddiqui despite its awareness of and failure to address religious and ethnic hazing.

Khan could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday morning.

In the wake of Siddiqui’s death, roughly 20 Marines — most of them drill instructors — faced courts martial, administrative discipline or general scrutiny.

While some were acquitted, Felix received a 10-year prison sentence and a dishonorable discharge.

His commanding officer, Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon, later pleaded guilty to, among other things, dereliction of duty for failing to prevent Felix from supervising Siddiqui’s platoon while the drill instructor was already under investigation. The plea deal ended Kissoon’s career.

Khan’s appeal will be heard by the Sixth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, according to court documents.

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Wade Livingston covers the Lowcountry’s “DNA” — the people, places and vibes that make our home what it is — the military, stories of general interest and all things beautifully, humanly quirky. The New York Times, Esquire and Harvard’s Nieman Storyboard have cited his reporting and storytelling.