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Chandler v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lake Charles Division

March 20, 2017





         Before the court is a Motion to Dismiss[1] (Rec. Doc. 70) filed by the defendants, the United States of America (“the government”) and Nathaniel Greene, Sr. The plaintiff Timothy Chandler filed a Motion for Hearing (Rec. Doc. 76). For the following reasons, the Motion to Dismiss (Rec. Doc. 70) will be GRANTED, and the Motion for Hearing (Rec. Doc. 76) will be DENIED AS MOOT.


         Chandler was an E4 specialist in the United States Army who was stationed at Fort Polk after returning from his deployment in Afghanistan. (Rec. Doc. 74-11). At Fort Polk, he and his unit went through Warrior Adventure Quest (WAQ) training. This training is designed to help returning soldiers transition from combat environments into “home life.” (Rec. Doc. 70-6). On Thursday, January 19, 2012, in line with this transition training program, Chandler and his unit were required to participate in a mandatory “fun day” at the base's Morale Welfare & Recreation (MWR) facility. The United States owns and operates the MWR facility, and Nathaniel Greene, Sr., a civilian, maintains it. (Rec. Doc. 74-4 at p. 1, ¶¶ 1-2). The day was mandatory for the attending soldiers who were required to report before the event and were only released after a mandatory formation at the end of the day. (Rec. Docs. 70-9, 74-6). The officer-in-charge of the event was responsible for ensuring “100 percent accountability of all soldiers…as well as…administer[ing] safety.” (Rec. Doc. 70-5 at p. 3). This included a walk-through of the facility before the event. (Rec. Doc. 74-6 at p. 10). Civilian family members and friends were also invited to the fun day.

         On that Thursday, the soldiers reported for a mandatory accountability formation at 6:00 A.M., and the soldiers were released from physical training. The commanding officer instructed them to report back at 9:00 A.M., so that the unit could go to the MWR facility for the fun day. (Rec. Doc. 70-4 at p. 5). During the fun day, the soldiers were allowed to wear civilian clothes, and they were free to choose from several recreational activities, such as archery, paintball, rock climbing, and grilling. The plaintiff was invited to join a paintball game that consisted of both civilians and soldiers. During the paintball game, Chandler injured his knee on an object protruding from the ground.

         Chandler filed suit against the government and Greene under the Federal Torts Claim Act (FTCA), arguing that his knee injury was caused by the defendants' negligence. (Rec. Doc. 1). Shortly after, the government moved to dismiss the suit, arguing that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction under the Feres doctrine.[2] (Rec. Doc. 11). When the court decided the motion, discovery had been very limited. The court denied the motion to dismiss, by accepting the plaintiff's argument that the injuries arose out of a purely voluntary and recreational activity. (Rec. Doc. 36). The parties conducted discovery for several months, and then, the defendants filed a re-urged Motion to Dismiss, again arguing that the court does not have subject matter jurisdiction under the Feres doctrine. (Rec. Doc. 70). The defendants' Motion to Dismiss also argues that the plaintiff is barred from bringing the claim under Louisiana's Recreational Use Immunity Statutes. Because the court finds that the evidence uncovered through discovery shows that the suit is barred under the Feres doctrine, the court does not reach the issue of whether Louisiana's Recreational Use Immunity Statutes apply.

         II. LAW & ANALYSIS

         A. 12(b)(1) Standard

         A party can move to dismiss a case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). When deciding a motion to dismiss a case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the court can consider: (1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts. Robinson v. TCI/US W. Commc'ns Inc., 117 F.3d 900, 904 (5th Cir. 1997) (citations omitted). Here, because both parties have conducted extensive discovery, the court will decide the 12(b)(1) motion using the complaint and the evidence provided by the defendants and plaintiff.

         B. Feres Doctrine

         Under the Feres doctrine, the government cannot be held liable under the FTCA for injuries that are incident to military service. Feres v. United States, 340 U.S. 135, 146 (1950). If the Feres doctrine applies, the court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over the case and must dismiss it. Stanley v. Cent. Intelligence Agency, 639 F.2d 1146, 1157 (5th Cir. 1981). When determining whether the injury is incident to service, the court should consider “whether the suit requires the civilian court to second-guess military decisions, and whether the suit might impair essential military discipline.” Regan v. Starcraft Marine, LLC, 524 F.3d 627, 635 (5th Cir. 2008) (quoting United States v. Shearer, 473 U.S. 52, 57 (1985)). “[I]f a claim is based on an injury that was incident to service and if resolving the claim also would demand second-guessing of military judgments, ” the court should apply the Feres doctrine and bar suit. Id. at 636. Keeping this guiding principle in mind, the Fifth Circuit analyzes three factors to determine whether Feres is applicable: (1) the duty status of the service member, (2) the site where the injury occurred, and (3) the nature of the activity performed by the service member at the time of the injury. Id. at 637.

         1. Duty Status

         While not dispositive, the first factor, the duty status of the service member, is the most important factor to determine the applicability of the Feres doctrine. Schoemer v. United States, 59 F.3d 26, 28 (5th Cir. 1995). This factor elucidates the relationship between the service member and the military at the time of the injury, which helps the court to determine “how truly incident to service [the injury] was.” Regan, 524 F.3d at 637 (emphasis in orginal). A service member's duty status falls somewhere on the continuum between active duty and discharge. See Schoemer, 59 F.3d at 29. If a service member is on active duty, the Feres doctrine likely applies, but if a service member has been discharged, the Feres doctrine likely does not apply. Id. To determine where an active service member falls on the continuum, the court should not look to whether the service ...

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