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Appeals court reluctantly tosses suit over death of Fort Shafter soldier's baby

By Ken Kobayashi

LAST UPDATED: 3:39 p.m. HST, Oct 24, 2013

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reluctantly upheld today the dismissal of a lawsuit by a man who contended his infant son died because his pregnant Army wife was ordered to perform physical training despite her doctor's instructions.

The court said the highly controversial "Feres doctrine" established by the U. S. Supreme Court bars Jonathan Ritchie from suing the federal government.

The doctrine bars lawsuits against the federal government for injuries or deaths related to military service.

The suit was filed by Jonathan Ritchie, husband of January Ritchie, who was stationed at Fort Shafter.

The wife gave birth prematurely in August 2006. The son died about 30 minutes later.

Army doctors had informed Army personnel that because of her "high risk" condition, Ritchie would not be able to perform her normal work duties, but her commanding officers disregarded the doctor's instructions, the appeals court said.

The Feres doctrine was established by a 1950 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

"We can think of no other judicially-created doctrine which has been criticized so stridently, by so many jurists, for so long," the appeals court said.

But until Congress or the Supreme Court restricts the doctrine, the appeals court is bound by the precedent, the appeals court said.

"We therefore regretfully hold that Ritchie's suit is barred by Feres," the court concluded.

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