Will Sixth Circuit Affirm Sovereign Immunity in Fort Bliss Shooting? - Injury & Tort Law - U.S. Sixth Circuit
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Will Sixth Circuit Affirm Sovereign Immunity in Fort Bliss Shooting?

Will the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals find that the military has a duty to protect the public from soldiers sufferings from post-traumatic stress disorder?

Next week, the Sixth Circuit will hear arguments in Estate of Smith v. U.S., a summary judgment appeal involving an $8.75 million negligence lawsuit against the U.S. military. The suit was previously dismissed based on sovereign immunity.

Army Spc. Gerald Polanco, an Iraq veteran, allegedly shot and killed 18-year-old Ezra Gerald Smith in a Fort Bliss shooting spree in 2009. Smith lived on the base at the time.

Smith's mother, Renee Richardson, is suing the military as representative of Smith's estate, claiming that the Army knew Polanco had severe mental and emotional issues and had been actively seeing doctors about PTSD. The lawsuit alleges that the Army had a duty to warn others that Polanco was a danger because it knew of the issue, reports The Associated Press.

The lawsuit cites multiple instances in which Polanco's family or unit members told military personnel that Polanco needed help, but the Army didn't respond:

  • Polanco's family had requested assistance from the Army through both the health care professionals and chain of command.
  • Polanco had been taken by his unit members against his will to "mental health" for medical care and psychiatric evaluation in the days preceding the incident, but health care professionals allowed him back into the population.
  • Polanco went to the chaplain to get help, but the chaplain's office declined to intervene.
  • Polanco's wife complained to his commanding officer that he needed help.
  • Polanco threatened his immediate supervisor with violence and death the day of the shooting, and was negligently permitted to leave mandatory military training.

Despite the previous warnings by family and unit members, Courthouse News Service reports that no efforts were made to remove weapons from Polanco's home, nor to remove him from his military police position.

Last year, District Judge Charles R. Simpson III ruled that the government was entitled to sovereign immunity because the law is designed to prevent judicial "second guessing" of military policy considerations, reports the AP.

Polanco has been deemed incompetent to stand trial, according to the AP, so a civil suit could be the only form of justice for Smith's family. Do you think the Sixth Circuit will uphold the district court's sovereign immunity ruling?

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