A top civilian appeals court on Friday bluntly rejected efforts by alleged military sexual assault victims to sue former officials.
While acknowledging the assault allegations are “shocking,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit dismissed as “patently deficient” the effort to win financial damages from senior officials in the military and Department of Defense.
“We do not take lightly the severity of plaintiffs’ suffering or the harm done by sexual assault and retaliation in our military,” Judge Thomas B. Griffith wrote** “But the existence of grievous wrongs does not free the judiciary to authorize any and all suits that might seem just.”
Griffith further explained that “both the military context of plaintiffs’ claims and Congress’s extensive legislation” on military sexual assault cautioned against extending a so-called “Bivens” right of action to sue government officials.
The suit was brought on behalf of Ariana Klay and 11 other current and former sailors and Marines. During their service, 10 say they were either raped or sexually assaulted by fellow members of the armed forces. One said she was the target of severe sexual harassment by Marines and a fellow Navy Corpsman with whom she deployed. The attacks and harassment left the alleged victims with “a range of serious physical and psychological injuries,” according to the court.
** The original version of this story, posted July 18, erroneously identified the author as Chief Judge Merrick Garland.