Protect Our Defenders News Blog


***STATEMENT*** Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Rules in Favor of Military Sexual Assault Survivor Challenging Feres Doctrine

August 11, 2022

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Rules in Favor of Military Sexual Assault Survivor Challenging Feres Doctrine

Following Protect Our Defenders (POD)’ amicus brief filing, POD celebrates Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in favor of Col. Spletstoser’s civil suit

Washington, DC – Today, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that COL. Kathryn Spletstoser (ret.) can proceed with her civil lawsuit against retired Air Force General John Hyten for multiple instances of sexual assault and subsequent retaliation. The critical ruling, which found it implausible for sexual assault to be considered ‘incident to military service,’ could represent a dramatic shift in how the Feres doctrine has been applied to military sexual assault cases.

Until today’s decision, the Feres doctrine – which prevents service members who are injured while on active duty from suing the federal government – has repeatedly been used to protect perpetrators of military sexual assault. Protect Our Defenders (POD) filed an amicus brief in support of Col. Spletstoser, who brought the civil suit against Hyten after the Air Force refused to file charges or discipline General Hyten.

Today’s victory would not be possible without Spletstoser’s tenacity in the face of Joint Chiefs vice chairman Gen. John Hyten’s Senate confirmation. Her bravery in challenging the Feres doctrine sets precedent for other military sexual asasult survivors to sue their assailants in federal court for damages.

Col. Don Christensen (ret.), the former Chief Prosecutor of the United States Air Force and President of Protect Our Defenders, released the following statement:

“For years, the federal government and the military have used the Feres doctrine to shield themselves from survivors seeking justice. The fact that they have unabashedly classified sexual assault as ‘incident to service’ is an embarrassment and speaks to the deep-rooted and widespread culture of sexual assault in the armed forces.

“Today’s decision has the potential to open the door for thousands of military sexual assault survivors to fight back and seek the compensation they are rightfully owed. POD is proud to support Col. Spletstoser – this wouldn’t have been possible without her bravery. I hope that this represents an important first step in expanding the currently limited options for military sexual assault survivors.”