Appeals court revives case against Washington military recruiters



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Posted on June 3, 2011 at 5:43 PM

Updated Friday, Jun 3 at 5:59 PM

SEATTLE -- A federal appeals court has breathed new life in a lawsuit filed against two Washington National Guard recruiters.

Former Sgt. Keith Jackson accused them of forging his name on re-enlistment papers. But his lawsuit was dismissed last year by a Seattle federal court judge.

This week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that dismissal.

"I felt there needed to be a certain amount of accountability for what had happened," Jackson said after learning his lawsuit was reinstated.

The lawsuit names National Guard Sgt. Richard Tate and Capt. Randy DeCoteau as defendants. The appeal hinged on decades old legal precedent that shields members of the military from lawsuits by their comrades. The appeals court ruled the so-called "Feres Doctrine" doesn't apply to the type of recruiter misconduct alleged in Jackson's case -- a legal blow to the military which uses the law to get many types of lawsuits dismissed.

"It's not just the circumstances in the heat of battle or training exercises,” said Jackon’s lawyer James Beck. “It extends broadly to military hospitals, car accidents, recreational activities on the weekend."

This week's ruling means Jackson will get to present evidence in court, like the re-enlistment contract itself. Recruiters swear they saw Jackson sign it in a recruiting station in Issaquah. His passport shows he was in Iraq at the time working his civilian job as a security contractor.

"Kind of hard to be in two places at once,” Jackson said wryly. “Especially when the other place on the opposite side of the planet."

The Washington National Guard wouldn't comment. The Justice Department is deciding whether the case is worth appealing to the United States Supreme Court. The Guard has stood by its recruiters and has said in the past that Jackson tried to transfer out of his unit to avoid a deployment. When that was denied they said he concocted the false re-enlistment story, a claim Jackson denies.