17 April 2009

Federal appeals court tosses out Congressman Murtha case

On Tuesday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia made its ruling in Wuterich v. Murtha. The ruling can be found here. Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich had sued Congressman John Murtha (D-Pa.) alleging libel, invasion of privacy and republication of defamatory statements of third parties arising from alleged statements Murtha made concerning Wuterich's role in a 2005 incident in Haditha, Iraq. Separately, Wuterich is awaiting trial by court-martial on nine counts of alleged manslaughter.

Senior Circuit Judge Harry T. Edwards writing for a unanimous panel of three judges reversed a lower court ruling which denied the government's request to certify that Murtha was acting in his scope of employment pending discovery. The federal appeals court also directed the district court to dismiss the case because the government enjoys sovereign immunity. At the onset of the litigation Murtha invoked the Westfall Act arguing that the United States should be substituted as the defendant in the case and to dismiss the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because the government had not waived its sovereign immunity.

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