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Marine’s Negligence Claim Barred by Political Question Doctrine

Peter Taylor v. Kellogg Brown & Root Services, Incorporated
Case No. 10-1543 (4th Cir. 2011)

by Lydia S. Hu, Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (

Plaintiff, a United States Marine, brought a negligence action against Kellogg Brown & Root Services, Incorporated (hereinafter “KBR”), when he was electrocuted and severely injured while serving based in Fallujah, Iraq. KBR was a defense contractor that performed work and carried out military directors on the base. Plaintiff filed a Complaint in the Eastern District of Virginia alleging that his injuries were caused by the negligence of KBR. KBR filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 12(b)(1) arguing that the Complaint was barred by the political question doctrine.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia dismissed the claim stating that the key inquiry centered on whether the case would require an assessment of the wisdom of the military operation and decision-making. Defendant KBR informed the trial court that it would raise a contributory negligence defense that would require judicial assessment of military operations. The district court explained that the contributory negligence defense would require the Court to determine whether the military made reasonable decisions in conducting certain wiring and electrical arrangements where the Plaintiff was allegedly injured. The district court concluded that it was not possible to resolve the case without questioning the military’s judgments in that regard.

On appeal to the Fourth Circuit, the Fourth Circuit assessed the extent to which KBR is under the military’s control and whether national defense interests are closely intertwined with the military’s decision in governing KBR’s conduct. Here, the military was not exercising direct control. Instead the responsibility was delegated to KBR to manage the execution of military decisions. However, the district court correctly concluded that the negligence claim and contributory negligence defense would require the court to analyze sensitive decisions made by the military. The trial court would have to determine whether the Marines made reasonable decisions in seeking to install wiring boxes and electrical generators in the area where Plaintiff was injured. These decisions are beyond the scope of judicial review and are barred by the political question doctrine.