Appeals Court Sets New Precedent for Military Sexual Assualt Victims

A recent ruling by the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has set a new precedent for sexual assualt survivors to be able to sue not only their assailants but also the Defense Department.

Retired Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser v. retired Air Force Gen. John Hyten

The ongoing Federal lawsuit of retired Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser v. retired Air Force Gen. John Hyten alleges he made inappropriate advances toward her while she was working for him as an aide while he was head of U.S. Strategic Command. These allegations were raised when retired Air Force Gen. John Hyten was nominated by President Trump to become the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

After an initial Air Force investigation was conducted and was unable to corroborate retired Army Col. Spletstoser’s claims of sexual assault, she filed a federal lawsuit against Hyten directly. It is this lawsuit that the Justice Department lawyers representing Hyten have tried to get thrown out based on the Feres doctrine.

Despite Spletstoser only suing Hyten directly, he is still being represented by Justice Department lawyers since the incident happened while both parties were active military and claim it falls under their purview.

The Feres Doctrine

The Feres doctrine, under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), prevents service members from suing the federal government for any injury obtained while serving on active duty. The exception to this was for claims of medical malpractice.

Hyten’s Justice Department lawyers have proposed that the lawsuit filed should be thrown out since the Feres doctrine prevents service members from suing for injuries obtained while an active service member.

A lower appeals court ruled in favor of Spletstoser allowing her lawsuit to go to trial. Hyten’s lawyers appealed again and it was brought to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

9th US Circuit Court of Appeals Ruling

The 3-panel of judges ruled that sexual assualt does not fall into the purview of the Feres doctrine, as “sexual assualt can not conceivably be an incident of service.” The Feres doctrine states that troops cannot sue for injury or harm that comes from training or combat. The court set the precedent that sexual assualt is not a reasonable injury from active duty service.

This ruling will allow any future victims of sexual assault to potentially sue the individual service member and possibly the Defense Department for injuries sustained. The effect of this ruling will be seen locally and could impact other courts as a now set precedent. There is the option the Justice Department will appeal this further. If that were to happen, the case would then go in front of the Supreme Court for a final ruling.


The counsel of an experienced military defense lawyer can make a significant difference in your legal troubles. Joseph Jordan is a seasoned military attorney with over a decade of experience fearlessly representing service members.

Serious charges of sexual assault can ruin a military career and a member’s life. Joseph Jordan is a former Army Judge Advocate who has successfully defended service members in numerous cases. An accomplished military defense attorney with his skillset can provide remarkable legal counsel that can make or break your case.

Contact Joseph Jordan today to help you navigate any charges you’re facing. Joseph Jordan will help educate and represent service members under investigation or facing court marshals for sexual assault.  If you are facing a lawsuit in regards to these charges, Joseph Jordan can provide advice to or assist your counsel in ongoing sexual assualt lawsuits. You need a serious legal team on your side.

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