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Ginowan residents and their supporters stage a brief protest rally Thursday outside the Okinawa City branch of the Naha District Court in Okinawa City. They staged the rally after their lawsuit against Col. Richard Lueking, commanding officer of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, was dismissed.
Ginowan residents and their supporters stage a brief protest rally Thursday outside the Okinawa City branch of the Naha District Court in Okinawa City. They staged the rally after their lawsuit against Col. Richard Lueking, commanding officer of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, was dismissed. (Chiyomi Sumida / S&S)

OKINAWA CITY — A Japanese court Thursday dismissed a lawsuit against the commanding officer of Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, filed by residents of communities surrounding the air station.

Marine Col. Richard Lueking was named co-defendant when 404 Ginowan residents sued in October 2002, claiming noise from base operations damaged their mental and physical health. The residents want $5.51 million in compensation and a halt to all flights from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Judge Kyoji Ida ruled June 17 that the suits against the two defendants, Lueking and the Japanese government, had to be separated. Ida ruled Thursday to dismiss the lawsuit against Lueking; the next hearing in the case against the Japanese government is Oct. 7.

Tsutomu Arakaki, the residents’ chief lawyer, filed an appeal on Thursday’s ruling with the Fukuoka High Court’s Naha Branch.

Lueking never appeared in court as a defendant. U.S. officials contended that since the suit was against a person acting in an official capacity for the U.S. government, under the status of forces agreement the proper defendant should be the Japanese government, and any claims should be made through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Lawyers for the Japanese government concurred and argued that the suit against the government should be dismissed because under the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, flight schedules are at the U.S. military’s discretion.

Attempts to reach Lueking on Thursday were unsuccessful.

Second Lt. Antony Andrious, a public affairs officer, said Thursday that the Marine Corps recognizes the problem posed by operating a military airfield in the middle of the city and supports a plan to close Futenma MCAS once an alternate site for Marine air operations is found.

“Under the National Redress Law, when a civil servant causes damages to others intentionally or negligently while on official business, the responsibility to make restitution is with the national government,” Ida read from a prepared statement on Thursday. “It is therefore appropriate to interpret that it is only the government of Japan that holds any responsibility for any damages in this case.

“The defendant, who is a member of the U.S. forces, is not directly liable for the damages,” he read.

Following the ruling, plaintiffs and their supporters staged a brief protest rally outside the court building.

“I am extremely upset about the way the court handled the case,” said Zenji Shimada, who leads the plaintiffs’ group. He said the court should have paid extra attention to their suit in light of the Aug. 13 crash of a Marine helicopter in Ginowan.

“Even after a serious accident occurred, the court refused to face to the reality of the danger posed by the air station,” he said. “The court should have taken every possible measure to pursue Lueking’s responsibility.”

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