Futenma CO not hit with lawsuit
Stars and Stripes June 14, 2003
OKINAWA CITY, Okinawa — A lawyer representing a group of residents who filed a lawsuit because of Marine Corps aircraft noise blasted a Naha District judge on Thursday for not getting a U.S. military officer into court.
“The complaint has not yet been served to the defendant, eight months since the suit was filed,” chief lawyer Tsutomu Arakaki said. “It is the court’s negligence of duty. I demand the court to give us an explanation … for the delay.”
The noise complaint was filed in October against Col. Richard Lueking, the commanding officer of Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, as well as the Japanese government. It marked the first time a U.S. military official had been named as a co-defendant in a Japanese aircraft noise suit.
The number of plaintiffs doubled after 204 residents joined the original group of 200. The total compensation for physical and mental damages they are seeking grew to $5.51 million.
While a bench for the defendants was filled with Japanese government officials, no one represented Lueking at the hearing.
Chief Judge Kyoji Iida told Arakaki that the court had been reviewing various requirements to appropriately serve the complaint.
“We know the fact that the court had attempted to serve the complaint, but it was rejected,” Arakaki countered. “If serving the complaint in an ordinary way is impossible, the court should be able to send it to the defendant as registered mail.”
Marine Corps officials, contacted this week about the case, said aiming the lawsuit at a single officer is irrelevant.
“Since this is a lawsuit against a person acting in an official position representing the U.S. government, it is a lawsuit against the United States,” stated a Marine public affairs official. “Any service of process in the case would have to be made through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”
The residents who live in communities near the air station want $5.51 million, about $13,650 for each plaintiff, as compensation for their alleged physical and mental suffering caused by aircraft noise emanating from Futenma MCAS, which is in the center of Ginowan City, a city of about 88,000. They also demand that aircraft operations be suspended between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.
The Japanese government urged the court to dismiss the claims.
“The incessant aircraft noise that starts as early as 6 o’clock in the morning almost makes me a nervous wreck,” said Kimie Chinen, 58, a plaintiff who attended the hearing. “We can’t watch TV, and the doors and windows rattle each time the noise hits our house.”
Futenma MCAS is scheduled to close once a new air station is built in the Henoko area of Nago, adjacent to Camp Schwab.
The next hearing is scheduled for Sept. 25.