OKINAWA CITY, Okinawa — An excessive-noise lawsuit at Futenma Marine Corps Air Station is stalled because Japanese officials have been unable to serve a U.S. military commander named in the court action.
Ginowan residents are suing the Japanese government and Col. Richard Leuking, Futenma’s commander, for $5.51 million in physical and mental damages they say are caused by U.S. aircraft noise. They also want flights suspended from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
During the lawsuit’s third hearing Thursday in Naha District Court, Okinawa Branch, Chief Judge Kyoji Iida ruled the case filed last October cannot move forward because Leuking has not been served.
Japanese law is similar to U.S. tort law requiring proper service or an extended publication process for civil lawsuits to proceed.
“The court was unable to serve the complaint because access to the military base was not available,” Iida said.
Plaintiffs stopped short of saying the Marine Corps is intentionally blocking their access to Leuking. However, they say they are frustrated by the apparent lack of cooperation.
“What is at issue is that the U.S. military has not complied with a response to our query,” plaintiff co-attorney Tsutomu Arakaki said, adding access to military facilities to serve court papers must be guaranteed.
Arakaki and attorney Yutaka Kato are representing 404 plaintiffs in the case. It is the first Japanese aircraft noise lawsuit in which a U.S. military officer has been named as a co-defendant.
Leuking could not be reached for comment, and Marine Corps officials have referred all questions relating to the suit to the U.S. government.
“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,” Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Chris Perrine said. “Any service of process in the case would have to be made through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”
According to a court official, a court executive officer tried to enter the air station Sept. 5 to serve Leuking, but was denied entrance.
“We tried many different ways to find the colonel’s home address, but it was not available,” Kato said. “In late August, we sent inquiry through the Okinawa Bar Association to both the Defense Facilities Administration Naha Bureau and U.S. Marine Corps Headquarters on Okinawa asking for his home address.”
The bureau said it didn’t have the information, Kato said, adding: “We have not yet received any response from the military.”
Arakaki called the inability to serve a U.S. military commander “a grave matter.”
“This court should consult with the Supreme Court, which then should discuss this matter with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” he said.
If plaintiffs are unable to have Leuking served, their last resort would be to publicly post the lawsuit at the court, Kato said following Thursday’s 20 minute hearing.
“That may be the next and the last step we can pursue,” he said. “The lawsuit is filed against an individual. If he believes that the matter is the government’s responsibility, he should appear and answer the complaint by saying so.”