Japanese court dismisses lawsuit over noise from Futenma base operations
NAHA, Okinawa — A lawsuit against Marine Corps Air Station Futenma’s former commander was dismissed Thursday in the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court.
The dismissal ends a case filed in October 2002 in which 404 Ginowan residents sued the Japanese government and Col. Richard Lueking, claiming noise from base operations damaged their mental and physical health. At that time the residents sought $5.51 million in compensation from both parties.
In July 2004 a Naha District Court judge ruled the case against Lueking had to be separate from the suit against the Japanese government. Two months later the case against Lueking was dismissed; he since has retired from the Marine Corps. The district judge ruled that when a civil servant causes damages to others while on official business, the national government is responsible.
Ten residents appealed to the high court. They sought 15.7 million yen (about $142,700) from Lueking, contending he was in a position to restrict aircraft noise.
Lueking never appeared in court as a defendant. U.S. and Japanese officials contended that under the status of forces agreement, because the suit was against a person acting in an official capacity for the U.S. government, the proper defendant was the Japanese government. They argued that any claims should be made through the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In his brief ruling Thursday, Chief Judge Masahiko Kubota upheld the lower court’s decision.
“When a member of the U.S. armed forces, who [is] in Japan under the Security Treaty, causes damage to others … while on official business in Japan, the Civil Special Law stipulates that the Japanese government is responsible for the damages,” Kubota said in a summary of the ruling.
Because the plaintiffs could collect damages from Japan’s government, there is no need for the plaintiffs to demand compensation from the U.S. servicemember, the judge ruled.
In such cases involving U.S. servicemembers performing their official duties, compensation is made by both governments, with the United States paying 75 percent, the judge said.
The residents’ lawsuit against the Japanese government, which was separated from the Lueking case, pends in the lower court.
The plaintiffs railed against the dismissal of the suit against Lueking.
“The ruling is totally unacceptable,” Zenji Shimada, who leads the plaintiffs’ group, said outside the courthouse after the ruling. “It is unfair that the court completely ignored our voices while knowing the reality of the aircraft noise.”
“The noise situation surrounding the air station is absurd,” said Tsutomu Arakaki, the plaintiffs’ chief lawyer. “I am deeply disappointed by the court’s ruling. It allows the noise problem to continue.”
Shimada said residents are considering appealing the dismissal to Japan’s Supreme Court.