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U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether to hear wrongful-death appeal in SEAL case

Aug. 23, 2014 - 11:47AM   |  
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JACKSON, MISS. — The U.S. Supreme Court will consider Sept. 29 whether to hear an appeal from operators of a northwest Mississippi shooting range in a case involving the death of a Navy SEAL during a training exercise.

Court officials say a decision could be announced shortly after the court conference.

The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in January that the wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the SEAL's family was erroneously dismissed by a DeSoto County judge. The Mississippi high court ordered the case to trial.

Attorneys for the shooting range are asking for the Mississippi court's decision to be overturned and the lawsuit dismissed.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Shapoor Alexander Ghane Jr., 22, of Las Vegas, was killed in 2008 when a bullet fired during an exercise struck him in the chest, even though he was wearing a bulletproof vest. The incident occurred during a close-quarters combat training exercise.

The private facility has been used for training by the military and law enforcement agencies for years.

The Navy said the incident occurred on Jan. 30, 2008, at Mid-South Institute of Self-Defense Shooting in Lake Cormorant, near Walls in northwest Mississippi.

Ghane joined the Navy in June 2004 and entered SEAL training in November 2004 in Coronado, California. He joined the West Coast SEAL teams in June 2007.

Ghane's mother, Narjess Ghane, filed the lawsuit in 2009 against Mid-South. She argued the wall through which the bullet passed was not bulletproof as intended. Mid-South built the wall for the training exercise.

In 2011, Mississippi Circuit Judge Robert Chamberlin dismissed the lawsuit, agreeing with Mid-South that the case would "require the trial court to question military policy and operational decisions, thus raising a non-justiciable political question."

Narjess Ghane appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court. She argued the case was a tort action "based on the failure of the ballistic wall a wall independently designed, constructed and maintained by the defendants."

Mid-South countered that Ghane's arguments raised a political question not subject to court review because adjudication of the lawsuit would require the trial court to question military training decisions and strategies. The company argued the Navy bears some responsibility. The Navy was not a defendant in the lawsuit.

Court records show the Navy devised precise requirements for the exercise because it wanted the SEALS to "train how they will fight."

The Mississippi Supreme Court found Mid-South failed to show how military policy and operational decisions were related to the cause of Ghane's death.

A court majority found Mid-South had represented that its training facility was designed to handle such practices safely and the wall was "capable of withstanding the ammunition used and the training tactics employed."

In a dissent, Justice Ann Lamar said the Navy didn't instruct Mid-South on construction standards for the wall.

Lamar said once the SEALS arrived, they took over the facility and Mid-South had nothing to do with the training. She said a jury could not address the issue of fault without examining decisions by both the Navy and Mid-South.

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