JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court
This case presents the question whether the doctrine established in Feres v. United States, 340 U.S. 135 (1950), bars an action under the Federal Tort Claims Act on behalf of a service member killed during the course of an activity incident to service, where the complaint alleges negligence on the part of civilian employees of the Federal Government.
Lieutenant Commander Horton Winfield Johnson was a helicopter pilot for the United States Coast Guard, stationed
Respondent, Johnson's wife, applied for and received compensation for her husband's death pursuant to the Veterans' Benefits Act, 72 Stat. 1118, as amended, 38 U. S. C. § 301 et seq. (1982 ed. and Supp. III).
The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed. 749 F.2d 1530 (1985). It noted the language of Feres that precludes suits by service members against the Government
Applying its new analysis to the facts of this case, the court found "absolutely no hint . . . that the conduct of any alleged tortfeasor even remotely connected to the military will be scrutinized if this case proceeds to trial." 749 F. 2d, at 1539.
The Court of Appeals granted the Government's suggestion for rehearing en banc. The en banc court found that this Court's recent decision in United States v. Shearer, 473 U.S. 52 (1985), "reinforc[ed] the analysis set forth in the panel opinion," 779 F.2d 1492, 1493 (1986) (per curiam), particularly the "[s]pecial emphasis . . . upon military discipline and whether or not the claim being considered would require civilian courts to second-guess military decisions," id., at 1493-1494. It concluded that the panel properly had evaluated the claim under Feres and therefore reinstated the panel opinion. Judge Johnson, joined by three other judges, strongly dissented. The dissent rejected the "Feres factual paradigm" as identified by the court, finding that because "Johnson's injury was undoubtedly sustained incident to service, . . . under current law our decision ought to be a relatively straightforward affirmance." Id., at 1494.
We granted certiorari, 479 U.S. 811 (1986), to review the Court of Appeals' reformulation of the Feres doctrine and to resolve the conflict among the Circuits on the issue.
This Court has emphasized three broad rationales underlying the Feres decision. See Stencel Aero Engineering Corp.
Second, the existence of these generous statutory disability and death benefits is an independent reason why the Feres doctrine bars suit for service-related injuries.
Third, Feres and its progeny indicate that suits brought by service members against the Government for injuries incurred incident to service are barred by the Feres doctrine because they are the "type[s] of claims that, if generally permitted, would involve the judiciary in sensitive military affairs at the expense of military discipline and effectiveness." United States v. Shearer, 473 U. S., at 59 (emphasis in original). In every respect the military is, as this Court has recognized,
In this case, Lieutenant Commander Johnson was killed while performing a rescue mission on the high seas, a primary duty of the Coast Guard. See 14 U. S. C. §§ 2, 88(a)(1).
We reaffirm the holding of Feres that "the Government is not liable under the Federal Tort Claims Act for injuries to servicemen where the injuries arise out of or are in the course of activity incident to service." 340 U. S., at 146. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
JUSTICE SCALIA, with whom JUSTICE BRENNAN, JUSTICE MARSHALL, and JUSTICE STEVENS join, dissenting.
As it did almost four decades ago in Feres v. United States, 340 U.S. 135 (1950), the Court today provides several reasons why Congress might have been wise to exempt from the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U. S. C. §§ 1346(b), 2671-2680, certain claims brought by servicemen. The problem now, as then, is that Congress not only failed to provide such an exemption, but quite plainly excluded it. We have not been asked by respondent here to overrule Feres; but I can perceive no reason to accept petitioner's invitation to extend it as the Court does today.
Much of the sovereign immunity of the United States was swept away in 1946 with passage of the FTCA, which renders the Government liable
Read as it is written, this language renders the United States liable to all persons, including servicemen, injured by the negligence of Government employees. Other provisions of the Act set forth a number of exceptions, but none generally precludes FTCA suits brought by servicemen. One, in fact, excludes "[a]ny claim arising out of the combatant activities of the military or naval forces, or the Coast Guard, during time of war," § 2680(j) (emphasis added), demonstrating that Congress specifically considered, and provided what it thought needful for, the special requirements of the military. There was no proper basis for us to supplement — i. e., revise — that congressional disposition.
In our first encounter with an FTCA suit brought by a serviceman, we gave effect to the plain meaning of the statute. In Brooks v. United States, 337 U.S. 49 (1949), military personnel had been injured in a collision with an Army truck while off duty. We rejected the Government's argument that those injured while enlisted in the military can never recover under the FTCA. We noted that the Act gives the District Courts "jurisdiction over any claim founded on negligence brought against the United States" and found the Act's exceptions "too lengthy, specific, and close to the present problem" to permit an inference that, notwithstanding the literal language of the statute, Congress intended to bar all suits brought by servicemen. Id., at 51. Particularly in light of the exceptions for claims arising out of combatant activities, 28 U. S. C. § 2680(j), and in foreign countries, § 2680(k), we said, "[i]t would be absurd to believe that Congress did not have the servicemen in mind" in passing the FTCA. 337 U. S., at 51. We therefore concluded that the plaintiffs in Brooks could sue under the Act. In dicta, however, we cautioned that an attempt by a serviceman to recover for injuries suffered "incident to . . . service" would
That "wholly different case" reached us one year later in Feres. We held that servicemen could not recover under the FTCA for injuries that "arise out of or are in the course of activity incident to service," 340 U. S., at 146, and gave three reasons for our holding. First, the parallel private liability required by the FTCA was absent. Id., at 141-142. Second, Congress could not have intended that local tort law govern the "distinctively federal" relationship between the Government and enlisted personnel. Id., at 142-144. Third, Congress could not have intended to make FTCA suits available to servicemen who have already received veterans' benefits to compensate for injuries suffered incident to service. Id., at 144-145. Several years after Feres we thought of a fourth rationale: Congress could not have intended to permit suits for service-related injuries because they would unduly interfere with military discipline. United States v. Brown, 348 U.S. 110, 112 (1954).
In my view, none of these rationales justifies the result. Only the first of them, the "parallel private liability" argument, purports to be textually based, as follows: The United States is liable under the FTCA "in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances," 28 U. S. C. § 2674; since no "private individual" can raise an army, and since no State has consented to suits by members of its militia, § 2674 shields the Government from liability in the Feres situation. 340 U. S., at 141-142. Under this reasoning, of course, many of the Act's exceptions are superfluous, since private individuals typically do not, for example, transmit postal matter, 28 U. S. C. § 2680(b), collect taxes or customs duties, § 2680(c), impose quarantines, § 2680(f), or regulate the monetary system, § 2680(i). In any event, we subsequently recognized our error and rejected
Perhaps without that scant (and subsequently rejected) textual support, which could be pointed to as the embodiment of the legislative intent that its other two rationales speculated upon, the Feres Court would not as an original matter have reached the conclusion that it did. Be that as it may, the speculation outlived the textual support, and the Feres rule is now sustained only by three disembodied estimations of what Congress must (despite what it enacted) have intended. They are bad estimations at that. The first of them, Feres' second rationale, has barely escaped the fate of the "parallel private liability" argument, for though we have not yet acknowledged that it is erroneous we have described it as "no longer controlling." United States v. Shearer, 473 U.S. 52, 58, n. 4 (1985). The rationale runs as follows: Liability under the FTCA depends upon "the law of the place where the [negligent] act or omission occurred," 28 U. S. C. § 1346(b); but Congress could not have intended local, and therefore geographically diverse, tort law to control important aspects of the "distinctively federal" relationship between the United States and enlisted personnel. 340 U. S., at 142-144. Feres itself was concerned primarily with the unfairness to the soldier of making his recovery turn upon where he was injured, a matter outside of his control. Id., at 142-143. Subsequent cases, however, have stressed the military's need for uniformity in its governing standards. See, e. g., Stencel Aero Engineering Corp. v. United States, 431 U.S. 666, 672 (1977). Regardless of how it is understood, this second rationale is not even a good excuse in policy, much less in principle, for ignoring the plain terms of the FTCA.
The unfairness to servicemen of geographically varied recovery is, to speak bluntly, an absurd justification, given that, as we have pointed out in another context, nonuniform
To the extent that the rationale rests upon the military's need for uniformity, it is equally unpersuasive. To begin with, that supposition of congressional intent is positively contradicted by the text. Several of the FTCA's exemptions show that Congress considered the uniformity problem, see, e. g., 28 U. S. C. §§ 2680(b), 2680(i), 2680(k), yet it chose to retain sovereign immunity for only some claims affecting the military. § 2680(j). Moreover, we have effectively disavowed this "uniformity" justification — and rendered its benefits to military planning illusory — by permitting servicemen to recover under the FTCA for injuries suffered not incident to service, and permitting civilians to recover for injuries caused by military negligence. See, e. g., Indian Towing Co. v. United States, supra. Finally, it is difficult to explain why uniformity (assuming our rule were achieving it) is indispensable for the military, but not for the many other federal departments and agencies that can be sued under the FTCA for the negligent performance of their "unique, nationwide function[s]," Stencel Aero Engineering Corp. v. United States, supra, at 675 (MARSHALL, J., dissenting), including, as we have noted, the federal prison system which may be sued under varying state laws by its inmates. See United States v. Muniz, supra. In sum, the second Feres rationale, regardless of how it is understood, is not a plausible estimation
Feres's third basis has similarly been denominated "no longer controlling." United States v. Shearer, supra, at 58, n. 4. Servicemen injured or killed in the line of duty are compensated under the Veterans' Benefits Act (VBA), 72 Stat. 1118, as amended, 38 U. S. C. § 301 et seq. (1982 ed. and Supp. III), and the Feres Court thought it unlikely that Congress meant to permit additional recovery under the FTCA, 340 U. S., at 144-145. Feres described the absence of any provision to adjust dual recoveries under the FTCA and VBA as "persuasive [evidence] that there was no awareness that the Act might be interpreted to permit recovery for injuries incident to military service." Id., at 144. Since Feres we have in dicta characterized recovery under the VBA as "the sole remedy for service-connected injuries," Hatzlachh Supply Co. v. United States, 444 U.S. 460, 464 (1980) (per curiam), and have said that the VBA "provides an upper limit of liability for the Government" for those injuries, Stencel Aero Engineering Corp. v. United States, supra, at 673.
The credibility of this rationale is undermined severely by the fact that both before and after Feres we permitted injured servicemen to bring FTCA suits, even though they had been compensated under the VBA. In Brooks v. United States, 337 U.S. 49 (1949), we held that two servicemen injured off duty by a civilian Army employee could sue the Government. The fact that they had already received VBA benefits troubled us little. We pointed out that "nothing in the Tort Claims Act or the veterans' laws . . . provides for exclusiveness of remedy" and we refused to "call either remedy. . . exclusive . . . when Congress has not done so." Id., at 53. We noted further that Congress had included three exclusivity provisions in the FTCA, 28 U. S. C. §§ 2672, 2676, 2679, but had said nothing about servicemen plaintiffs, 337 U. S., at 53. We indicated, however, that VBA compensation
Brooks and Brown (neither of which has ever been expressly disapproved) plainly hold that the VBA is not an "exclusive" remedy which places an "upper limit" on the Government's liability. Because of Feres and today's decision, however, the VBA will in fact be exclusive for service-connected injuries, but not for others. Such a result can no more be reconciled with the text of the VBA than with that of the FTCA, since the VBA compensates servicemen without regard to whether their injuries occur "incident to service" as Feres defines that term. See 38 U. S. C. § 105. Moreover, the VBA is not, as Feres assumed, identical to federal and state workers' compensation statutes in which exclusivity provisions almost invariably appear. See, e. g., 5 U. S. C. § 8116(c). Recovery is possible under workers' compensation statutes more often than under the VBA, and VBA benefits can be terminated more easily than can workers' compensation. See Note, From Feres to Stencel: Should Military Personnel Have Access to FTCA Recovery?, 77 Mich. L. Rev. 1099, 1106-1108 (1979). In sum, "the presence of an alternative compensation system [neither] explains [n]or justifies the Feres doctrine; it only makes the effect of the doctrine more palatable." Hunt v. United States, 204 U. S. App. D. C. 308, 326, 636 F.2d 580, 598 (1980).
The foregoing three rationales — the only ones actually relied upon in Feres — are so frail that it is hardly surprising that we have repeatedly cited the later-conceived-of "military discipline" rationale as the "best" explanation for that decision.
It is strange that Congress' "obvious" intention to preclude Feres suits because of their effect on military discipline was discerned neither by the Feres Court nor by the Congress that enacted the FTCA (which felt it necessary expressly to exclude recovery for combat injuries). Perhaps Congress recognized that the likely effect of Feres suits upon military discipline is not as clear as we have assumed, but in fact has long been disputed. See Bennett, The Feres Doctrine, Discipline, and the Weapons of War, 29 St. Louis U. L. J. 383, 407-411 (1985). Or perhaps Congress assumed that the FTCA's explicit exclusions would bar those suits most threatening to military discipline, such as claims based upon combat command decisions, 28 U. S. C. § 2680(j); claims based upon performance of "discretionary" functions, § 2680(a); claims
To the extent that reading the FTCA as it is written will require civilian courts to examine military decisionmaking and thus influence military discipline, it is outlandish to consider that result "outlandish," Brooks v. United States, 337 U. S., at 53, since in fact it occurs frequently, even under the Feres dispensation. If Johnson's helicopter had crashed into a civilian's home, the homeowner could have brought an FTCA suit that would have invaded the sanctity of military decisionmaking no less than respondent's. If a soldier is injured not "incident to service," he can sue his Government regardless of whether the alleged negligence was military negligence. And if a soldier suffers service-connected injury because of the negligence of a civilian (such as the manufacturer of an airplane), he can sue that civilian, even if the civilian claims contributory negligence and subpoenas the serviceman's colleagues to testify against him.
In sum, neither the three original Feres reasons nor the post hoc rationalization of "military discipline" justifies our failure to apply the FTCA as written. Feres was wrongly decided and heartily deserves the "widespread, almost universal criticism" it has received. In re "Agent Orange"
The Feres Court claimed its decision was necessary to make "the entire statutory system of remedies against the Government. . . a workable, consistent and equitable whole." 340 U. S., at 139. I am unable to find such beauty in what we have wrought. Consider the following hypothetical (similar to one presented by Judge Weinstein in In re "Agent Orange" Product Liability Litigation, supra, at 1252): A serviceman is told by his superior officer to deliver some papers to the local United States Courthouse. As he nears his destination, a wheel on his Government vehicle breaks, causing the vehicle to injure him, his daughter (whose class happens to be touring the courthouse that day), and a United States marshal on duty. Under our case law and federal statutes, the serviceman may not sue the Government (Feres); the guard may not sue the Government (because of the exclusivity provision of the Federal Employees' Compensation Act (FECA),
The point is not that all of these inconsistencies are attributable to Feres (though some of them assuredly are), but merely that bringing harmony to the law has hardly been the consequence of our ignoring what Congress wrote and imagining what it should have written. When confusion results from our applying the unambiguous text of a statute, it is at least a confusion validated by the free play of the democratic process, rather than what we have here: unauthorized rationalization gone wrong. We realized seven years too late that "[t]here is no justification for this Court to read exemptions into the Act beyond those provided by Congress. If the Act is to be altered that is a function for the same body that adopted it." Rayonier, Inc. v. United States, 352 U. S., at 320 (footnote omitted).
I cannot take comfort, as the Court does, ante, at 686, and n. 6, from Congress' failure to amend the FTCA to overturn Feres. The unlegislated desires of later Congresses with regard to one thread in the fabric of the FTCA could hardly
We have not been asked by respondent to overrule Feres, and so need not resolve whether considerations of stare decisis should induce us, despite the plain error of the case, to leave bad enough alone. As the majority acknowledges, however, "all of the cases decided by this Court under Feres have involved allegations of negligence on the part of members of the military." Ante, at 686. I would not extend Feres any further. I confess that the line between FTCA suits alleging military negligence and those alleging civilian negligence has nothing to recommend it except that it would limit our clearly wrong decision in Feres and confine the unfairness and irrationality that decision has bred. But that, I think, is justification enough.
Had Lieutenant Commander Johnson been piloting a commercial helicopter when he crashed into the side of a mountain, his widow and children could have sued and recovered for their loss. But because Johnson devoted his life to serving in his country's Armed Forces, the Court today limits his family to a fraction of the recovery they might otherwise have received. If our imposition of that sacrifice bore the legitimacy of having been prescribed by the people's elected representatives, it would (insofar as we are permitted to inquire into such things) be just. But it has not been, and it is not. I respectfully dissent.
"First, the relationship between the Government and members of its Armed Forces is ` "distinctively federal in character" '; it would make little sense to have the Government's liability to members of the Armed Services dependent on the fortuity of where the soldier happened to be stationed at the time of the injury. Second, the Veterans' Benefits Act establishes, as a substitute for tort liability, a statutory `no fault' compensation scheme which provides generous pensions to injured servicemen, without regard to any negligence attributable to the Government. A third factor . . . [is] `[t]he peculiar and special relationship of the soldier to his superiors, the effects of the maintenance of such suits on discipline, and the extreme results that might obtain if suits under the Tort Claims Act were allowed for negligent orders given or negligent acts committed in the course of military duty . . . .' " Stencel Aero Engineering Corp. v. United States, 431 U.S. 666, 671-672 (1977) (citations omitted).
Although one decision since Feres noted the military status of the tortfeasors, see United States v. Brown, supra, at 112, it did not rely on that fact. See 348 U. S., at 113 ("We adhere . . . to the line drawn in the Feres case between injuries that did and injuries that did not arise out of or in the course of military duty"). Moreover, it is the broad language that consistently has been repeated in recent decisions describing the Feres doctrine. See Chappell v. Wallace, supra, at 299 ("Congress did not intend to subject the Government to . . . claims [for injuries suffered in service] by a member of the Armed Forces") (emphasis added); Stencel Aero Engineering Corp. v. United States, 431 U. S., at 669 ("In Feres . . . the Court held that an on-duty serviceman who is injured due to the negligence of Government officials may not recover against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act") (emphasis added); Dalehite v. United States, 346 U.S. 15, 31, n. 25 (1953) (characterizing the Feres cases as involving "injuries . . . allegedly caused by negligence of employees of the United States") (emphasis added).