Sometimes, when you read the news, it seems like you can sue for just about anything these days. However, limits do exist. Lawsuits get dismissed all the time because the person who is trying to sue doesn’t have a valid “cause of action.” This means that the type of claim they’re making is not a recognized legal claim – it’s essentially made up. The harm they suffer might be real, but they have no law or legal theory to support them in seeking justice.
A recent federal case in Chicago is a good example: Two American men tried to sue Donald Rumsfeld (former U.S. defense secretary), claiming they were captured and tortured by U.S. military in Iraq. They sued Rumsfeld for allegedly authorizing the harsh interrogation tactics. The two men worked for a private security firm at the time.
A federal appeals court just threw out the lawsuit, saying the men can’t sue because there’s no recognized cause of action. There are a couple of issues going on here. One is that Rumsfeld wasn’t the one in Iraq doing whatever the men allege was done to them, so the issue is whether he can be held legally liable for something his subordinates did. The other is whether the courts can get involved at all in military tactics. The argument is that it’s against national security and courts can’t be second guessing military decisions. The bottom line is that the lawsuit got dismissed before Rumsfeld was even brought into court.
It’s an interesting reality of the legal system that many cases get dismissed not because the defendant did nothing wrong (it doesn’t get that far) but because the defendant successfully argues that there’s no basis for the lawsuit against them. In these cases, the judge doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. It’s not always clear in the media why cases are dismissed or that a dismissal isn’t necessarily a “win” for the defendant.
Not all of the judges in this case agreed that the lawsuit brought by the two men should be dismissed, and it could end up in front of the Supreme Court.
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