The murder of a Bay Area woman by a fellow Marine, who then took his own life, is a tragedy that the legal system can do nothing about because it involved military service, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday in refusing to reinstate a suit by the victim’s family.
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld a federal magistrate’s ruling in 2016 that dismissed a lawsuit against the government by the father of Sara Castromata. The court said it had no authority to decide whether the Marine Corps should have prevented the shooting because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1950 that service members and their families cannot sue for injuries related to their military service.
Castromata, who lived in Oakley, enlisted in the Marines in December 2011. In March 2013, she was a 19-year-old corporal in the officer candidate school at the Quantico, Va., Marine base, when she was slain by one of the instructors, Eusebio Lopez, a decorated 25-year-old sergeant from Pacifica.
The two had a brief relationship that broke up about four months earlier. Lopez — who had texted Castromata earlier in the day saying he intended to commit suicide — entered her room, confronted Castromata and her new boyfriend, Cpl. Jacob Wooley, and fatally shot both of them before killing himself. The lawsuit said the three bodies were left in place for four hours before Marine personnel checked to see if any of them could survive.
The suit accused the Marines of multiple actions and inactions that contributed to the deaths. Among other things, it said officials knew Lopez was suffering from post-traumatic stress after three tours of duty in Iraq, but failed to require him to store his guns at a base armory. It also said a sentry ignored Castromata’s warning about Lopez’s suicide threat, and then lent Lopez a master key, which he used to enter Castromata’s room.
But U.S. Magistrate Maria-Elena James said in June 2016 that the allegations in the lawsuit would require her to “second-guess military decisions” on enforcing its rules. She “reluctantly” dismissed the suit, and was upheld Tuesday by the appeals court.
The suit “calls into question basic choices about the discipline, supervision, and control of a serviceman” and “would involve the judiciary in sensitive military affairs at the expense of military discipline and effectiveness,” the three-judge panel said. It quoted a 1985 Supreme Court ruling that dismissed a suit over a mentally ill service member’s murder of an off-duty colleague.
A lawyer for the family could not be reached for comment.
Bob Egelko is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: email@example.com Twitter:@egelko
©2018 the San Francisco Chronicle
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.