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Wednesday, June 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Retired Col. Loses Appeal in Whistleblower Case

(CN) - The 5th Circuit refused to reinstate the claims of a retired Mississippi Air National Guard colonel, who said officers retaliated against him for exposing corruption in his unit.

Retired Col. Joe H. Bryant Jr. sued the Mississippi Military Department and several officers, claiming he was forced out after enduring career-damaging reports, demotion, vandalism and violence. He accused MSANG officials of breaking into his car, stealing his laptop, firing gun shots in and around his home, cutting the gas line to his wife's car, harassing him with anonymous phone calls, and physically assaulting him.

In 2005, the district court dismissed his claims as barred by the 11th Amendment, which grants states sovereign immunity from federal lawsuits, and the Feres doctrine, which effectively bars service members from collecting damages for personal injuries.

On appeal, Bryant failed to adequately rebut these findings.

"His failure to do so is fatal to his appeal of MSANG's dismissal from this litigation," Judge Emilio Garza wrote.

The court also rejected his First Amendment claim, saying he failed to show how the individual officials had acted "under color of state law."

The panel dismissed the assault and battery claims as time-barred, and said Bryant failed to link the alleged acts of vandalism, violence and harassment to the individual defendants.

Finally, the court refused to reinstate Bryant's allegations of retaliatory litigation, including a slander suit, two malicious prosecution suits and an invasion of privacy suit.

The slander suit stemmed from comments that Bryant made on a radio talk show, where he said MSANG leadership was "corrupt," "had blood on their hands," and "ran the unit like the mafia."

Those comments were subjective, the court ruled, and could be traced back to the individual officials based on news coverage and a leaked Inspector General report.

"[W]e cannot say that any of these lawsuits were objectively baseless," Garza concluded.

Though Bryant soundly lost his appeal, the court declined to sanction him.

"This case, despite Bryant's losing, is not totally meritless and we see no evidence of an improper purpose."

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