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A Washington state man who was on the losing end of a bar tussle seven years ago was knocked down again Thursday — this time by several federal judges. Robert Moore cannot sue the British government after fighting with British soldiers, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled. The opinion by Judge Marsha Berzon outraged Moore’s attorney, J. Bryon Holcomb of Bainbridge Island, Wash., who said the decision had more to do with politics than judicial common sense. “I don’t know what we did wrong in the case and what more we could have done,” he said. “Our federal court system is a terrible mess and will remain that way until we get judges who are interested in looking at the facts and not at politics.” Holcomb said the judges simply wanted to avoid angering a foreign ally. “They [the judges] feel that a foreign government should be protected from claims,” Holcomb said. “The Ninth Circuit just ignored the facts. If people in this country knew how little chance they had in our federal court system, there would be a revolution tomorrow. They would have the guillotines out storming the courthouse looking for candidates.” The case began on Jan. 17, 1997, at the Lakewood Bar and Grill in Tacoma, Wash. Kenneth Southall and several British military members fought with Moore; Moore was seriously injured in the scuffle. Moore sued Southall and members of the British military in January 2000. He also asked that the British government be forced to release documents relating to the fight under the Freedom of Information Act. Moore sought a “noncommercial tort” exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which gives federal courts jurisdiction over U.S. citizens’ claims against foreign governments. Neither the soldiers nor the British government appeared at a scheduled court date, and Moore filed for an order of default. But a U.S. district judge in western Washington ruled that it lacked jurisdiction in the case. On Thursday the 9th Circuit agreed. The court held that the tort action was precluded by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Status of Forces Agreement — an international treaty governing litigation against British military in the United States. “As the NATO-SOFA controls, there is no jurisdiction under the [Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act] over Moore’s suit against the United Kingdom,” Berzon wrote. Senior Judge Betty Fletcher and Senior Judge Clyde Hamilton, a 4th Circuit judge sitting by designation, concurred. The court ruled that Moore’s only recourse would be a suit against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act, but noted that his claims are time-barred under that statute. Nor does the statute allow suits over assaults. The court also rejected Moore’s FOIA request, although for different reasons than the district court’s. The Justice Department filed an amicus curiae brief in the case. The case is Moore v. United Kingdom, 04 C.D.O.S. 8719.

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