(CN) – The federal government can’t be held liable for the deaths of three Hurricane Katrina victims in the aftermath of the storm, the 5th Circuit ruled, because the government’s relief efforts – though “universally criticized as inadequate, unorganized and flawed” – were not mandatory.
Ethel Freeman, John DeLuca and Clementine Eleby all died after being rescued from the storm and taken to the New Orleans Convention Center.
“Squalid conditions existed at the Convention Center, and it was not equipped with food, water, medical assistance, triage, or transportation,” noted Judge King of the New Orleans-based federal appeals court.
The victims’ families sued the government, claiming violations of non-discretionary duties under the National Response Plan (NRP).
“Despite the existence of the NRP and other Stafford Act regulations,” King wrote, “the federal government was unprepared for Hurricane Katrina, and its response was universally criticized as inadequate, unorganized and flawed.”
However, King agreed with the district court that the government’s response to the hurricane consisted of discretionary actions, which are covered by the government’s sovereign immunity.
King disagreed with the plaintiff’s assertion that Federal Emergency Management Agency mission assignments made the government’s actions mandatory, not discretionary.
“Mission assignments are often non-specific,” King wrote, “requiring an agency to exercise additional judgment or choice, e.g., where and how to complete the requested mission.”