| Sept 25
Sept 25 A U.S. appeals court has reversed itself
and found that the Army Corps of Engineers cannot be held liable
in property owners' lawsuits over flood damage during Hurricane
More than 400 property owners had filed lawsuits following
the August 2005 hurricane, many targeting the Corps of
Engineers. The plaintiffs had alleged the Corps of Engineers
delayed armoring the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet shipping
channel against flood damage due to incorrect scientific
decisions rather than public policy considerations.
In an unusual move, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans on Monday withdrew its
earlier ruling in March that had been in the plaintiffs' favor.
Monday's ruling came after the federal government sought review
of the panel's earlier decision by the full appeals court.
Judge Jerry Smith, writing for the court, said the Corps of
Engineers is immune from being held liable for property damage
under the so-called "discretionary function exception" to the
Federal Tort Claims Act, which governs litigation against the
The exception bars lawsuits against the government for
conduct arising from statutes and regulations that don't require
an agency's action but involve its discretion.
The 5th Circuit decision reverses a 2009 ruling by U.S.
District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. in New Orleans, who found that
the federal government did not have immunity from lawsuits
arising out of Katrina's flood damage in 2005.
New Orleans is still struggling to fully recover from the
devastation of Katrina, which swept across the city on Aug. 29,
2005, killing more than 1,800 people and causing billions of
dollars of damage along the coast.
Judge Smith said the actual reasons for the delay in
armoring the shipping channel were "varied and sometimes
unknown, but there can be little dispute that the decisions here
were susceptible to policy considerations."
Joseph Bruno, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, was not
immediately available for comment on the ruling. The Corps of
Engineers had no immediate comment.
The case is In re: Katrina Canal Breaches Litigation, 5th
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, 10-30249
(Reporting By Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Claudia