Tuesday, March 6, 2012

In Re: Katrina Canal Breaches Litigation

Mar 2: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, Case Nos. 10-30249, 10-31054 & 11-30808. Appeals from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. As explained by the Appeals Court, decades ago, the Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) dredged the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), a shipping channel between New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as levees alongside the channel and around the city. The Corps's negligence in maintaining the channel, grounded on a failure to appreciate certain hydrological risks, caused levees to fail and aggravated the effects of 2005's Hurricane Katrina on the city and its environs.
    Claimants filed hundreds of lawsuits, many of which were consolidated before the district judge a quo. That court worked with plaintiffs' litigation committees to identify several categories of plaintiffs and individual "bellwether" plaintiffs. The opinion concerns three groups of bellwether plaintiffs, all suing the United States for flood damages. One group went to trial; three of its plaintiffs prevailed on all claims, and four did not. Another group was dismissed before trial when the government was found immune. The third has survived motions to dismiss and is proceeding to trial. All losing parties have appealed; the government has also petitioned for a writ of mandamus to stay the third group's trial pending issuance of this opinion. The Appeals Court ruled, "We affirm each of the judgments and deny the petition."
    The Appeals Court concluded, "The district court's careful attention to the law and even more cautious scrutiny of complex facts allow us to uphold its expansive ruling in full, excepting our minor restatement of FCA [Flood Control Act of 1928] immunity. Accordingly, we affirm the judgments in Robinson and Anderson, leaving each party as he was before this appeal. Similarly, we deny the government's petition for a writ of mandamus to stay the Armstrong trial."
    A report on the case in the New York Times (NYT) indicates that the Appeals Court, "upheld a ruling that the Army Corps of Engineers is liable for property owners' claims, saying shoddy work on a shipping channel caused billions of dollars in damage during Hurricane Katrina. The court ruled that the federal government is not immune from lawsuits blaming flood damage on the corps' operation and maintenance of the New Orleans navigation channel." Another report on the Jurist website indicates, "In upholding the district court's ruling, the Fifth Circuit allowed five plaintiffs to recover approximately $720,000."
    Access the complete opinion (click here). Access the NYT article (click here). Access the Jurist article (click here). [#Water, #CA5]
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