The people of New Orleans – and this entire country – received great news on Friday, March 2, when a three-judge panel of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a ruling that holds the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers responsible for billions of dollars of damage related to Hurricane Katrina.
As lead trial counsel on this case along with co-counsel John Andry of New Orleans, I want to assure those affected by this disaster that we are working diligently on the next steps toward resolving this long-overdue disaster.
You will find a lot of information about the case here: news stories, press releases and the court rulings.
Stay tuned for more news.
View the ruling here
Associated Press- A federal appeals court on Friday upheld a judge’s landmark ruling that the Army Corps of Engineers is liable for property owners’ claims, agreeing the shoddy work on a shipping channel caused billions of dollars in damage from Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge.
A three-judge panel from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the federal government’s argument that it is entitled to immunity from lawsuits blaming Katrina’s flood damage on the corps’ operation and maintenance of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, a New Orleans navigation channel.
The federal government had asked the 5th Circuit to reverse a 2009 decision by U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval, who ruled that flooding in St. Bernard Parish and New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward was a manmade disaster created by the corps’ negligence.
The 5th Circuit praised Duval for his “impressive’’ rulings and lauded his “careful attention to the law and even more cautious scrutiny of complex facts.’’
Duval awarded a total of nearly $720,000 in damages to five plaintiffs who sued. The corps also has received roughly 500,000 administrative claims that could become fodder for similar suits.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Pierce O’Donnell expressed hope that Friday’s ruling could stimulate settlement talks with the government to resolve the pending claims.
“This is a landmark victory, not just for the people ravaged by Katrina’s flooding but for all Americans,’’ he said. “We must hold our government accountable when it inflicts avoidable harm on its citizens.’’
A Justice Department spokesman didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Joe Bruno said he expects the government to ask the full 5th Circuit to review the case. They could also appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I see no reason for the Supreme Court to take the case,’’ he said. “This is not a big, controversial interpretation of the law.’’
During a hearing last year, O’Donnell told the 5th Circuit judges that the corps knew for decades that the MRGO channel was a “mounting and looming disaster’’ in the making and yet did nothing to ease the threat.
The MRGO, which extends for 60 miles southeast from New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico, partially opened in 1963 and was closed about three years after Katrina struck in August 2005. Over the decades, the corps’ dredging of the channel resulted in the loss of thousands of acres of wetlands that helped protect greater New Orleans from hurricane flood waters.
Justice Department lawyers argued that the Flood Control Act of 1928 shields the federal government from liability.
In his 156-page ruling, however, Duval said he was “utterly convinced’’ that the corps’ failure to shore up the channel “doomed the channel to grow to two to three times its design width’’ and that “created a more forceful frontal wave attack on the levee’’ that protected St. Bernard and the Lower 9th Ward.
The 5th Circuit said some of the plaintiffs in the case demonstrated that the corps’ “negligent decisions rested on applications of objective scientific principles and were not susceptible to policy considerations.’’
“At points where it could have mattered, the Corps did not identify MRGO’s ability to aggravate the effect of a major hurricane,’’ 5th Circuit Judge Jerry Smith wrote. “This is not a situation in which the Corps recognized a risk and chose not to mitigate it out of concern for some other public policy (e.g., navigation or commerce); it flatly failed to gauge the risk.’’
PRESS RELEASE- NEW ORLEANS –(March 2, 2012) - Pierce O’Donnell, lead trial attorney in the landmark Hurricane Katrina case against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, urged the federal government to immediately begin settlement discussions in the wake of today’s landmark decision by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
In Robinson v. United States, the Appeals Court on Friday upheld a New Orleans federal judge’s 2009 decision that the Army Corps of Engineers is liable for the cataclysmic destruction of the nation’s 35th largest city caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“This is the worst man-made catastrophe in U.S. history,’’ O’Donnell said. “Two respected federal courts have now ruled unanimously that the Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for the drowning of New Orleans and the government should be held accountable. It is time for the Justice Department to stop litigating and start long overdue discussions about economic justice for the residents of New Orleans.’’
Said co-lead counsel Jonathan Andry of New Orleans, “This is a huge victory for the people of St. Bernard Parish. Unfortunately, they are being vindicated more than six years too late. Anthony Franz is dead. Lucille Franz is dead. They are not here to enjoy this decision. This should never have happened to an American city. The court’s ruling demonstrates that the judicial system works and there is such a thing as justice. The victory speaks to the institutional arrogance of the Army Corps of Engineers. Now something needs to be done to fix it.”
The U.S. government had appealed a decision by U.S. District Judge Stanwood J. Duval, Jr. in November 2009 that the Army Corps of Engineers was guilty of gross negligence for the failure of levees in dozens of locations that led to the catastrophic flooding and devastated a 100-square-mile metropolitan area.
In its appeal, the government did not contest Judge Duval’s factual findings that the catastrophe was caused by the “monumental” negligence, “insouciance, myopia and shortsightedness” of the Corps. Instead, the Justice Department argued that the federal government should be immune from responsibility for the disaster.
“At points where it could have mattered, the Corps did not identify MRGO’s ability to aggravate the effect of a major hurricane,” the Court ruled. “This is not a situation in which the Corps recognized a risk and chose not to mitigate it out of concern for some other public policy (e.g., navigation or commerce); it flatly failed to gauge the risk.”
O’Donnell said it is time for the government to do what is right and begin settlement discussions.
“We are eager to sit down and forge a global settlement for all Katrina victims," O’Donnell said. “It’s the right thing to do. Any settlement must assure expeditious restoration of the hurricane surge buffering wetlands around New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish, an equitable compensation program for victims, and funding for critical infrastructure destroyed by the Army Corps' gross mismanagement of flood protection."
O’Donnell said there’s no better time to resolve the issue than in a presidential year. “This is a victory not just for several hundred thousand Katrina victims, but for all Americans,’’ he said. “A democracy is only as strong as the ability of its citizens to hold their government accountable for its wrongful acts."
The original litigation focused on the key role of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, known as the “MRGO,” in channeling a prodigious and terrifying storm surge that helped overwhelmed the levee system. Constructed in the 1960s and now defunct, the MRGO was a 76-mile shipping channel that connected the Gulf of Mexico to the Port of New Orleans.
“For more than 50 years, government officials at all levels and environmentalists warned that the MRGO one day would turn into a “Hurricane Highway,” Andry said. “That prophecy became tragically true when Katrina struck the Gulf Coast and furiously funneled its floodwaters into the heart of Greater New Orleans.”
In its wake, Katrina took 1,300 lives, destroyed 300,000 homes, forced 1 million residents to evacuate, and inflicted more than $100 billion in property damages. Nearly 150,000 homes remain unoccupied more than 6 years after Katrina.
The Robinson case against the Army Corps was notable for many reasons, including its size and potential damages against the government. The Department of the Army, in a public disclosure two years ago, estimated the government’s potential losses on Katrina-related lawsuits and legal claims at a minimum of $10 billion and as high as $100 billion.
In a ruling that could leave the Government open to billions of dollars in claims from Hurricane Katrina victims, Judge Duval foud that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had displayed "gross negligence" in failing to maintain the MR-GO, which caused damage to Plaintiffs' property in St. Bernard Parish and the Lower 9th Ward.
At the end of the day, Judge Duval agreed with us that Katrina was not a natural disaster. Rather, it was a man-made disaster caused by the Army Corps of Engineers.
While the Government will likely appeal, we are calling upon the Obama administration and Congress to agree to a universal settlement.
Below is a link to the final Trial Order
Below are links to various new coverage of this historic Order:
As we mark the fourth anniversary of the worst man-made disaster in American history, we are reminded of how much more needs to be done to redeem the federal government’s promise—made by both Presidents Bush and Obama—to rebuild Greater New Orleans.Less than three weeks after the catastrophe, President Bush, speaking in front of a temporarily-illuminated St. Louis Cathedral, told the nation: "[W]e will stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives. And all who question the future of the Crescent City need to know: There is no way to imagine America without New Orleans, and this great city will rise again." President Bush then promised a prompt, massive infusion of federal funds: "Federal funds will cover the great majority of the costs of repairing public infrastructure in the disaster zone, from roads and bridges to schools and water systems," he said. "Our goal is to get the work done quickly."
It seems that every reviewer falls in love with “America Betrayed.” Here’s another one: http://www.popsyndicate.com/site/story/america_betrayed So please go rent or buy a DVD today.
It seems that every reviewer falls in love with “America Betrayed.” Here’s another one: http://www.popsyndicate.com/site/story/america_betrayed
So please go rent or buy a DVD today.
I am pleased to publish a guest editorial by Leslie Cardé, an award winning journalist CNN, CNBC, People, NPR Radio) who produced, wrote, and directed the critically-acclaimed documentary “America Betrayed.” Leslie offers her perspective on the Army Corps of Engineers after two years of intensive investigation and filming several hundred hours of interview. “America Betrayed” can be purchased or rented from Netflix, Blockbuster, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple TV, and others. It may be bought directly from the distributor (First Run Features) at http://firstrunfeatures.com/This August marks the four year anniversary of the catastrophic event which turned New Orleans on its ear… the arrival of hurricane Katrina and the ensuing flood disaster. This calamity was caused not by the amplitude of the storm, but rather by the ineptitude of the Army Corps of Engineers.