Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Hurricane Rita FTCA Action Dismissed

On September 22, 2009, a federal court in Texas dismissed a Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) action brought by one attorney on behalf of more than 400 prisoners who were injured during Hurricane Rita.

The plaintiffs were all incarcerated at the U.S. Penitentiary in Beaumont, Texas when Hurricane Rita made landfall on September 24, 2005, scoring a direct hit on the Beaumont area. An evacuation order was not issued until September 23, 2005 because the storm was initially forecast to come ashore significantly to the west of Beaumont.

The FTCA action alleged that the government negligently failed to evacuate USP-Beaumont prisoners before the storm hit and failed to ensure their safety and welfare after the hurricane made landfall. “Due to the loss of electrical power, as well as the lack of potable water and functional plumbing,” the prisoners alleged that “they suffered extreme deprivations” of “food, water, hygiene, temperature and medical care for several weeks after the hurricane made landfall.” At least two prisoners died and others suffered “staph infections and other illnesses, and ... psychological injuries.”

The government moved to dismiss based on sovereign immunity from suit, because “the decision as to whether to evacuate inmates at USP-Beaumont, as well as the decisions made regarding preparations for the hurricane and its aftermath, all fall within the discretionary exception function.” The district court agreed.

Although the court found the plaintiffs had filed a “trenchant and resourceful response” that contained creative arguments, it was nevertheless not well-taken. The court found that prison officials had “room for choice” as to their decisions, which were “the types of decisions Congress did not wish to subject to judicial second-guessing,” because they were “guided by public policy concerns.”

Therefore, the court dismissed the lawsuit without prejudice, for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. See: Spotts v. United States, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Texas), Case No. 1:08-cv-00376; 2009 WL 3083996.

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Spotts v. United States