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Victims of Katrina sue to force FEMA to provide timely aid

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

  • Organization: Schulte Roth & Zabel

A prominent New York law firm, a Washington-based civil rights legal organization, and a California not-for-profit legal organization, together with a Louisiana Law Professor today filed a class-action suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana to force the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide timely aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina living in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
The lawsuit, the first filed against FEMA in relation to its response to Katrina, says that the agency has violated and continues to violate Federal law by failing to discharge its obligations as the federal agency chartered to care for victims of natural disasters.

"There is no excuse for this failure by FEMA or for its refusal to fulfill its mandate," said John C. Brittain of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, the non-profit, civil rights legal organization that has joined with Schulte Roth as attorneys for the plaintiffs. "Without judicial oversight along the lines we have asked the court to provide, there is little chance that the victimization will cease or that FEMA will come through with the services it is legally obligated to provide."

The suit seeks a court order to require FEMA to make it easier for victims to apply for temporary housing assistance, to improve the agency's outreach and accessibility and immediately to provide trailers or other alternatives to replace shelters, tents and other makeshift arrangements. The suit also asks the court to force FEMA to establish application guidelines under which victims can obtain continued financial assistance beyond a three-month period and receive adjustments based on family size and other factors. The plaintiffs also request that the court order FEMA to eliminate certain rules regarding the use of funds victims have already received and to cease a policy whereby FEMA makes room for its housing by evicting and destroying the homes of residents of trailer parks.

"More than two months after Katrina, thousands of Americans are still being victimized, this time by bureaucratic inaction, indifference and incompetence," said Howard O. Godnick of Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP, a New York law firm that is providing its services on a pro bono basis. "The poor and vulnerable - including children, the elderly and the disabled - are suffering the most. It is an outrage that these victims must sue a Federal agency to secure services they are so clearly entitled to."

The legal action has been brought by 14 named plaintiffs on their own behalf and on the behalf of a class of people who lived in Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama on August 29, 2005 in areas that were subsequently declared Federal Disaster Areas, were displaced by Hurricane Katrina and have or will apply for disaster housing assistance under the Stafford Act. John K. Pierre, a Professor at Southern University Law Center has been retained as local counsel. Pierre described his involvement saying "I just want to help out the people of Louisiana any way I can." Steve Ronfeldt of The Public Interest Law Project in Oakland and Eva Paterson of the Equal Justice Society also worked on the Complaint.

A copy of the complaint in PDF format is available for download.

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