NEW ORLEANS – Louisiana plaintiffs involved in a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailer formaldehyde case against the federal government have lost their appeal.

Decarlo McGuire, Kevin Rodney, Marshall Stevenson Jr., Lynda Ward Stevenson, individually and on behalf of her children, and Lorenza Melancon were among the plaintiffs from the Gulf Coast that claimed trailers provided after hurricanes Katrina and Rita emitted dangerous levels of formaldehyde.

A district court dismissed their claims citing a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

The plaintiffs claimed that the government was negligent in its selection and distribution of trailers as emergency housing. They also accused the government of negligently responding to formaldehyde complaints and gross negligence.

In a per curiam opinion at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth District, Circuit Judges Thomas Morrow Reavley, E. Grady Jolly and Jerry Edwin Smith wrote that FEMA has no contractual or legal obligation to provide emergency housing for disaster victims and it made the decision to provide temporary local housing “upon the express preference of state and local officials.” The panel held that the types of decisions about how to allocate resources during an emergency are “sheltered from suit.”

The court ruled that the government is protected from a second negligence claim under Louisiana’s Good Samaritan laws. The government can only be held liable “to the extent that a private individual or a business” can be held liable under similar circumstances.

In a case like this, the court held, Louisiana laws negate negligence liability for an individual who voluntarily “allows his property or premises to be used as shelter during or in recovery from a natural disaster.” The court also upheld the dismissal of the gross negligence claims.

Case No. 12-30635.

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