Parkland school shooting settlement

Florida massacre families to get millions for FBI’s inaction - POLITICO

The families of most of those killed and wounded in the 2018 Florida high school massacre announced Monday have reached a multi-million dollar settlement with the federal government over the FBI’s failure to stop the gunman even though it had received information he intended to attack.

The attorneys said the settlement’s details are confidential, but a person familiar with the deal said the government will pay the families $127.5 million overall. The person requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the amount.

A couple of questions about this:

  1. What is the legal basis for the government being on the hook for failing to act? I had thought it was pretty much accepted that the police have no legal obligation to protect anyone (see e.g. DeShaney v. Winnebago County - Wikipedia). I would think if this type of thing is the legal basis for a tort, then virtually any crime victim might sue various authorities who should have done a better job. (The Waukesha parade massacre victims being just an example from today’s news.)

  2. Where does the money for this type of thing come from? Is there some government department which has vast amounts of money lying around waiting to pay off $127M legal settlements?

10% of the Justice Department’s $35 billion annual budget is set aside for “litigation”.

Treasury’s Bureau of Fiscal Service maintains a Judgements Fund, a “permanent indefinite appropriation” (doesn’t die at the end of the fiscal year) for judgements and settlements the USA has to pay. In the first half of this November alone they paid out over $33 million.

IANAL, but reading the article -

The government does not have to protect you; they are under no obligation to send a bodyguard to watch and be sure a person under a restraint order obeys the order, etc.

But the article mentions a credible tip that the shooter had bought guns and threatened a school shoot-up. Presumably, the government is under an obligation to assess information and follow up where it is credible. The lawsuit is because they failed to perform the duty they had to check on this tip, which I assume would be considered a form of negligence.

Why would they have an obligation to “assess information and follow up” if they don’t have an obligation to do anything about it? Suppose they assessed the information and followed up and decided it was credible but that they weren’t going to do anything about it anyway, you’re saying they would be off the hook? That seems bizarre.

Unless you’re saying they do have an obligation to publicize the information even if they themselves don’t intend to do anything about it. But why would that be? What would obligate them to do this publicity more than any other component of protecting the public?

And again, if that’s the case, then the sky is the limit. Why would they be any more liable in this case than in any number of other cases where the criminal justice system is aware that so-and-so is dangerous but doesn’t go about warning the public about it?

As I understand (not knowing for sure ) they ahve an obligation to investigate credible threats.

When you hear “they don’t have an obligation to protect you” that means they don’t have to provide bodyguard services or surveillance on the speculation that sometime in the next while someone bad will come after you or violate a restraining order.

If they have reason to believe a threat is real and immanent, they have an obligation to act appropriately. This is in fact, the job they are paid to do. (Recall which shooting was it - Parkland? - that the school police officer was fired, or quit before he could be fired, for not acting to confront the shooter.)

This - Stoneman Douglas High School shooting - Wikipedia - says the problem was the Sherriff’s department ignored a large number of previous warnings about the shooter, failed to even investigate. This presumably is the basis for the settlement - it was not a single anonymous tip.

DeShaney doesn’t hold that the police have no legal obligation to protect anyone; just that failure by the government to protect you isn’t in itself a violation of your constitutional rights, which was the claim advanced in DeShaney. But if the government engages in a particular activity and they perform it in a negligent manner they have the usual liability in tort that anyone may have for the foreseeable consequences of their negligence.