FEMA Litigation

From FEMA Answers



On June 13, 2007, Judge Berrigan granted Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction and ordered FEMA to stop terminating rental assistance, collecting overpayments, or resolving appeals until FEMA provides adequate advanced written notice setting forth the reason for the termination or alleged overpayment and further providing the recipient with the opportunity to have a hearing before any action is taken to terminate benefits or recover an alleged overpayment. In addition, the court ordered FEMA to provide notice to all individuals who have an appeal pending offering the individual the right to have their rental assistance reinstated until FEMA provides the notice and opportunity for a hearing. The Judge's decision and order set forth the reasoning and provide the details of what FEMA must do in compliance with the court's decision.

On April 19, 2007, the complaint for this case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Plaintiffs allege that FEMA operates an unresponsive system of administrative review and issues termination notices that are confusing and contain little more than undecipherable acronyms, and that FEMA has failed to publish standards setting forth the eligibility requirements. Also challenged in the suit are FEMA’s practices regarding recovery of alleged overpayments to aid recipients. The lawsuit alleges FEMA violates the Constitution by failing to provide aid recipients with clear notice of the reasons why it is seeking repayment of assistance and by terminating or withholding continued rental assistance before recipients are given an opportunity to dispute FEMA’s demands for repayment. Persons displaced by Hurricanes Katrina or Rita who have been denied continued rental assistance by FEMA may call a hotline established at the Loyola University New Orleans College of Law to speak with local counsel about the lawsuit. The number is 504-861-5600.


On August 29, 2006, the complaint for this case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Plaintiffs allege that FEMA has terminated housing assistance benefits to hurricane survivors without adequate explanation of its decision in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, and the Administrative Procedure Act. For more information, including a press release and other Court documents, including briefs and exhibits, see the Public Citizen web site. Plaintiffs request for a Temporary Restraining Order was denied by the court. Plaintiffs have moved for a Preliminary Injunction.

On November 29, the Federal Court in D.C. issued an opinion in ACORN v. FEMA requiring restoration of Section 403 benefits to all evauees who, as of August 31, 2006, had been found ineligible for Section 408 benefits until such time as they have received detailed explanations why they were ineligible and are allowed appeals of those decisions. The Court's order provides additional details. FEMA filed an appeal of this decision on December 5. Pleadings from the case area available on the Public Citizen web site.

ACORN is represented by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (Jerome Wesevich 915-241-0534) and Public Citizen Litigation Group (Michael T. Kirkpatrick 202-588-1000).

Watson v. FEMA

Watson v. FEMA On May 19 a class action law suit was filed against FEMA regarding the FEMA Apartments program. Currently 60,000 households are living in dwelling units assisted by FEMA, but all of them face an uncertain future. This suit seeks to ensure that these families receive the proper housing assistance from FEMA. The class action complaint (note this is a large .pdf file) was filed in U.S. District Court in Houston. A first amended complaint(this is a 1.8 MB .pdf file) was filed May 24. A press release by the lead firm Caddell & Chapman provides an overview, and another press release by NLIHC provides more commentary.

A hearing (transcript) for temporary restraining order was held on May 25. Briefs were filed by the plaintiffs and FEMA. (Note again, FEMA's brief is a large .pdf file). FEMA also filed a declaration in opposition to the TRO motion. Further argument was held May 26 (transcript).

In the May 25 a declaration, FEMA reveals that the May 31 deadline was extended for 11 Texas cities: Houston, Texarkana, Austin, Dalls, San Antonio, Bell County, Lubbock, Grand Prairie, Amarillo, Arlington, and El Paso. The approval letters are at p. 43-53 of the declaration, and they reflect extensions to June 30 for each jurisdiction except Grand Praire which is until July 31.

On May 30, Judge Hittner declined to grant a temporary restraining order to extend FEMA's Section 403 (apartment) program until trial in Watson v. FEMA, now set for June 20, but does order FEMA to expedite any further extension requests. The 17 page decision notes that FEMA granted requests for extensions to each of 11 cities that requested one, and stipulated to expedite any further requests. Local jurisdictions should now request from FEMA an extension of the Section 403 for June in order to protect evacuees.

On June 1, Watson plaintiffs moved for reconsideration and clarification of the Court's May 30 order. FEMA filed an Opposition to this motion. Judge Hittner issued an order denying Watson plaintiffs' motion.

On June 20, a hearing was held for preliminary injunction, addressing only the issue of FEMA's policy to omit payment of utility costs in the Section 408 temporary housing assistance program. The matter was taken under submission by Judge Hittner, no date for a decision has been set.

On June 22, Watson plaintiffs filed a notice and proposed order for preliminary injunction.

On July 13, Judge Hittner issued a Preliminary Injunction against FEMA, ordering the agency to pay utilities, up to the full amount of HUD's fair market rent including utilities for all recipients of Temporary Housing Assistance under the Section 408 program. This order is a significant development for evacuess. Prior to this ruling, FEMA would only provide reimbursement where utilities were included as part of the rental charge. Judge Hittner also orders FEMA to notify recipients of Section 408 assistance that they may use FEMA assistance for utilities, and prohibits FEMA from terminating assistance on the basis of the fact that an evacuee used FEMA funds for utilities

On July 21, Watson Plaintiffs filed an Emergency Motion for an Order to Show Cause and Proposed Order. Plaintiffs request that FEMA show why they have failed to comply with Judge Hittner's July 13 Order on Preliminary Injunction. Also on July 21, FEMA filed a Motion to Stay Pending Appeal. FEMA states its intention to appeal the preliminary injunction and requests the district court to stay the order. The judge denied FEMA's request for a stay on July 27.

On September 6, 2006, the 5th Circuit court of appeals issued its decision that vacated the injunction issued by Judge Hittner. This decision relieved FEMA's obligation to pay utilities imposed by the Judge Hittner's order.

McWaters v. FEMA

McWaters v. FEMA. A class action law suit was filed against FEMA in U.S. District Court in New Orleans on behalf of hurricane survivors who have not received adequate FEMA assistance. The complaint, McWaters v. FEMA, provides details of the challenge. An article on the suit appears in the November 10 New York Times. The lead lawyers in the case are Schulte Roth & Zabel and the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under Law.

On November 18, lawyers in the suit moved for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against FEMA in the New Orleans federal court, and a second TRO motion and amended complaint were filed November 28 to address the closure of the hotel/motel program. Hearing for both TRO motions was held on December 9. A news report regarding the hearing state that FEMA announced an extension to the hotel program in federal court. On December 12, Judge Duval of the U.S. District Court, issued an order requiring FEMA to extend the hotel/motel program until February, 2006. The court ordered FEMA to give every evacuee currently in short term lodging at least two weeks notice prior to terminating their assistance in the program. The order also stops FEMA from requiring completion of an SBA loan application before Temporary Housing Assistance is given.

On January 12, 2006, Judge Duval issued a modified order regarding closure of the hotel/motel program. This order extended the deadline so that the earliest evacuees can be terminated from the hotel program was February 13. For New Orleans and Jefferson Parish this deadline was March 1. Evacuees had to register with FEMA by January 30 to remain after that time.

Trial was held on February 23, and 24, 2006. Brief position papers with a summary of claims raised at trial are posted here for plaintiffs/evacuees and the defendant/FEMA. Trial transcripts are provided in four .pdf files: Feb 23 am, Feb 23 pm, Feb 24 am and Feb 24 pm. Post-trial briefs providing legal argument were filed by plaintiffs/evacuees and defendants/FEMA.

On June 16, Judge Duval issued a 44 page decision in McWaters v. FEMA. The decision affirms earlier rulings made by the Court, but does not order FEMA to take any additional steps at this time. The Court is critical of FEMA's failure to make adquate information available about what assistance the agency provides, and states that it may revisit FEMA's practices if raised by plaintiffs in the suit.

On June 30, Judge Duval issued an order granting plaintiffs' motion for class certification. Judge Duval's order effectively narrows the class certification to include only the SBA and Short Term Lodging evacuees, thereby limiting the binding effect to those two prevailing claims.

Brou v. FEMA

Brou v. FEMA. Filed on February 17, 2006, this suit challenges FEMA's failure to provide temporary housing that is accessible for people with disabilities. Housing provided by FEMA has often come in the form of inaccessible trailers which lack wheelchair ramps, grab bars in the bathroom, wheelchair maneuvering room, and generally cannot be used by persons with disabilities. The case was related to the McWaters matter (see above). A hearing has been set for March 2 in Judge Duval’s court. More information is in a press release and the complaint.

Sylvester v. Bossiere

Sylvester v. Bossiere. On November 22, Judge Duval, U.S. Dist. Court Eastern District of Louisiana, ordered a stay of evictions in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes. The order requires that notice be given to tenants. FEMA has agreed to provide the local courts with the current address of Katrina survivors who are facing eviction proceedings. They will be mailed notices regarding the evictions and not until 45 days after mailing can their trials be scheduled. Prior to this decision, notices were simply be tacked to their doors and hearings held 3 days later and tenants were then thrown on the streets. For the first time, FEMA has agreed to provide information to protect tenancies for survivors.

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