The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will not be held responsible for providing toxic, formaldehyde-laden trailers to thousands of displaced individuals following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Courthouse News Service (CNS) reports that Judge Carl Stewart from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has struck down an appeal from 10,000 residents who were harmed by the trailers, claiming that these individuals have no jurisdiction to sue the government.

Even though taxpayers like those injured by the toxic trailers are responsible for funding FEMA, which means they technically helped fund the trailers as well, Judge Stewart does not believe the plaintiffs in the case have subject-matter jurisdiction to go after the agency. In his view, the trailers were provided at "no cost," and "under no obligation."

But the whole premise of the case alleges that FEMA knew about the trailers' formaldehyde problems early on and continued to distribute them to displaced hurricane victims. By failing to admit the problem and take action to remedy it, FEMA inflicted undue injury and even death on victims just to avoid having to deal with future lawsuits, they say.

Though FEMA eventually began to distribute brochures urging trailer dwellers to ventilate the units by opening doors and windows, the agency did not fully disclose the severity of the trailers' toxicity to victims, say the plaintiffs. FEMA also allegedly ignored and manipulated scientific data early on that raised serious red flags about the safety of the trailers.

According to Judge Stewart, the federal government's liability in the matter is dictated according to state law where the alleged wrongful activity took place. In this case, it was in Mississippi and Alabama, both of which grant immunity to the government for such activities during states of emergency. And the three-member panel to whom Judge Stewart wrote his judgment agreed, holding that FEMA had legal immunity while helping with "recovery from an actual disaster."

This ruling demonstrates why it is vitally important for states to exercise extreme caution when allowing the federal government to take over during emergency situations. Depending on the laws in the afflicted state, emergency situations can open the door for all kinds of federal government misconduct for which it may not be held liable.