With Authority Comes Responsibility

It’s an interesting problem: if a federal agency claims the authority to regulate something, then they can be sued when they fail to discharge that responsibility effectively. My prediction is that this sort of thing won’t go far: there will be some new findings by the activist supreme court that there’s some theory like “qualified immunity” that applies.

That principle is why a lot of internet service providers (claimed they…) did not want to regulate content to comply with various anti-porn regulations: if they filtered content and an inappropriate image got through, their active measures had failed and they were culpable (maybe) so it was better to do nothing and not put themselves in the path of a lawsuit. I’m not particularly sanguine about “the courts will save us!” for any significant matter, because the courts are now obviously packed with a weird mixture of proto-fascists, christian fundamentalists, and plain old lying douchebags, so they are not reliable. Or, they’re reliable, but they can be relied upon to do the wrong thing. It’s what they are there to do.

So, I thought this bit of news was interesting and heartening but I’ll be surprised if any of the plaintiffs ever see a cent of the settlement:

The families of most of those killed and wounded in the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018 have reached a multi-million dollar settlement with the US government over the FBI’s failure to stop the gunman, even though it was told he intended to attack.

“Multi-million dollar” is downplaying it a bit, the settlement is $172.5 million.

About five weeks before the 14 February shooting, an FBI tip line received a call saying a former Stoneman Douglas student, Nikolas Cruz, had bought guns and planned to “slip into a school and start shooting the place up”.

“I know he’s going to explode,” the caller told the FBI.

But that information was never forwarded to the FBI’s Miami office and Cruz was never contacted. He had been expelled a year earlier and had a long history of emotional and behavioral problems.

If you’re going to have a tip line for people to call, you actually need to follow up on the tips, or you’re being negligent. That seems pretty straightforward, to me. The Broward School District reached a separate settlement, to the tune of $25 million [sun sentinel]

Of course the victims and their lawyers have done a good job of presenting a reasonable argument that they’d rather that the shooting had never happened in the first place, and a bunch of money doesn’t erase nightmares and loss. Oddly, to me, none of them (that were quoted) made the point that this is a necessary feedback loop to help encourage agencies, school boards, police, FBI, etc., with responsibility to uphold their end of the deal. I.e.: punishment for them.

I see this as a possible wedge against doctrines of “qualified immunity” and it appears that the current zeitgeist is to use the courts to hold people accountable. That bypasses “qualified immunity” by making the incident a civil case rather than a criminal one, which has a more reasonable standard of evidence and the jury determines damages and punitive damages. The FBI can hardly do like O J Simpson and avoid the judgement by never having any assets to seize. In fact, the FBI’s official statement after this judgement was that they had improved their processes so it won’t happen again. Meanwhile, it happened again, right away, in the Oxford school shooting in Michigan. All of the details have not emerged, yet, but for starters, the parents are fucked (good) and there is already a bit of jockeying for position regarding whether anyone other than the Crumbleys will be held criminally liable – but deafening silence, so far, as to civil suits. [mich]

Personal-injury lawyers expressed doubt that the Oxford district could be successfully sued for letting Crumbley stay in school. That’s because Michigan law sets a high bar to wring liability out of public schools and other arms of government.

“You have to show that the administration or faculty members were grossly negligent, meaning they had a reckless disregard for whether an injury was likely to take place,” said attorney A. Vince Colella.

Even if gross negligence can be demonstrated, someone who sues must also show it was a proximate cause of death or injury, he said.

I am guessing that’s one personal injury lawyer jockeying for a job helping defend the case. Because having a kid who is drawing disturbing pictures of blood-spattered murder of their classmates get taken to a guidance counselor who decides that kid is still OK to attend classes … it’s not culpable negligence but it’s certainly gross negligence. Culpable negligence is where you have reason to believe that you are not doing what you ought to, whereas gross negligence is where anyone with half a brain can look at the situation and argue that you ought to have acted differently. A jury trial is unpredictable, but a lot of these cases are settled because juries have been known to agree strongly with the plaintiff and award massive judgements.

The knock-on effects of these events can last decades, and if the American justice system weren’t so slow and outright bad, it wouldn’t be that long. But, as they say, the wheels grind exceedingly fine. It’s hard for me to realize that the Parkland shooting was 4 years ago, but then I saw the other day that despicable toad Alex Jones lost a default judgement in the suit brought against him by parents who were angered by his egregious lies about the event. [wapo] Jones appears to have decided he was fucked, no matter what, so he simply stonewalled the case – no responses, no counter-filings, nothing. The judge shrugged and declared that the plaintiffs had completely won their case.

Gamble’s ruling, which was unsealed Thursday, lambasted Jones and his website’s parent company, Free Speech Systems, for having “intentionally disobeyed” the court’s requests and showing “flagrant bad faith and callous disregard” in not turning over documents related tothis and otherlawsuits filed against him. Jones has already lost several defamation lawsuits related to his Sandy Hook falsehoods and was previously ordered to pay tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees to families who have sued him. Nine families have sued him over the years.

Jones has tried to dismiss the intentionality of his actions by saying that he was experiencing a “psychosis” – i.e.: he was not responsible because he was not sane. He lost that angle, and it’s going to be interesting to see what happens to him next. My guess is that Infowars is going to have a new owner: the plaintiffs. What other assets has Jones got?

All of these things point toward something I think rational people have known for some time: if you own guns or highly enriched uranium or toxic chemicals or explosives, you are responsible for keeping your kids away from it, and if you absolutely insist on having that sort of thing then you are responsible for educating them as to the dangers of trying to make their own implosion device. Or, keeping that stuff locked up competently – a point which refers back to the earlier issue: if you have a gun safe but you give your 14 year-old the combination, then you are negligent and you’re flirting with ruination or worse.

Maybe the way to defund the police is to obliterate them with lawsuits.


  1. billseymour says

    What I can’t get over is how the parents in the Michigan case went on the lam effectively abandoning their child.  How can one not be a horrible person and do that?

  2. anat says

    Crumbley was allowed out of the office without having his backpack searched. That’s where the school’s negligence starts. (The parents’ negligence and worse started a long time earlier).

  3. marner says

    @1 billseymour

    What I can’t get over is how the parents in the Michigan case went on the lam effectively abandoning their child.

    We’ve mostly only heard from the prosecutor and the police on this. Their lawyer denies it. Hopefully the truth will come out. I admit to bias in that I do not trust prosecutors or the police.

  4. billseymour says

    Marner, you’re right.  We don’t know the whole story yet.  But I can’t stop being shocked by it.

  5. says

    What I can’t get over is how the parents in the Michigan case went on the lam effectively abandoning their child. How can one not be a horrible person and do that?

    I have to say, I feel the same way. About the only thing I can think of is that maybe they realized that their kid’s going to be in custody and will never walk free again. They don’t have to worry about him – he’s going to be a ward of the state of some form or another for the rest of his life.

    But, more likely, the parents are jackasses who are in way over their heads and have just enough sense to realize that, so they probably got some bad advice from someone to “lie low for a while” or something like that. I remind myself that a lot of Americans’ idea how the law works and how people interact with law enforcement and lawyers is from watching TV – i.e.: it’s completely whacked.

    Another possibility, which would be my reaction, is that the parents have known all along what a loathsome little frogspawn they produced, and they hate the child and wish he’d died in the gunfight. They’ve realized that the kid has just screwed their futures and everyone else’s and (like everyone in this story) are regretting the day he was born. I wouldn’t expect parents that had produced a kid like that to be that self-aware, though, or they would have been trying to salvage the kid instead of giving him access to a gun.

  6. billseymour says

    Marcus @6:

    … more likely, the parents are jackasses who are in way over their heads …

    I wouldn’t expect parents that had produced a kid like that to be that self-aware, …

    My thoughts exactly.

  7. says

    If someone owns a gun, and that gun is used to injure or kill someone or damage property, then the gun owner should be considered absolutely complicit in that crime; and it should be no defence that the gun was taken and used without consent. If my kid was shot with your gun, then you aided and abetted that crime by simple dint of possessing that gun in the first place. Yes, you. The shooter could not have done so if you had not owned a gun.

    And if you aren’t prepared to risk the rest of your life in prison, there is a very simple way to make sure you can never be accused of complicity in a firearms offence committed by someone else …..

  8. sonofrojblake says

    What I can’t get over is how the parents in the Michigan case went on the lam effectively abandoning their child

    I can get over it. I assumed, when I first heard it, that they were scared of him and trying to get away from him in reasonable fear that they were on his shit-list.

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