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The U.S. federal government has apparently entered a 9-figure financial settlement of civil claims by victims of the 2018 shooting in Parkland, Florida. (The civil lawsuit alleged government liability because the FBI failed to investigate a tip about the shooter preparing the attack.)

Doesn't the federal government enjoy sovereign immunity to such claims? Or did the government waive its immunity in this case?

This seems particularly odd given that, in addition to sovereign immunity, SCOTUS has found (e.g., Warren v. District of Columbia) that law enforcement officials have no specific "duty to protect" or liability for failures to act. (Related Q&A here: Was the officer assigned to Parkland school legally obligated to intervene?)

(Interestingly, Florida state has a law by which it grants a limited waiver of sovereign immunity with a $300k limit on damages.)

I also just found that last month the federal government paid an $88MM settlement for an administrative failure that allowed the 2015 Charleston, South Carolina shooter to buy a weapon.

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  • I can't come up with a legal theory there other than sympathy and PR.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 24, 2021 at 0:16
  • The theory appears to be that under FBI procedures, they had a mandatory (i.e., not discretionary) obligation to do something with the tips they received. Though it's surprising that agency procedures create a non-discretionary requirement. I can't find the opinion (discussed in a news story here) ruling on that matter. I think this is the docket.
    – Ryan M
    Commented Nov 24, 2021 at 2:55
  • I agree with the previous commenter that it was likely more PR than anything else. Remember, the FBI may not be civilly liable at all, but just doesn’t want to go to court against the victims of a school shooting. Commented Nov 24, 2021 at 4:56
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    They fought the case in court for a long time, though. Though I could imagine the desire to avoid a full trial. That said, there must be some case if the judge allowed it to get to this point.
    – Ryan M
    Commented Nov 24, 2021 at 5:35
  • As with most everything the government does, there is a political angle to the decision to settle. Even if they were confident that they could prevail in court, you can be confident that they evaluated how their various alternatives served their public policy objectives and their approval among various groups. Very likely the change in posture from fighting the case to settling it is reflective of different objectives or different analysis between the previous administration and the current one. Commented Nov 25, 2021 at 17:31

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The settlement was a politically motivated act to provide de facto disaster relief and express a moral apology in a cash that there is no plausible way that the U.S. would lose if it litigated the case on the merits.

The articulated basis for making the payment would not survive a seriously argued dispositive motion from the United States government, either on behalf of the U.S. government itself, or against the federal law enforcement officials involved under Bivens.

A complaint making such a claim would barely survive a motion for a Rule 11 sanction for making a frivolous claim if the government pushed the point, and then, only on the theory that it advanced a good faith argument for change in the law, not on the theory that it was supported by existing law.

The Parkland case was considerably weaker than the Charleston shooter of 2015 case even, because Parkland involved a discretionary law enforcement decision, while Charleston arguably involved a non-discretionary administrative matter (although the government probably could have won that case as well).

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