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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
    Nov 24 '21 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
    Nov 24 '21 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. Nov 24 '21 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
    Nov 24 '21 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. Nov 25 '21 at 17:31

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