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Colaio v. Feinberg

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Brief Fact Summary. After the tragedy of September 11, 2001, Congress and the President enacted the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund (Fund) of 2001 to provide compensation to the bereaved. Plaintiffs brought suit claiming that the Fund unconstitutionally discriminates against them

Synopsis of Rule of Law. The duty of a judge is to give deference to the Department of Justice’s regulations and respect to the Special Master’s policies to the extent that they are rooted in law.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

We therefore agree with the District Court's and the Court of Appeals reading of this language as describing the process of direct review of individual denials of SAW status, rather than as referring to general collateral challenges to unconstitutional practices and policies used by the agency in processing applications.

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Facts. More than 3,000 people died on September 11, 2001 for terrorist-related aircraft crashes into the World Trade Center towers. Eleven days later, Congress and the President enacted the Fund to provide compensation to the bereaved. Plaintiffs, who are eligible to file claims with the Victim Compensation Fund, but have not yet done so, allege that the regulations promulgated by the Department of Justice and the interpretive polices of the Special Master, Feinburg (Defendant), violate the Air Transportation Safety and System Stabilization Act (Act), and unconstitutionally discriminate against them. Their central allegation is that Defendant’s proposed awards fail to reflect that money who died in the World Trade Center were earning, and would have continued earn, much more than the Special Master is prepared to recognize.

Issue. Did the Special Master, Feinburg (Defendant) discriminate against Plaintiffs by failing to award Plaintiffs more money in administering the Fund?

Held. No. Defendant’s Summary Judgment Motion was granted.
* The Fund’s purpose is to provide compensation to any individual (or relatives of a deceased individual), who was physically injured or killed as a result of the terrorist-related aircraft crashes of September 11, 2001. By electing to file a claim with the Fund, a claimant waives all rights to bring a civil action regarding the September 11 crashes.
* The Special Master is to make his award determinations without regard to negligence or any other theory of liability. Defendant’s awards are not to include amounts for punitive damages and are to be offset by amounts of collateral source compensation the claimant received or is entitled to receive. There was no mention of dollar limitations on the amount of an individual claimant’s compensation award.
* The methodology established by the Special Master was intended to provide a speedy and efficient alternative to normal tort litigation. Claimants were able to predict the awards for which they are eligible, and which they will be entitled to receive within a 120-day period. They can decide among three options: (1) to enter the process and accept the presumed award; (2) to obtain a hearing before the Special Master and seek to prove entitlement to a higher amount, also within a relatively short period; or (3) to pursue the normal tort litigation process, with all its risks of contested liability, discovery, lengthy pre-trial and trial proceedings, appellate review, and substantial litigation expense, but with the potential for larger economic recovery.
* The court found that the regulations, duly promulgated as required by law, reasonably and properly implement the provisions of the Act. The duty of a judge is to give deference to the Department of Justice’s regulations and respect to the Special Master’s policies to the extent that they are rooted in law. The regulations and policies are lawful and valid.

Discussion. The Plaintiffs asked the Court to disrupt and redesign the compensation scheme of the Fund. The case, as reprinted in the casebook, does not discuss many legal principles why the Court will not interject. Rather, the Court discusses the tragedy of September 11, 2001, and tips its hat to the Legislate.

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