We posted news coverage here way back when. Ms. Circle Bear was the first federal prisoner to die of COVID in 2020. According to the complaint, she was 8 months pregnant in March 2020 when the government decided to transfer her to a prison in Texas, where she immediately contracted the virus.She gave birth while intubated.
In the summer of 2016, a large fire, later known as the Dog Head Fire, engulfed Isleta Pueblo and United States Forest Service land in the Manzano Mountains of New Mexico. By the time it was extinguished, the fire had burned several thousand acres of land. The fire resulted from forest-thinning work performed by Pueblo crewmembers under an agreement with the Forest Service. The partnership to thin the forest arose after numerous fires had beset the surrounding areas.
Insurance companies and several owners of destroyed property (collectively, “Appellants”) sued the government, alleging negligence under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). Their negligence claims fell into two categories: the government’s own negligence arising from acts of Forest Service employees, and the government’s negligence arising from acts of the Pueblo crewmembers. The government moved to dismiss, arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction and, alternatively, for summary judgment on that same basis. The district court granted the government summary judgment. First, the court concluded that the Pueblo crewmembers had acted as independent contractors of the government, and thus, the government wasn’t subject to FTCA liability based on the Pueblo crewmembers’ negligence. Additionally, the court barred these claims under the FTCA’s administrative-exhaustion requirement. Second, the court barred Appellants’ claims premised on the Forest Service employees’ own negligence, under the FTCA’s discretionary-function exception.
On appeal, Appellants contend that the district court erred in ruling that the FTCA jurisdictionally barred their claims. We disagree. Exercising jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.
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