The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently held that state law tort claims against an independent contractors hired by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) were preempted under the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968 (“NFIA”). A copy of the opinion is attached.
In 1998, FEMA began a reassessment of flood elevation maps in an area of
The Court determined that the NFIA preempts Plaintiff’s state law claims under a theory of obstacle preemption, which applies “where state law stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress.” The Court found that the NFIA sets up a specific system for appealing the accuracy of flood maps that carefully balances the interests of landowners with the purposes of the NFIA. Allowing state law causes of action against FEMA’s independent contractors would “undermine the primary purposes of the NFIA to strike a balance.”
Importantly, the Court noted that NFIA only allowed an appeal of an assessment on the grounds that it was “scientifically or technically incorrect,” and then, “the only available remedy is modification of the determination.” The Court thus concluded that allowing state law tort actions against independent contractors hired by FEMA would increase the costs of the program, hindering FEMA’s ability implement the law, “thus destroying the balance struck by Congress in promulgating the NFIA.” Thus, the Appellate Court upheld the district court and concluded that Plaintiff’s claims were preempted by federal law.
Ralph T. Wutscher
Kahrl Wutscher LLP
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