A three-judge panel that determined the Emanuel AME Church shooting survivors can sue the federal government should be reheard by the full 4th U.S. Circuit of Appeals, federal attorneys argued in a petition filed Thursday.
The panel's August decision — that the 16 lawsuits seeking damages for the costs and pain they suffered as a result of Dylann Roof's 2015 attack could proceed — departs from judicial precedence, the government said, and would cripple federal operations that can't assume responsibility for the possible lapses in their work.
In August, the Court of Appeals panel overturned a 2018 dismissal of the 16 survivors' and victims' lawsuits, saying that while the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which established the federal background check system, can protect individual employees from the system's faults, it can't absolve the government of responsibility.
The act could therefore shield the employee who, guided by incorrect information in the database, couldn't immediately find proper documentation of Roof's prior arrest and decided to wait for a solicitor's office to guide her to the reports that would have prevented Roof from buying the gun.
She could have continued digging for the documents, according to court documents, but standard operating procedures didn't outline a clear protocol for her to do so.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel called the FBI's system "nonsense" and "hopelessly stuck in 1995" but dismissed the lawsuits because the Brady Act that created the federal backgrounding system included a clause that absolved the government in cases where the system failed.
"The government's motion is a fairly routine filing," victims' attorney Mullins McLeod said. "It doesn't raise any additional arguments they haven't raised before."
A federal spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.
Nine worshippers were murdered in the June 2015 attack on the Charleston church.