A federal judge in Texas has said victims of the 2017 church massacre in Sutherland Springs can continue their lawsuit against the U.S. government for its role in the shooting.
U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez's Thursday ruling is a huge victory for the nine families in the case, which allows them to put federal authorities on trial for alleged negligence. Rodriguez dismissed the government's motion to throw out the case and said the families can begin the discovery process, which allows their lawyers to gather documents and seek interviews with which to make their case.
"The ruling affirms what we've known all along, and that is that these families' and victims' claims against the government are valid and just," Jamal Alsaffar, an attorney for four of the families, told The Dallas Morning News. "Judge Rodriguez's very thorough ruling allows these families to finally seek and have their day in court and seek accountability from the government."
The doctrine of sovereign immunity makes suing the federal government almost impossible. But under the Federal Tort Claims Act, people can seek damages in limited cases if they can prove direct negligence on the part of the government.
The Sutherland Springs lawsuit accuses the U.S. Air Force and the Department of Defense of negligence for failing to report the shooter's history of criminal activity and mental health problems to an FBI database. The families first had to file claims against the government, wait six months, and then decide whether to continue based on its response.
After the government's motion to dismiss, the families pushed to continue their suit, which Rodriguez gave the green light to in his ruling Thursday.