Posted by : Irvin Jackson
Requiring previously denied Camp Lejeune water contamination claims to “re-exhaust” administrative process would frustrate Congress’s core purpose in enacting new law, according to memorandum filed by early plaintiffs.
October 24, 2022
By: Irvin Jackson
In response to questions posed by a federal judge about whether several early Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuits complied with notice requirements under a new law, a group of plaintiffs argue that they should not have to “re-exhaust” administrative remedies on claims that were already submitted to the U.S. Navy and denied years ago.
Within days after President Biden signed the Honoring Our PACT Act in August 2022, dozens of individuals filed lawsuits under the new law, seeking damages for injuries caused by contaminated water at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987, which had previously been denied by the U.S. government. However, those plaintiffs indicated that they were pursuing claims under the new Act based upon administrative notice provided prior to the new law going into effect.
Camp Lejeune Justice Act Opened Two Year Window For Claims To Be Filed
Camp Lejeune is a Marine Corps base in North Carolina, which was plagued with water contamination problems that exposed millions of service members, family members and other individuals to toxic chemicals for decades.
Although various cancers and other devastating injuries have been directly linked to contaminants in the water, by the time the extent of the problems were discovered, the ten-year North Carolina statute of limitations allowed the U.S. government to deny all claims, and hundresds of prior lawsuits were dismissed.
On August 10, President Biden signed landmark new legislation, which corrected the federal government’s failure to compensate veterans and military family members, opening a two year window for Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuits to be filed to be filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, which has been granted exclusive jurisdiction over the claims.
Learn More About Camp Lejeune lawsuits
Water contamination at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina between 1953 and 1987 caused cancers, birth defects, miscarriages and other side effects for U.S. Marines and their family members.
- Motion to Consolidate Camp Lejeune Justice Act Lawsuits Denied By U.S. District Judge(9/19/22)
- About 5,000 Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Injury Claims Already Filed Since New Law Enacted Last Month(9/15/22)
- Camp Lejeune Birth Defects Lawsuit Filed By Six Military Family Members Exposed to Water In Utero(8/31/22)
Prior to filing a lawsuit under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, the new law requires each claimant provide notice of their claim to the U.S. Navy, which must deny the claim in writing or fail to resolve the claim within six months. However, individuals who previously submitted Camp Lejeune claims that were denied by the U.S. Government immediately reinitiated their lawsuits, arguing that the notice requirements of the Act were previously satisfied.
Plaintiffs Maintain Previously Denied Camp Lejeune Claims Were Properly Filed
In September, U.S. District Judge James C. Dever III raised questions about whether these early plaintiffs complied with the Camp Lejeune Justice Act requirements, calling for evidence to be presented to establish how each claim was submitted and the date the U.S. government denied the claim under the Act, together with a brief explaining how an administrative claim brought before the Act was passed complies with the new requirements.
In response, plaintiffs filed a memorandum (PDF) on October 21, indicating that the Camp Lejeune Justice Act requires nothing more than the filing of a claim with the U.S. Navy setting forth the facts that led to a plaintiff’s injury and a demand for a sum of money, which each plaintiff did years ago. Therefore, they indicate there is nothing in the new law that requires they must go through the same administrative process again.
“The government argues that victims of the water contamination at Camp Lejeune who exhausted their administrative claims years ago are required to exhaust the same claims a second time, plaintiffs wrote in the memorandum. But that position misreads the plain text of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA), ignores decades of precedent and would frustrate Congress’s core purpose in enacting the statute: to provide immediate relief to long-suffering victims of the government’s failure to provide safe water at Camp Lejeune, many of whom have been diagnosed with terminal illnesses.”
Plaintiffs note that each of them already presented an administrative claim as required previously, and even though those claims were denied, those filings still meet the Act’s requirements.
“Each plaintiff presented an administrative claim to the Navy under Section 2675, using the form that the government has published for that purpose, and those claims were all denied,” the memorandum states. “That ends the exhaustion analysis.”
Plaintiffs say the Act never created the need for a new claim to be exhausted, but instead is meant to vindicate a preexisting claim already filed with the courts. The memorandum included documents showing previous claims and denials on behalf of each of the plaintiffs who filed early lawsuits.
The U.S. Government is expected to file a response outlining it’s position regarding the notice requirements of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act by November 10, and plaintiff’s will have an opportunity to file a final reply by November 17, before Judge Dever determines whether the claims should be denied without prejudice, requiring each plaintiff to re-initiate the notice of their claims and wait yet another six months before filing a lawsuit.
Camp Lejeune Justice Act Filing Requirements
In addition to allowing previously denied claims to move forward, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act also allows any individual, or surviving family members, to pursue settlement benefits for injuries caused by contaminated water on the base, even if they never previously attempted to pursue a claim.
For new cases, the Act requires that notice of the Camp Lejeune water contamination claim must be provided to the U.S. Navy under the requirements of 28 U.S. Code § 2675.
The U.S. Navy JAG Corps has posted information about how to file a claim under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, outlining the required steps needed to file a Camp Lejeune water lawsuit.
Each claimant must include a Camp Lejeune Justice Act Claim form (PDF), providing specific information about their lawsuit, including:
- Status at time of exposure to Camp Lejeune water (Member of the Armed Forces; Military Family Member or Dependent; Civil Service Employee; Civilian; Contractor Working for Private Company on Base; Unborn Individual Exposed In Utero)
- Where you resided at the time of exposure (Terawa Terrace Housing; Hospital Point Housing; Other On-Base Housing; Outside of Camp Lejeune)
- Whether you worked at Hadnot Point Industrial Area in Camp Lejeune
- Nature of your injury (Personal Injury Caused by Water at Camp Lejeune; Wrongful Death Following Exposure to Camp Lejeune Water)
- Specific type of cancer or other injury that is the basis of the Camp Lejeune lawsuit
The form also requires that each individual specify the amount of their Camp Lejeune claim in U.S. dollars, certifying that it will be accepted as a full and final Camp Lejeune water settlement amount if offered by the U.S. Government. Failure to specify the total amount of damages sought from the Camp Lejeune water contamination during this process may result in a forfeiture of their rights.
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