Browning’s bittersweet ruling 

After living for decades in poorly built homes believed to be the root of myriad health problems, Browning’s Glacier Homes residents are no strangers to disappointment. And while the ruling that the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals handed down Friday, July 21, on their class-action suit seeking new homes was largely disappointing, the residents’ attorney says an open door remains.

Ninth Circuit judges reversed Montana District Court Judge Sam Haddon’s decision to dismiss claims against the Blackfeet Housing Authority (BHA) because of sovereign immunity, and affirmed Haddon’s dismissal of claims against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In the late ’70s, HUD funded and regulated construction of the 153 Glacier Homes on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, and BHA, which is funded by the federal government, subsequently contracted out the building and sold the homes. Lead plaintiffs Martin Marceau and Mary Jane and Gary Grant say their homes, shoddily built with treated wooden foundations, have resulted in mold colonies and other problems that have caused headaches, nosebleeds and other illnesses for decades.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Jeff Simkovic says he plans to meet with residents to plan their next step, while BHA Attorney Stephen Doherty declined to comment before reviewing the ruling.

While Simkovic says he’s disappointed that Glacier Homes’ residents can’t sue HUD directly, he added that “[the Ninth Circuit] left the door open” by remanding the claims against the tribe.

Judge Harry Pregerson, in a concurring opinion, wrote that despite the legal minutiae that supported releasing HUD from responsibility, he recognized “manifest injustice” in doing so.

“Under the theories presented here, we cannot offer Plaintiffs any relief against HUD,” Pregerson writes. “But our nation’s responsibility to the Blackfeet Tribe and its members is deeper than a legal responsibility; it is also a moral responsibility…We as a nation should live up to the promises that we have made. We should come to the assistance of the men, women, and children who will continue to live in absolute squalor until we step in.”

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