* Government sought stay in suit because of partial closure
* Judge calls lack of funding an abdication by Congress
A U.S. judge overseeing a veteran’s multimillion-dollar negligence lawsuit in Puerto Rico rebuked the Justice Department for attempting to use the partial government shutdown to put the case on hold, calling the request “laughable.”
In a ruling denying the government request, U.S. District Judge William G. Young said lapses in federal appropriations, like the current one triggered by President Donald Trump’s demand for funding for a border wall with Mexico, aren’t a government “policy” that could theoretically justify staying such a lawsuit.
“Let us talk plain — they are simply an abdication by the president and the Congress (which could override a presidential veto) of the duty to govern responsibly to the end that all the laws may be faithfully executed,” Young said in the Jan. 2 ruling in San Juan. “Nor does such a lapse in any way excuse this court from exercising its own constitutional functions.”
Young, who is based in the Boston federal court but sitting in San Juan as a visiting judge, sarcastically compared the situation to a major corporation that “for whatever reason” decided not to pay its attorneys involved in pending litigation and instructed them not to interact with the court.
“Then the corporation says to the court, ‘We greatly regret any disruptions caused to the court and to other litigants, but please stay all proceedings until we get our act together.’ This does not constitute ‘good cause’ for any stay,” Young wrote. “In fact, it is laughable.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Rafael López-Rivera in San Juan made the request for a delay on Dec. 26 in a two-page document that was similar to others filed in cases that day across the U.S., with mixed success.
The government faces a March deadline for evidence discovery in the case and a trial is set for July. Filed in 2017, the suit seeks about $18 million in damages for a man who says the VA Medical Center in San Juan misdiagnosed him during a 2015 visit and sent him home early. He claims the facility failed to treat him for what turned out to be a dangerous septic illness that resulted in the amputation of five fingers, a hand and both legs below the knee.
“Appropriations or no, this court will continue to sit daily, attending to the quotidian details of getting all cases ready for trial and trying them in a timely fashion as required by the Constitution,” the judge wrote.
Culled from Bloomberg