Blanca Gomez Arellano v. United States

Blanca Gomez Arellano v. United States, No. 2:19-cv-00141 (S.D. Tex., filed May 13, 2019).

This is a wrongful death lawsuit brought by a mother whose son died trapped in a tractor-trailer container while the vehicle was impounded by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). On October 13, 2017, CBP officers detained a tractor-trailer for inspection and discovered an undocumented individual inside. CBP then took the driver and undocumented individual into custody and impounded the truck. Three days later, CBP officers noticed a foul smell and liquid leaking from the truck, and they contacted the local sheriff’s department, who found a decomposing body.

The complaint alleges claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act for negligence, gross negligence, assault and battery, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. A policy manual currently in effect directs CBP officers that “all closed containers must be opened and their contents inventoried” upon the impounding of a vehicle. The compartment in which the victim’s body was found was clearly marked as a “Liftable Lower Bunk.” The complaint alleges that the officers acted negligently or recklessly to cause the victim’s death. The government moved to dismiss the complaint in May of 2019. The case was consolidated with a related case filed by the decedent’s widow, Ramirez v. Garcia, No. 2:18-cv-446 (S.D. Tex.).

On October 30, 2019, the court dismissed all of the plaintiffs’ FTCA claims on the basis that the customs-duty exception to the FTCA’s waiver of sovereign immunity applied and barred recovery. The court then remanded the remaining state law claims to the 92nd Judicial District of Hidalgo County, Texas.

Counsel: Texas Civil Rights Project

Contact: Efrén C. Olivares | efren@texascivilrightsproject.org

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