A federal judge ruled in favor for the city, saying the city is not "required to re-sift through debris" from the World Trade Center in hopes of finding more human remains.

Some families felt the city should go back to Fresh Kills landfill--where almost 2 million tons of debris from the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks were dumped--and go through the tons of debris so they could recover remains for burial. The families, calling themselves the World Trade Center Families for Proper Burial, sued the city and noted that even medical examiner Dr. Charles Hirsch believed there were still remains mixed in with the debris. Some victims' relatives wrote an editorial in the Daily News in February, pointing out FEMA had dedicated $125 million to sift through the debris but the program ended "one year ahead of schedule and $58 million under budget."

However, judge Alvin Hellerstein agreed with the city that it would be impossible to know whether a loved one's remains were at Fresh Kills (according to the NY Times, the city's argument was, "for good or ill, a plaintiff’s property rights to claim a body for burial were predicated on knowing in fact that it belonged to a loved one") given how small the remains might be. Hellerstein said, "Not every wrong can be addressed through the judicial process. The grave harm suffered by the plaintiffs in this case is undeniable. But the jurisdiction of a court is limited."

The city had claimed it had completed the search for WTC remains prior to starting construction at Ground Zero, but some workers found fragments of bone while excavating in 2006, starting a new search for remains and more criticism for the city's approach. And in 2002, NPR visited the sifting efforts at Fresh Kills.