Government Liable for Project-Induced Flood Damage according to Senior Judge Charles F. Lettow
Houston, Texas, (December 17th, 2019). Williams Hart Law Firm announces Senior Judge Charles F. Lettow of the United States Court of Federal Claims issued an official ruling today in favor of homeowners and businesses who sued the Federal Government for damage resulting from the Army Corps of Engineers’ operation of the Addicks and Barker dams during and after Tropical Storm Harvey [Case 1:17-cv-09001-CFL, Sub-Master Docket No. 17-9001L]. Judge Lettow’s ruling relates to a May 2019 liability trial for thirteen “test properties” located behind the federal government’s flood-control project, which was originally built in the 1940s to protect downtown Houston.
Armi Easterby, partner at Williams Hart Boundas Easterby, LLP who is part of the court-appointed team that took the case to trial, stated: “This is a huge win and a big step in collecting fair compensation for the thousands of families and businesses that suffered catastrophic damage from the government’s flood pools.”
The property owners brought “inverse condemnation” claims under the Fifth Amendment, which requires that the government pay Just Compensation when it takes property for a public purpose. During the liability trial, plaintiffs showed how the Addicks and Barker dams, located 17 miles west of downtown Houston, held back and controlled stormwater in two massive “flood pools” that submerged over 7,000 acres of privately-owned land.
According to the Corps of Engineers, The government denied owing compensation to any homeowners, and argued that any damages were temporary and could be repaired.
The United States Court of Federal Claims is a federal court that hears claims against the United States government. Senior Judge Lettow held a 2-week trial in Houston, Texas, which concluded on May 17, 2019. Over 30 witnesses were called to testify, including property owners, representatives from Harris County and Fort Bend County, personnel from the Army Corps of Engineers, as well as experts in hydrology, meteorology, and real estate valuation. The trial included a site inspection during which Judge Lettow personally viewed Addicks and Barker.
Mr. Easterby notes the following major points were established at trial:
• The Army Corps was well aware that it had no legal right to impose flooding on privately-owned land, but did so anyway to save money.
• The Army Corps designed and built Addicks and Barker to hold back and control water from storms substantially larger than Harvey.
• Trial evidence showed that the Army Corps’ use and occupation of over 10,000 private structures prevented $7 billion in downstream damages.
In his ruling, Judge Lettow held that the federal government’s construction and operation of Addicks and Barker was a “taking” under the 5th Amendment, entitling the homeowners to Just Compensation. “The court finds that the government’s actions relating to the Addicks and Barker Dams and the attendant flooding of plaintiffs’ properties constituted a taking of a flowage easement under the Fifth Amendment. Thus, the court finds defendant liable” [Case 1:17-cv-09001-CFL, Sub-Master Docket No. 17-9001L].
Mr. Easterby, who has been licensed in the Court of Federal Claims since January of 2000, said the next phase of litigation is to determine the amount of compensation owed by the government. “With this win under our belt we can now turn to the damages phase, in which we’ll work to collect fair compensation for our 1,000+ clients,” said Mr. Easterby.
About Armi Easterby
Armi Easterby is part of the court-appointed lead team that won the test case trial [Case 1:17-cv-09001-CFL, Sub-Master Docket No. 17-9001L]. His firm represents individual property owners in all impacted communities behind the dams, including Bear Creek, Canyon Gate, Twin Lakes, Lakes on Eldridge, Concord Bridge, Concord Colony, Cinco Ranch, Charlestown Colony, Cinco at Willow Fork, Cinco Ranch Equestrian Village, Cinco Ranch Greenway Village, Cinco Ranch Meadow Place, Cinco Ranch Southpark, Concord Fairways at Kelliwood, Grand Lakes, Grand Lakes Phase Three, Grand Mission, Green Trails Oaks, Greens at Willow Fork, Jamestown Colony, Kelliwood Greens, Kingsland Estates, Lakes of Buckingham Kelliwood, Mayde Creek Farms, Park Harbor Estates, Parklake Village, Pine Forest, Savannah Estates, Stone Gate at Canyon Gate, and Windsor Park Estates.