In a feud that began in the midst of Hurricane Harvey, a public entity will argue that governmental immunity protects it from a citizen lawsuit before the Supreme Court of Texas (SCOTX).
In a week, according to the SCOTX website, the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) will appeal a lower court ruling that affirmed the standing of a three-year-old lawsuit on the part of three Harris County citizens who allege that the SJRA owes them damages after controlled reservoir releases caused or contributed to flooding in their properties in late August 2017.
Court documents name Harris County property owners Vicente Medina, Ashley Medina, and Aris Antoniou as appellees in the case. The appellees, originally plaintiffs when they sued at the 151st District Court of Harris County, say the SJRA knowingly flooded their properties when it released water from the dammed Lake Conroe.
After the First Court of Appeals affirmed that the SJRA lacked governmental immunity, thereby affirming that the suit against them could stand, the SJRA appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.
“The homeowners in these interlocutory appeals allege that during Hurricane Harvey in late August 2017, the River Authority released rising water from Lake Conroe into the West Fork of the San Jacinto River, causing or exacerbating the downstream flooding of their homes in Kingwood,” the First Circuit opinion reads.
The SJRA has argued that “the premise of the lawsuit is obviously false,” claiming alongside more technical legal arguments that the flooding arose from a confluence of water sources, such as rainfall.
“The effects of Hurricane Harvey are appropriately referred to as catastrophic as that is exactly what Hurricane Harvey was; a natural catastrophe,” the SJRA stated. “The flooding of which those suing are complaining about, however, was neither caused nor made worse by the SJRA’s operation of the Lake Conroe dam.”
The property owners contend that SJRA had ample precedent to know the damage done by controlled releases from Lake Conroe, which they claim caused or worsened flooding in Kingwood and Humble neighborhoods in 1994, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2015, and 2016.
Antoniou and the Medinas make up just one of three groups of citizens who cooperated to sue the SJRA. Altogether, dozens of property owners joined in lawsuits against the bureaucratic group. The SJRA filed motions to dismiss the suit on the grounds that the property owners’ allegations had no basis in fact, which were denied. The SJRA had claimed that governmental immunity.
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