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Government faces suit over Addicks and Barker dam releases

Class action lawsuit in Washington, D.C. says Army Corps of Engineers flooded after Harvey passed

By Gabrielle Banks

A ‘taking’ claim

“Justin Hodge, a [lawyer who focuses] in eminent domain at Johns Marrs Ellis & Hodge LLP, said such cases boil down to knowledge and intent — whether the government know[s] what it was doing and intended to cause flooding that essentially amounted to “taking” of people’s properties.

“The government can’t accidentally take your property,” Hodge said. “If they accidentally opened the lever to the dam or the gates, that would not be a taking — that would be negligence.”

“But if the government intentionally floods someone’s property there would be real merit,” he said.

“Individuals can’t sue the government for an accident. But if the flooding was intentional and knowing, a person can file a claim. He said historically class actions have occurred in condemnation lawsuits but they’re very difficult to pull off.”

“A lot of folks may be directly damaged by the dam releases but an investigation has to be made into each person’s claim,” he said. “I would caution property owners … not to try to jump in and file something without doing an appropriate investigation.”

He added, “I’d caution them to hire a lawyer that’s knowledgable in this area of the law.”

“Hodge said in the press conferences in the wake of Hurricane Harvey the Army Corps of Engineers was straightforward about the fact that they knew homes were going to flood from the releases from the reservoirs. He saw statements on the Corps website indicating federal officials had knowledge that flooding would happen.”

“The government could make such a decision if it was acting in the public interest, he said.”

“It’s a public use decision,” Hodge said.

“They decided to use your property for public use. They decided the general public needs to use your property.”

He said the “takings” law stems from the Fifth Amendment, which says that private property cannot be taken without just compensation.”

“The Texas Constitution guarantees the same right. State and federal law would similarly protect people with homes or businesses upstream of the reservoirs, Hodge said.”