2017 wasn’t the best year for Houston Texas. Due to the unprecedented rain fall that occurred during Hurricane Harvey, the Barker Reservoir and the Addicks Reservoir—both located off of Highway 6 in Houston—quickly filled to their maximum capacity. In an effort to protect the greater Houston area from experiencing even worse flood inundation, the US Army Corps of Engineers—the federal government entity responsible for management of the reservoirs—intentionally released the flood gates on the reservoirs, causing severe flood inundation to thousands of homes and businesses that had never flooded, were not in a flood zone, and had no reason to expect that level of damage.
This resulted in the government effectively taking the private property of others to benefit the greater good. The attorneys in Merlin Law Group’s Houston, Texas office, are part of a group of attorneys helping Houstonians recoup what they’re owed from the US Army Corps of Engineers. The legal term given to these matters is inverse condemnation.
These claims are largely filed in the United States Court of Federal Claims, which is a US federal court that hears monetary claims against the U.S. government. These cases are being filed either as part of class action lawsuits or as individual cases depending on the unique facts and circumstances in each case. However, the court has not yet concluded that it will allow class actions for these matters.
Due to the complexity and volume of these claims, Court of Federal Claims Chief Judge Susan G. Braden consolidated all currently-pending and subsequently-filed inverse condemnation lawsuits for pretrial management. This is a fairly common practice in complex litigation like this, where there are overlapping issues common to all claimants. For many months early on, the judges worked with attorneys to create procedures and protocols that will aid in the efficiency and management of these matters. Judge Braden has assigned a few other judges to assist her in review of many of the complex legal matters at issue in the inverse condemnation cases.
First, Judge Braden and Judge Lettow must rule on two key legal issues: (1) whether the court has jurisdiction over these claims; and (2) whether the Government is legally responsible for the property damage to homes and businesses. In July 2018, hearings were held on whether the court has jurisdiction over these claims. Judge Braden and Judge Lettow deferred ruling on jurisdictional issues until trial. In October 2018, the court will hear arguments about whether the Government can be held legally responsible for these property damages.
As part of the court’s procedures and protocols, the parties are deposing “test property” owners and corporate representatives for the United States Government, which have been well underway for the past couple months. To date, these key witnesses have been deposed: Robert Thomas (upstream), Chief of Construction and Engineering for the US Army Corps of Engineers; and Richard Long (downstream), who is the supervisory natural resources manager for the US Army Corps of Engineers. Both upstream and downstream have corporate representative depositions scheduled throughout August and September 2018. These depositions are complex and detailed.
Additionally, parties have designated various experts in theses case to evaluate and assess the liability issues. Some of these experts include hydrologists, engineers, and meteorologists, to name a few.
The court set a trial date in a test upstream property case before Judge Lettow on February 2019, while trial for downstream cases is set before Judge Braden for April 2019.
For any Houstonians who believe their flood damage may have been caused by the US Army Corps of Engineers, please contact a local Houston attorney to preserve your rights.