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$________ Inverse condemnation action - Erosion of the property as a result of the storm drain system - Potential catastrophic conditions created by erosion.

San Diego County, California

In this inverse condemnation matter, the plaintiff contended that the defendant was negligent in creating and operating its storm drain system which caused severe erosion and potentially catastrophic conditions to the plaintiff’s property. The defendant denied the allegations and maintained that the project did not constitute a public project which would subject it to a claim for inverse condemnation.

The plaintiff was the homeowners association that holds title to Alta La Jolla Drive. The defendant city created and operated a storm drainage system which incorporated a ________ acre canyon bisected by the plaintiff’s property. The storm drain system included public streets, sidewalks, culverts and pipes that collect and direct storm water to the canyon at several locations within the upper and lower canyon. The system funnels water under and around Alta La Jolla Drive and into the lower canyon. The city owns permanent easements in the canyon at the discharge points of its pipes. The area downstream of all the easements owned by the defendant is the plaintiff’s property. Due to the operation of the storm drain system, the canyon became severely eroded in some locations with sheer faced walls in excess of 70 feet high. The canyon, in that condition, posed a dangerous and potentially catastrophic condition if the eroded areas were not corrected.

The plaintiff brought suit against the city, alleging that the city did not act reasonably in its creation and operation of the storm drain system. The plaintiff alleged that the city knew or should have known that the development of the canyon rim and the operation of the storm drain system serving those developments would increase the amount of water carried to the canyon, but failed to take any steps to mitigate the damages caused by the erosion. The plaintiff alleged that the increased risks posed by the erosion were not normal risks associated with land ownership at the plaintiff’s property and would expose the plaintiff to unnecessary and excessive repair costs to repair the erosion to the canyon property. The plaintiff alleged that the cost to repair the canyon was in excess of $7.5 million and required a two phase process due to the environmental regulations and protected wildlife habitats.

The defendant argued that the storm drain system was not a public project and therefore, not subject to a claim of inverse condemnation. The defendant also argued that the plaintiff failed to mitigate damages by permitting the erosion to worsen. The defendant also attempted to argue that the builders of the various developments at the canyon rim were responsible for the damages suffered by the plaintiffs.

At the conclusion of the bench trial on liability, the court found in favor of the plaintiff and against the defendant. The damages claim was submitted to the jury, however, a mistrial was declared due to the California wildfires that occurred in October ________. The judge referred the claim to mediation where it was resolved for the sum of $________, to be paid by the city and the city would implement and pay for the second phase of the repairs.

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