2020 Environmental Real Estate Issues

A group of Texas homeowners sued the San Jacinto River Authority, alleging the Authority’s release of water from Lake Conroe during Hurricane Harvey damaged their homes. A mid-level Texas appellate court ruled that the trial court should have dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction; the appellate court reversed the trial court and rendered judgment dismissing the case.

Alleged “Taking” Due to Release of Lake Water
The homeowners alleged the Authority committed a governmental “taking” without providing compensation when the Authority ordered release of water that damaged their homes.  The Authority asserted the courts had no jurisdiction, because the Authority is a governmental entity protected by sovereign immunity.

Evidence of Causation Required for Jurisdiction
Because the case involved sovereign immunity, evidence the Authority caused damage to the homeowners was required for jurisdiction.

In arguing for jurisdiction, the homeowners did not submit evidence that any lake waters reached their homes. Rather, they argued the release of lake water caused other tributaries to back up and flood their homes. The Authority defeated the argument with evidence showing the area around the homeowners received far more rainfall than the lake’s watershed. The evidence also showed it would have taken 30 hours after the release from the lake for the water to reach the tributaries; by that time, the tributaries were already at flood stage, demonstrating that flood waters would have reached the homes even with no water released from the lake.

By establishing that the homes would have flooded without the release from the lake, the Authority demonstrated the homeowners could not prove a “taking” and the courts lacked jurisdiction.

To see the opinion https://search.txcourts.gov/SearchMedia.aspx?MediaVersionID=4652b2a1-d81c-4f75-8d6a-ab26baf8cd2b&coa=coa14&DT=Opinion&MediaID=09e11104-de2d-4769-8c77-59c23e638f1b