Homeowners from Country Lane Estates file suits against surveyors over incorrect elevations

Marilyn Tennissen Feb. 23, 2009, 4:49am

Three couples whose homes in Country Lane Estates were flooded by Hurricane Ike have filed lawsuits against a local surveying company, alleging the surveyors incorrectly measured the elevation of the neighborhood.

In separate suits filed against Port Arthur-based Soutex Surveyors and individual surveyors on Feb. 17 in Jefferson County District Courts, the homeowners claim they would not have purchased their homes if they knew the houses were located below flood level. The 100-year-flood level for the neighborhood in western Jefferson County was set at 9 feet above sea level.

James T. and Karen Mathis claim Richard F. Faust of Soutex Surveyors indicated that the top of the first floor of their home at 11381 Country Lane was 11 feet above sea level.

Clyde and Debra Landry claim Howard Martin of Soutex Surveyors indicated their property at 111422 Country Lane had an elevation of 12.2 feet above sea level.

Larry and Kristen Morton of 11135 Kenner Road claim Anthony Leger of Soutex indicated the elevation of their home was 9.6 feet above sea level.

However, according to the suits, Soutex, the surveyors and Jefferson County officials learned in May that the elevation certificates for the Country Lane addition were incorrect.

After learning of the error, the plaintiffs claim that neither officials nor Soutex did anything to fix the problem or to inform the homeowners of the error.

As a result, their homes flooded during Hurricane Ike on Sept. 13, damaging the structure and interiors of the houses, the complaints state.

"Had they known of the actual elevation, they would have either not bought the property, sold the property once they learned it was actually below the base flood elevation or taken other steps to mitigate their damages," the suits state.

According to media reports, the elevation of a federal government surveying monument was labeled in 1984 as lying on higher ground than it actually did. So surveyors using that monument to find the elevation of homes near the intersection of FM 365 and West Port Arthur Road came to incorrect levels.

Homes in that area had to be built to 10 feet above sea level for the county to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program.

Because of the flooding, the homeowners claim they have spent money on repairing and rebuilding the structure.

Soutex and its surveyors breached their duty of care when they failed to properly train and supervise staff performing the elevation survey, failed to investigate and ensure its accuracy and failed to notify the homeowners when it was discovered the certification was false, the plaintiffs allege.

They allege that the company's and surveyors' actions violate the Deceptive Trade Practices Act and were false, misleading and deceptive.

Plaintiffs are seeking three times the amount of their unspecified economic and mental anguish damages, plus unspecified statutory and exemplary damages, costs, pre- and post-judgment interest and attorneys' fees.

They are also requesting 26 documents from Soutex, including:

  • All documents relied on to prepare the elevation certificates;
  • All correspondence with any official or representative from Jefferson County or the city of Beaumont regarding elevation surveys from Jan. 1, 1998, to present;
  • The measurements and field notes relating to the elevation certificates;
  • All e-mails and correspondence relating to the discovery of the elevation error;
  • All elevation certificates issued for any property located on Kenner Road or Country Lane;
  • All documents, reports, written investigations, meeting minutes, journal entries, calendars, PDA entries reflecting any meetings or conversation where elevation discrepancies were discussed; and
  • Copies of any license or certification of anyone who participated in preparing the elevation certificate.

    The plaintiffs are represented by Scott W. Browne of Browne and Browne in Beaumont and by Stuart C. Yoes of The Yoes Law Firm in Beaumont.

    James T. and Karen Mathis vs. Soutex Surveyors Inc. and Richard F. Faust, Case No. A183-294

    Clyde and Debra Landry vs. Soutex Surveyors Inc. and Howard Martin, Case No. E183-296

    Larry and Kristen Morton vs. Soutex Surveyors Inc. and Anthony M. Leger, Case No. B183-293

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