Houston residents lose appeal challenging operator of a wastewater pumping facility for negligence

By Michael McGrady | Feb 26, 2018

HOUSTON ‒ In a recently issued opinion regarding the verdict of a past jury trial that proved no wrongdoing on the part of a water collection and treatment system operator, a three-judge panel for the Court of Appeals for the 1st District of Texas affirmed the original position Feb. 15.

HOUSTON ‒ In a recently issued opinion regarding the verdict of a past jury trial that proved no wrongdoing on the part of a water collection and treatment system operator, a three-judge panel for the Court of Appeals for the 1st District of Texas affirmed the original position Feb. 15.

Kye and Denise Knox and Raymond and Jacqueline Muckleroy, Houston-area residents, sued Eagle Water Management Inc. over allegations negligence after state-owned wastewater pumps the company operates failed during a period of heavy rainfall in 2015 and 2016.

“After wastewater pumps in their neighborhood failed during a heavy rainfall, four homeowners sued the pumping facility operator (Eagle), alleging that the operator’s negligence caused wastewater to flood their homes,” Justice Jane Bland wrote in the opinion. “The trial court granted summary judgment. The homeowners appeal, contending that they adduced evidence that raises a fact issue as to each element of their negligence claim. Because no evidence raises facts to support a finding that the operator’s negligence caused the homes to flood, we affirm.”

The opinion states Eagle was contracted by the Harris County Water Control and Improvement District 114 to manage and operate its numerous facilities. By allowing the firm to contract with the district, Eagle was given the responsibility to maintain all equipment and facilities, including the failed pumps in question.

"Eagle Water was not responsible for repairing or providing repair materials for water line or sewer line breaks or stoppages, or for replacing or making major repairs to equipment such as pumps, motors, blowers and chlorinators," the opinion states.

The heavy rainfall from 2015 and 2016 resulted in the wastewater pumps to fail causing flooding in the home of the appellants. 

"During several storms, the District’s Lift Station No. 1, which provided wastewater collection and transportation to the Knox and Muckleroy homes, stopped working. Tracy Riley, the president of Eagle Water, attested that a severe rainstorm on or about May 25, 2015, caused a failure at the lift station. According to the homeowners, the stoppage caused wastewater to back up into their homes, which in turn caused extensive property damage," the opinion states.

The homeowners argued that the company’s leadership states.made statements regarding the failure of the pumps due to the heavy rain which constitutes a so-called omission of guilt.

“[This] statement neither identifies a cause of the pump failure nor assigns responsibility for preventing it, if it was preventable,” the opinion states.

"Because the record contains no testimony attributing the pump stoppage and the subsequent flooding to Eagle Water’s failure to act as a reasonably prudent operator, the trial court properly granted summary judgment on the element of breach," the opinion stated.

First Court of Appeals Chief Justice Sherry Radak, Justice Laura Carter Higley and Bland oversaw the proceedings. John S. Kenefick and Jason M. Jung of Macdonald Devin PC were retained as legal counsel by Eagle Water Management while the homeowners employed Jason M. Klein of The Voss Law Firm PC.

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