State appeals court dismisses overflow claims against Athens, water authority

By Karen Kidd | Feb 27, 2019

TYLER – A state appeals court has dismissed the lawsuit filed against the city of Athens and its water authority by three area residents who claim their homes and properties were damaged by water treatment overflows in 2015 and 2016.

In its 13-page opinion issued Feb. 14, the 12th Court of Appeals three-judge panel reversed the 392nd Judicial District Court of Henderson County's ruling that denied the city of Athens and Athens Municipal Water Authority (AMWA) plea to the jurisdiction and dismissed three area residents' lawsuit for lack of jurisdiction.

When considering Just Compensation Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the court had "to consider the government’s intent to cause the damage," the opinion said.

"Here, as we have stated, the basis for the state and federal inverse condemnation claim is the same: the city's alleged negligence in failing to prevent an overflow from Clearwell No. 2 that flooded their property," the opinion said. "Accordingly, because we have held that the state inverse condemnation claim is nonviable, the trial court should have granted the city’s plea to the jurisdiction on the residents' federal takings claim."

Chief Justice James T. Worthen wrote the opinion in which Justice Brian Hoyle and Justice Greg Neeley concurred.

In their lawsuit against Athens, residents Peter Running, Jamie Running and Cindy Wilkins alleged their properties, which are directly downhill from Athens' water treatment plant near the Lake Athens shoreline, were damaged in overflows in May and December 2015 and March 2016.

The residents sued the city and the Athens Municipal Water Authority over allegations of negligence, state and federal inverse condemnation and violations of the Texas Water Code.

Athens challenged the residents' claims and the Henderson County 392nd Judicial District Court dismissed the water code violation allegation and all claims against AMWA but left intact the negligence and inverse condemnation claims.

The residents and Athens both filed appeals. The Court of Appeals dismissed in the residents' appeal in May of last year for want of prosecution.

"Because we have disposed of the residents' appeal, and there are no live claims against AMWA, only the city’s cross-appeal remains before this court," Worthen wrote. "We reverse the trial court’s order denying the city’s plea to the jurisdiction and render judgment dismissing the residents’ claims against the city."

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